When Good Intentions Go Wrong
Signing a lease 11-13 months in advance: Let me start this off by saying we get it. It is really easy to buy into the "we need to sign today or it will be gone tomorrow" mindset. A mindset that is in large part created by agents/brokers competing with one another and eager to earn their commission. Slow down, learn about the rental process, and consider the long term positive and negative consequences of your decision to sign a lease up to a year in advance.
Signing a lease sign-unseen: Your friend tells you they saw an apartment that you and everyone else in your group will love. They swear it is great and you trust your friend, so you sign a lease with them for an apartment you never toured. You may want to go-along to get-along, but trust me, you do not want to agree to a lease without seeing first hand where you will live. Either tour these apartments as a group or contact the agent or landlord about scheduling a time to see the place before you sign anything.
Sharing an apartment or house with lots (and lots) of people: Individually, you may all be quiet, studious, and have the best intentions to keep the apartment clean and relatively quiet. However, more people also means more variables that could interrupt or derail your off-campus experience. Seriously consider the impact of sharing a lease with so many people and how it may affect things such as subletting, damage, noise, cleanliness, or lifestyle expectations.
Thinking your small gathering will stay small: Most students never intend to throw a large party with lots of people they don't know. What typically happens is that through the power of text messaging and social media their small gathering grows exponentially and quickly becomes out of their control. In these cases you often lose control and discover that your party is no longer really your party.
Not objecting when roommates have friends stay over: Most of the time it's okay when a roommates friend stays the night. However, when you don't set some ground rules, what you first thought was a one time guest can turn into an extra roommate (and this extra roommate probably isn't chipping in for rent). If you don't object to a guest staying over, your roommate might hear your silence as approval. It's best to set guidelines and expectations for guests when you first move in, but if you don't you should bring it up as soon as you get a chance.
Turing 21: Yes, 21 is the age when you can legally purchase and consume alcohol. There is a great sense of freedom that comes when you turn 21 years old in the United States. However, with great freedom comes great responsibility. Although you can purchase and consume alcohol, you cannot purchase or allow others under 21 to consume alcohol. In fact, those who are 21+ can find themselves in more trouble with alcohol than their under 21 counterparts. Take a few moments to read and learn about Social Host Liability laws here.
Instructing neighbors to call if noise gets too loud: Although this is a very good thought, it is often misguided. Most residents appreciate meeting their new student neighbors and getting their contact information. However, students should not place the responsibility of noise control on their neighbors, but rather they should be mindful to never let noise get to a disturbing level in the first place. Students should also keep in mind that even if their neighbor does call them about the noise, students typically are less likely to hear or answer their phone and less able to quickly reduce noise or stop the party than they may have originally anticipated.
Leaving apartment unlocked: Your roommate left his key behind, so to make sure he can get back in later you leave the door unlocked when you leave for the day. Although well intentioned, this act leaves the apartment vulnerable to intruders. Always lock up when you leave, even if a friend or roommate asks you to keep the place unlocked so they can get in later without a key.
Turning the heat off during winter break: Nobody wants to waste money or energy, so you may think leaving your heat on during winter break will hurt your wallet and the environment. Although well intentioned, the act of turning off the heat during winter break greatly increases the chances of a pipe bursting and destroying your apartment and personal property.
Not getting the proper paperwork signed: It is great to have a friend who wants to sublet your apartment while you are away, but don't let your friendship get in the way of properly documenting the agreement. Having trustworthy people sublet from you is key, but it is also critically important to get the agreement in writing so that both you and the subtenant are protected. You can access sample sublet agreement here.