Students venturing away from the comforts of the residence halls and into the independent world of renting got advice and direction last night at an informational meeting organized by the Community Housing Office (CHO).

The meeting took place in the Santa Rosa Residence Hall Formal Lounge and drew over 260 people who came to learn about housing options for students moving off campus. CHO student peer and second-year political science and English major Kathy Estrada said that it was important for students to consider the character of their roommates as well as the state of their prospective home before making any final decisions. When seeking off-campus housing, Estrada said students should view different units and speak to current tenants in order to determine whether the property conditions are livable.

“You do have the right to plumbing, to heating,” Estrada said. “You have the right not to live with vermin.”

The most common rental options for students seeking off-campus housing are renting an apartment or a house in the communities of Isla Vista, Goleta and Santa Barbara, though Estrada said other options include renting a room in a private home or living in university residence halls. She said Goleta units are usually cheaper than those in I.V., and Santa Barbara offers students an active nightlife, though both locations raise the issue of transportation to campus that is avoided by living in Isla Vista. Estrada said I.V. also offers students the chance to be surrounded by their peers.

“Isla Vista is a community,” she said. “It’s not just that place where you go on Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday to party.”

Roommates should consider their personal as well as financial compatibility, Estrada said, noting that roommates face potential problems including overnight guests and different sleeping habits, as well as drinking, smoking and partying preferences. Estrada said she recommended renters complete a roommate rental agreement available from the Community Housing Office, which formally lists such terms as the division of utilities, house rules, parking arrangements, rent and deposit rates as well as the personal information and source of income of each roommate.

“You want to have that rental agreement form just because your lease is a legally binding contract,” Estrada said. “You don’t want somebody bailing out on you at the last minute. And, if you don’t have anything in writing, then you’ll just be stuck in that situation.”

Estrada said it was also helpful for individual tenants to keep a rental file that includes a copy of the roommate agreement, rental lease and roommate phone numbers and addresses as well as parental information.

“The most important thing that you guys want to keep is a rental file. In it, you are going to have everything and anything that you ever need to know or that you want to know about your apartment,” Estrada said.

Estrada said tenants should also fully understand the terms set forth in their lease, as well as policies concerning subleasing, paid utilities and deposit rates. The common deposit rate for an unfurnished unit is two times the cost of rent, while a furnished unit usually requires three times the cost of rent, Estrada said.

CHO plans to hold a rental fair tentatively scheduled for Tuesday, Jan. 25, in front of Storke Tower, though Estrada said the date may be changed due to weather conditions. The fair will have tenant applications and unit listings available. Different rental company representatives will also be present.

CHO Program Coordinator Elizabeth Yossem-Guy said CHO also offers videotaping services to record the condition of the unit before tenants move in, mediation services and advice for conflicts with roommates, neighbors and landlords as well as education of tenant rights. The CHO Web site includes a listing of over 200 available units for renters looking for roommates or a place to live.

Copies of the rental roommate agreement, inventory condition report, subleaser agreement, survival guide and move-out guide are available at the CHO office.

“We try to be a one-stop resource center for renters”, Yossem-Guy said.

First-year pre-biology major, Lauren Mulligan said she attended the informational meeting to find out about apartment availability.

“I know that you need to start looking for places to live in Isla Vista around this time,” Mulligan said. “I think the Web site will be a big help.”

The Community Housing Office is located on the third floor of the UCen in Room 3151 and is open Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. The office can also be reached at 805-893-4371 and at