A practical guide to all things housing


A parent walks by a group of enthusiastic Residence Life staff members at Kulhavi Hall in this Aug. 23, 2002, file photo.

Coming to a new college or university inevitably means a slew of decisions: What to study, whether to bring a car or rely on public transportation, whether to live with a friend or acquaintance from home or to roll the dice on your roommate. 

But one of the most critical choices facing new arrivals is arguably where to live. Fortunately, the Mount Pleasant area has a multitude of living options for new and incoming students. 

Campus connection

The first thing to understand is the university has a residency requirement for first- and second-year students. Basically, it says that if you’re in your first two years of college studies, you must take campus housing. That applies to students who have earned college credits via dual-enrollment or early middle college programs, too. 

There are a few exceptions to the policy, assuming you meet some special exceptions and get approval prior to signing your housing contract. These include, but aren’t limited to, students who are: 

• Living at home with parents and commuting within 60 miles;

• Married and living with a spouse; 

• Veterans with one or more years of active service; and/or

• 21 years of age or older. 

This isn’t arbitrary. According to a July 2021 study by the Association of College and University Housing Officials International (ACUHO-I): “Students that live on campus are more likely to engage in academic activities relative to their off-campus peers, and those activities in turn, affect retention rates, academic engagement and feelings of belonging to the university community.” 

For more information on the residency requirement or housing, contact the Office of Residence Life at reslife@cmich.edu or 989-774-3111.

OK, so, about those options. There are 15 residence halls and two student apartments on campus. They serve both undergraduate and graduate students, depending on the needs of the individual. The facilities are: 

• East Community (Emmons, Herrig, Saxe, Woldt, Celiani and Fabiano halls)

• South Community (Beddow, Merrill, Sweeney and Thorpe halls)

• Towers Community (Troutman/Cobb, Carey, Campbell, Kesseler and Kulhavi halls)

• Northwest Apartments (one- and two-bedroom options available); and

• Graduate housing (one-, two- and four-bedroom options).

As noted in the ACUHO-I study, on-campus living puts you within a housing community of students of similar age and interests as your own. 

Renting 101

But if that doesn’t appeal and you qualify to stay off campus, there are a slew of options that give you more freedom to choose your surroundings. Mount Pleasant offers a plethora of off-campus apartments and housing; many are still within walking distance of campus, and several have IRide stops on property or nearby. 

Options range from single apartments to multi-bedroom houses, and amenities run the gamut from welcoming your fur baby to offering a pool, fitness center and/or community center. 

Many Mount Pleasant landlords pride themselves on the communities they build for CMU students, and take seriously their role of providing a safe space to live. For a searchable database of both CMU and off-campus communities, visit centralmichiganapartments.com. 

Know thy lease

If off-campus living is in your immediate future — say, you’re a rising junior or you are a graduate student with a family — a lease is also most likely on the horizon.

These are complex documents filled with legal terminology that, to an untrained eye, can look like an awful lot of gibberish. They’re tough enough for native English speakers; now imagine you’ve flown half-way around the world and are presented with this document that spells out what you can and can’t do, when English may not be your first tongue. Yikes!

Here are some key things to know about reading your lease, before you sign on the dotted line:

• Leases are designed to protect both the tenant and the landlord. They’re dense, but that’s to make sure that all parties’ best interests are protected. If it feels suspicious or you don’t understand something, ask.

• Whether the unit fits into your budget. OK, figuring out how much you can afford is never fun (that in-unit laundry and game-heavy community center are just so appealing!); but it’s also critical. Your lease will explain exactly what you will be paying in rent, but it’s also important to factor in things like utilities, internet and any parking costs associated with your space. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the median gross rent — that number smack dab in the middle of the data set — for all rental units in Isabella County was $777 per month as of July 2022. Can you afford the monthly rent — plus deposits, fees, utilities, streaming services, food and all the other essentials — on your own, or will you need a roommate or five? 

• How long is the lease? Generally speaking, leases are 12-month obligations, but around here landlords may offer flexible terms that include semester contracts and 10-month options. If you’re in a 12-month and you need to get out of it for the summer, what are the consequences of breaking a lease? Is there an option to sublet? Conversely, if you have a 10-month contract but decide you want to stay in Mount Pleasant for the summer months, is there an option to extend? 

It’s also worth noting that some of our local landlords offer individual leases, so if a roommate drops off or doesn’t pay their rent, the other tenants aren’t on the hook.

• What documents will I need to rent? Many landlords will want to do a credit check before they offer you a lease, but what if you don’t have a credit history? Bestcolleges.com says landlords may request any of the following documents: rental history, including dates, addresses and contact information for former landlords; your social security number and date of birth; paystubs or bank statement that show income; co-signer information if you don’t have sufficient credit history; personal records; and criminal history. 

• Speaking of which ... No, this is not to imply that we think you are toting extended criminal histories, but there is information out there if you would like to know whether your neighbor is. The State of Michigan maintains a database of all registered sexual offenders that is easily searched by city, county and even street address. 

Helen Egwu, a graduate student at Central Michigan University, attempts to stay active amid the coronavirus outbreak in this April 2, 2020, file photo taken at Lexington Ridge Apartments.

What’s next?

You’ve found your pad, gathered your documents, worked out your budget, know the terms, searched some databases and you’re ready to sign. Now what? 

Here are some key details to search for when reading leasing documentation:

• The names of all lessees or tenants: OK, this seems obvious, but everyone who is going to be living in the unit must sign the lease. If you’re not on the lease but are staying there as a long-term couch-crasher or unnamed resident, it can cause serious legal problems and financial hardship for the signed tenants. 

• Limits on occupancy: Landlords will specify how many people are allowed to live in a unit and who they are. That’s to protect public safety, to keep the landlords in the loop as to who is and who is not supposed to be there, and can prevent the entire unit from getting heavily fined or, worse, evicted. Your lease should explain things like how long a guest may stay before they are considered a full-blown tenant.

• What it’s going to cost: Yes, we’re circling back to that budget thing, but it bears repeating. Your lease will explain the terms of monthly rent, your deposits and fees and the length of time of your agreement. 

• Who is responsible for repairs and maintenance: This is a biggie. Here in Michigan, water heaters go out, furnaces break down and appliances go kaput — usually at the most inopportune times. Your lease should clarify who is responsible for what maintenance or repairs, and how to report any issues. 

• When your landlord is permitted to pop in: As the tenant, you obviously won’t be restricted in when you may access your home, but your landlord will. A lease agreement should spell out when and how the landlord may enter your unit (say, to fix that broken-down water heater), how they notify you they need to come in and how long in advance they will need to send you that notice. 

• Restrictions on illegal activity: Your community may have rules prohibiting disruptive behaviors like excessive noise and illegal activities. It’s important to know and stick to them. 

• Other restrictions apply: Some other things to be on the lookout for include: anti-discrimination policies; your rights to sublet or bring in new legal tenants; rules for changing or prematurely ending tenancy; restrictions on the type of home-based businesses you may have; parking rules and regulations; and the use of common areas like playgrounds, off-leash pet playgrounds, pools, workout centers and clubhouses. 

For more information on leasing or resources on Michigan’s leasing laws, check out the Michigan Legislature’s “A Practical Guide for Tenants & Landlords.”