For your first foray into residential independence, there are a few things to keep in mind. First, Kraft Dinner should not be cooked on a radiator, and second, your upstairs neighbors may not be as receptive to your 3 a.m. Guitar Hero battle with your friends. But before you even sign the lease, here are seven things you'll need to know about renting as a student.

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  1. Your School Can Help
    It's likely that your school has information on moving, renting and living in your off-campus oasis. Your student center and/or student website can be a wealth of knowledge and they often contain local apartment listings and on-campus living options.

  2. Your Rental Agreement Contains Relevant Information
    This isn't just a cumbersome pile of paper that you are expected to sign. It will contain the amount of rent, the length of your lease and any additional expenses you are responsible for, as well as procedures for terminating and renewing the lease. The agreement should also detail any existing damages, anything the landlord has agreed to fix for you, and your move-in date.

    If you are living with roommates, you'll have to decide who will sign the lease. Most landlords will only require one signature (or two if they require you to have a guarantor). Even if you are the best of friends, living arrangements sometimes change without notice. Have all roommates sign the lease, or draw up a separate document that details each party's portion of the rent and their responsibilities in case someone wants to move out. Generally, each party should be responsible for their share of the rent for the length of the lease, unless they can find someone to move in and take it over. (Roommates can affect more than your rental agreement. Find out more in How A Bad Roommate Can Ruin Your Credit Score.)

  3. Your Monthly Expenses Don't End With Rent
    Perhaps the biggest change once you move out will be to your budget. Living expenses usually take up a huge percentage of your budget. When you're looking for your new place, make sure you factor in all of the monthly expenses it will bring to your pocket – make sure you ask about heating, electricity, water, parking, cable, phone and internet costs. Are they included or extra? Are you responsible for setting them up yourself? (Budgets break down all the time. Here are some ways to get it back on track in Damage Control For A Busted Budget.)

    The costs may be set by your landlord or they may fluctuate based on your actual use of the utilities, which means you'll have some control (depending on if your roommates are on board) over how much you pay each month. If you set cable, internet and phone yourself, you can choose to cut back or cancel the services if you find it is too expensive – however, you'll be responsible for having the services installed, as well as any additional charges incurred month to month.

  4. Where You Live Matters
    You'll likely pay more for an apartment closer to your campus, but if you're the type who will avoid going to class if the trip is too far, that extra cost may be worth it – after all, you are there to get an education. On the other hand, you may find a bit of a commute gives you a chance to catch up on reading or that the distance encourages you to plan to be on campus all day and use your time off to study.

    Take the time to research which areas of your city you'd like to live in. Asking current students is usually the best way – they'll know where the good coffee and the late-night Chinese food is, as well as areas they avoid. If you're unfamiliar with the city, make sure you drive or walk around as much as you can to get a feel for where you might be living. (Pay attention to the small things when rental shopping. Don't miss 5 Rental Red Flags.)

  5. Your Landlord Has Responsibilities
    Make sure you have working fire alarms, plumbing and appliances (assuming appliances are included). The occasional bug shouldn't be cause for alarm, but if there is a real infestation problem, your landlord needs to be notified. If your landlord needs access to your apartment – to fix or check something – he or she needs to let you know ahead of time. Basically, if there is anything seriously wrong, let your landlord know!

  6. You Have Responsibilities Too
    Just because your landlord owns the building, doesn't mean you can treat your apartment as something disposable. Respect it as if you owned it – keep it clean, and don't do any damage (and if you do, get it fixed). Make sure you always lock the doors and windows when you are out, and do your best to prevent burglary.

  7. You Can't Just Move Out
    If you want to move out before your lease is up, double-check the provisions in your lease agreement (see, it wasn't just a pile of paper!) and make sure you give your landlord plenty of notice. Your lease may include clauses that require you to do the advertising and find a suitable replacement to live out your lease. Once you do find that person, talk to your landlord about having the new tenants sign a new lease, rather than remain as subletters under your name.

    Whether your lease is up or not, make sure you leave the place clean for the next tenants. Move all of your possession out by the specified date (and time if the new tenants are moving in the same day or if the landlord needs the keys by a specific time).

The Bottom Line
It's exciting to live on your own for the first time, but a little preparation ahead of time will ensure that the experience is a positive one – even if your roommate is allergic to doing the dishes.

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