Matt Crowley/The AS Review

As spring quarter begins and the collective stress level dips, on-campus residents may want to begin looking now if they hope to find a suitable off-campus living situation for the summer or next year. Searching for the perfect place can be a process as stressful as finals week.

Fortunately, thousands of students, including yours truly, have been through the process multiple times and have more than enough advice for students looking to begin the next phase of independence. To help students learn more about the rental housing market, the Associated Students Legal Information Center will be hosting a housing fair on April 7 from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. in the Viking Union Multipurpose Room. The fair will be a chance to learn about various neighborhood associations, to raise student awareness of housing health and safety issues as well as landlord/tenant rights and responsibilities. Landlords and property rental companies will also be marketing their open rental properties for potential tenants.

Just in case you can’t attend the LIC Housing Fair, here are a few helpful tips to get your search started.

A rental sign just north of campus. Spring and summer are major rental seasons in Bellingham. Photo by Joe Rudko/The AS Review.

1. The closer the better
Though many students have managed to live as far away as Sunset Drive or even Lake Whatcom, a house or apartment’s proximity to campus is a lot more important than one may think. Obviously, if you’re going to live so far away that you don’t have the option of walking to school, a car or familiarity with the bus system comes in handy. But the added commute time combined with the inconvenience of being so far from home can lead to an increase in skipped classes. Remember how quickly you could get to class freshman year (even if you still ended up skipping sometimes)? Knowing that school is only a short walk away means more sleep and more time to get ready and eat breakfast.

However, there is a trade-off. The closer a place is to campus, the more expensive the rent will be. A single apartment off of North Garden Street can be up to $150 per month more expensive than one a few miles away, even if the condition of the other apartment is the same (or worse). Whether the additional expense is worth it depends on the individual, and you’ll have to decide for yourself if the extra cash is worth the added convenience.

2. Consider a private landlord before a realtor
While most rentals in Bellingham seem to be split between private, independent landlords and companies like Lakeway Realty, the consensus on campus seems to be that realtors are often more trouble than they’re worth.
The benefits of a private landlord are obvious: A more personal relationship means better communication, which is helpful when it comes to lease agreements and necessary repairs.

3. Have all the necessary items beforehand
Before you go off looking at places and meeting with landlords, be sure to have everything you will need:

-All prospective tenants: Make sure you know who will be living in the house, as landlords like to meet everyone and get proper documentation right away.

- Identification and references: This includes driver’s licenses, social security cards and any references you might have from past landlords. If you’re living in a dorm, ask your resident adviser or director if they would mind being used as a reference.

-Money: Most landlords ask for a small application fee (usually around $20) and some might ask for a security deposit right away if they think you’re the right kind of tenant for them. If you’re set on a place, make sure you have cash ready or checks written out ahead of time to get your foot in the door before another group of more prepared tenants comes along.

4. Be sure to give any property a thorough inspection before committing
Don’t just go into a house thinking, “Wow, think of the parties we can have here,” or focus too much
on the size of the bedrooms. If you’re going to be dropping serious dough on a place, you’ll want to make sure it’s a place you can live comfortably and safely for a year.

Wesley Dyer of Viking Community Builders, an AS club that promotes openness and communication between neighbors and other community members, suggested students should look out for potential drawbacks like past or present electrical wiring problems, complaints about mold or vermin, and be sure all the appliances, doors, locks and windows are in working order. These things are the responsibility of the landlord, not you, so make sure they are willing and able to make repairs as needed.

5. Keep your options open
Don’t put all of your eggs into one basket. You should look at a few places in case one or two don’t work out. This not only means that you will have backup plans, but you’ll spending less time looking and more time finding your next house.

Ultimately the best advice is to be patient. You likely won’t get the first, second or even third house you look at, and it can be disappointing to miss out on a sweet deal. But in the end you’ll be a lot happier that you spent the time looking for a good place to live instead of settling on something convenient.