Opinion | What I wish I knew before renting an apartment in South Oakland

By Lynnette Tibbott, Staff Columnist

During my first year at Pitt, I lived in Brackenridge Hall. The building had no air conditioning, and the busy Forbes Avenue traffic often kept me up at night. When I became an upperclassman, I was excited to finally live off-campus and be able to burn candles, use an oven and avoid paying the University’s inflated expenses for a dorm and meal plan

If you choose to rent an off-campus apartment, you’ll likely face a new set of challenges, but you won’t be disappointed. You have more freedom to really make your house your home. Here are eight pieces of advice I learned over my two years living off campus that might be helpful to you. 

  1. Take pictures of your apartment the day you move in

I moved into my apartment on Parkview Avenue a couple weeks before the start of my junior year. The landlord met me and my mother outside to give me the key. The second we got to the porch, we noticed the screen door was missing. The landlord made a halfhearted promise to fix it later. My mom was scared that the landlord would blame us for the door and steal our security deposit, so she took a picture of it. Two years later, there’s still no screen door. 

My mom took photos of every pre-existing carpet stain, every crack in the wall and any part of the house that didn’t look quite right. 

Some wear and tear is natural, but don’t get blamed for a problem you didn’t create. Be smart, and take pictures of anything that looks damaged or sketchy before you move in.

  1. Unfortunately, you will need a plunger. 

The fateful day came for me when I walked into the bathroom and immediately smelled something gross. I opened the toilet lid with a fearful, shaking hand and uncovered the horrid scene before me. I told my roommate what happened. Her face held a look of pure disgust, which morphed into a fearless resolve. We went into the bathroom, equipped with plastic gloves, masks and our trusty plunger.

I’d never had to unclog the toilet before. I’ll spare you the details. Long story short, we fixed it after a few minutes. Septic issues are never fun to deal with, but they happen to everyone eventually. The faster you learn how to deal with life’s crap, the better off you’ll be. 

  1. Ants and bugs are going to be a problem.

One morning I walked into my kitchen and noticed what I first thought was a black stain on the tile floor. But stains weren’t supposed to move. I leaned closer, and my heart dropped. We had ants. A lot of them. 

The little army came from under the fridge and worked their way to the fridge door, on the countertops and even in my sink. 

For weeks after the traps were set, we saw stragglers exploring the area near our dishes and the microwave on the counter for a while until they all died off. You can buy ant traps or experiment with more DIY methods, but overall it’s better to prevent ants than to deal with the problem. 

Ant prevention can be as simple as cleaning up food, especially on the floor. To make a long story short — take care of those crumbs. 

  1. It’s not a matter of if roommate drama will happen, but when. 

When you live with roommates, conflict is not a possibility but a guarantee. Issues could range from simple problems such as leaving dirty dishes in the sink or they could turn severe — such as someone not paying their agreed rent or utilities. Choosing good roommates is important, but even then you can’t predict the possible problems that can arise, especially living with friends. 

Living with friends could pose the issue that you’re afraid to speak up when something is wrong in the household, in fear that it could damage the relationship. However, you should never be scared to speak up when it concerns your household. You all pay your rent, and you deserve to feel comfortable in your own home. It’s always best to talk in person about issues, and even hold household meetings if necessary.

The best thing to do in conflict resolution is to not take things personally. Everyone prioritizes different aspects of living. Just because someone doesn’t like that you left a dish out doesn’t mean they don’t like you as a person. It just means that you have to find a compromise so that everyone can feel content in their home. 

  1. Read the lease in full. 

Your lease isn’t like the terms and conditions on Apple updates. Even though it’s a pain, you need to know the set rules, so you don’t get sued or kicked out. By reading the lease, you will understand not only your responsibilities as a tenant, but you can hold your landlord accountable for anything they fail to do in the lease. Be familiar with your own rights, as well as theirs. 

  1. Utility bills are a pain.

Remember when your parents used to yell at you for leaving a light on? Or the hellfire that they would rain down upon you when you touched the thermostat? Unfortunately, these problems don’t go away when you leave your parents’ home. 

It’s even more fun when you and your roommates play the game of thermostat roulette, where someone mysteriously turns it up, down or off completely. Regardless of personal temperature preference, it’s best to conserve as much energy as possible — not just for our utility bills, but for the environment too.

Remember to turn off lights when you’re not using a room. If you’re going away from your apartment for a while, such as Thanksgiving break, unplug everything that you don’t need. Even when an appliance isn’t turned on, having it plugged in could still drain electricity and ultimately drain your wallet. 

  1. Don’t be afraid to get your parents involved.

If your landlord refuses to listen to you or brushes off problems you tell them about, get your parents involved. Most landlords think we’re nothing more than naive kids. You may need backup, and this is where having a “Karen” type of parent might actually help you.

As young college students, we sometimes don’t have a voice. Yet, it’s always good to have someone fighting in our corners. Don’t be afraid to ask your parents for help if you feel like you’re not being taken seriously. 

  1. You have more freedom. Use it wisely.

Congratulations, you can almost do whatever you want now! But use this power wisely. Just because you can leave a dirty bowl of mac and cheese on the stove doesn’t mean you should. Try not to create problems for yourself. Practice responsible living habits now so you’re not clueless in  the future.

Off-campus living doesn’t come equipped with the luxuries that on-campus housing provides, such as being close to campus, 24/7 maintenance and included utilities. However, there’s a powerful feeling to having your own place. 

Bonus tip: Give yourself plenty of time to look for a rental, typically six months or more in advance! So many of my friends waited until the last minute and got stuck with the last picks.  


Lynnette Tibbott primarily writes about topics in the sciences and humanities. Write to her at [email protected]