Planning Ahead

Factors to Keep in Mind


Figuring out how much you can spend on rent each month will help to narrow your search. The costs for accommodations vary and are determined by the landlord. Many landlords require that a tenant’s income be triple the monthly rent to qualify for a unit. Some units accept cosigners for those who do not meet such qualifications, so make sure you ask! It is also important to keep in mind that more and more apartments in the county are charging residents for water and garbage. Also, when renting a house, all utilities may be the responsibility of the tenants.


Sharing a unit with other residents is often a necessity for students to reduce the cost of rent. Make sure to compare lifestyle preferences including studying, sleeping, and cleaning habits. It is also important to be in agreement on financial responsibilities. For those who have animals, it is critical to note that very few apartments in the county accept pets. You must start looking far in advance and expect to pay a pet deposit, or even higher rent, which should be agreed upon by all roommates before signing the lease. 


Most rentals in Sonoma County require that tenants sign a fixed lease, meaning you will be obligated to pay rent for the duration of your contract by the terms of your lease. Do not sign a multiple month lease if you think you may want to move out before the lease is up. Leases are legally binding documents. 


Living off-campus is a big responsibility. Not only are you in charge of upkeeping the home, but rental homes often require yard upkeep as well.

Unlike living in the Residential Community, repairs can take longer because there is not a property manager on site. Be sure to get information from the owner of the house on what to do in case repairs are needed quickly.


Most apartment buildings in the county have an income minimum requirement of three times the amount of rent in order for an applicant to qualify. With the average two-bedroom apartment running $2,600 per month, an applicant would have to make $7,800 per month to qualify. It is difficult for many students to meet this requirement; in most cases, guardians will need to cosign for them. Financial aid, including loans or scholarships, would be considered income.

Typically, each student as well as their guardians (co-signers) will have to submit an application and each pay application fees. Application fees will vary. It is important that students discuss this with their guardians. You are asking them to take financial responsibility for the apartment as well as to divulge confidential financial information. To be fair, every parent should be on the lease as well as every student. The financial obligations should not be the responsibility of one family if the apartment/house is being shared with other students. 

Lease Agreements

Most apartments require that you sign a lease. There are two types of leases: Fixed Term (usually 6, 9, or 12 month) and Month-to-Month. 

Fixed Term

Signing a Fixed Term lease means that you will be responsible for paying the rent and living in the apartment for a certain amount of time. Occasionally, an apartment building will offer lower rent or a lower deposit in exchange for you signing a 6, 9, or 12-month lease. The advantage to a Fixed Term lease is that you can't be asked to move and your rent cannot be raised during the span of your lease. The disadvantage is that you cannot move should you find something better or decide to leave the area. A lease is a legal document that once signed, cannot be broken without incurring penalties. Before signing any lease, you should find out what the penalty is to break it. 


A month-to-month lease is just that: it is in effect from one month to the next. The advantage to this type of lease is that you can move out at any time, considering that you have given 30 days written notice. This tends to be the better option for a student who goes home for the summer. The disadvantage of a month-to-month lease is that rent can be raised at any time and the landlord only has to give you 30 days written notice to vacate the premises.

Important Points

  • Read the lease. Read through the lease thoroughly before signing it. Make sure you understand ALL of it. If there is something in it you don't like, discuss it with the manager or landlord. 
  • Don't be rushed. Never feel rushed into signing anything, and never accept the excuse that it is just like every other lease out there. 
  • Check the names. Make sure that the name of every tenant is on the lease. When students move out or move in, it is vital that the new tenant's name be added to the lease. If your roommates can't make the rent or cause a lot of damage, it is the person whose name is on the lease who will be held responsible. 
  • Get a copy. Do not leave the manager's office without a copy of your lease. File it away in a safe place as you will definitely refer to it again in the future.