How To Find Your Perfect Off-Campus Housing Fit

Looking for an apartment can often feel like a full-time job – with so many options and considerations to weigh, making the right choice is not always clear. Off Campus Student Services, now a part of the Student Leadership and Involvement Center in the department of University Student Commons and Activities, is here to help get students find their perfect fit.

The Off Campus Student Services website, currently available at, allows students to conduct a “beginning search” for their off-campus housing options. Users are able to choose from housing options ranging from location, utilities and distance to campus among others. The “resources” tab also allows users to find answers for common off-campus housing questions.

Off Campus Student Services will be hosting two housing fairs, taking place Feb. 16 and March 17, in which off-campus properties will come to the University Student Commons to showcase what they have to offer in housing, with some properties offering specials to students ready to lease with them. The first fair will be held on Tuesday, Feb. 16 in the Commonwealth Ballrooms and the second will be on Thursday, March 17 on the second floor of the University Student Commons. Both fairs will be held from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Lisa Mathews-Ailsworth, Off Campus Student Services Coordinator, says the housing fairs will serve as a “one stop shop” for students looking to live off campus.

“Basically anyone who has a room to rent will come. Each property manager comes and passes out information. It’s open to all and is a way to meet the landlords,” Mathews-Ailsworth said.

SLIC1516-016A - OCSS Fair Poster

The housing fairs will serve as a hub to ask off-campus housing questions to landlords and property managers including what type of leases are offered and what is included in the lease. Additionally, students will learn how to compare properties, narrow down their choices and get a feel for each property. These events are not limited to just first-year students moving off campus for the first time. Mathews-Ailsworth says “every year you have the chance to renew and there are new opportunities.”

Mathews-Ailsworth identified some misleading assumptions about off-campus living that all students should be cognizant of at the housing fairs:

  • Renter’s insurance may not be as expensive as you think and protects you from incidents ranging from theft to housing fires.
  • Not all freebies and giveaways are the best deal. When someone offers you $100 off if you sign right away, realistically that’s only $10 off a month for a nine-month lease.
  • Remember that your upfront costs will add up fast. Think about the application fee, security deposit and first month’s rent.
  • For students relying on financial aid, your refund check may not be instantaneous. You still need to pay your monthly rent even if you have not received your refund check.
  • A lease is a binding contract. Think about if you want to travel abroad or might have to leave the university for any reason; you’re still responsible for the remainder of your lease.
  • Lastly, tour the property or properties you’ve chosen before you sign.

In addition to the housing fairs, Off Campus Student Services will host two “Moving On, Moving Off” workshops. On Feb. 23 and March 21 from 12-1 p.m. in the Forum Room, students will learn step-by-step how to find and rent their first apartment. This includes, but is not limited to, deposits, leases, budgets and tenant/landlord rights.

Off Campus Student Services will also host roommate mixers for students still searching for roommates. At these events students will be able to see others who are looking for the same criteria they are and get familiar with these students. These mixers will be held in the Virginia Rooms from 6-7 p.m. on Feb. 25 and March 23.

Mathews-Ailsworth stresses the differences between roommates who want to be best friends versus roommates who just want to be housemates.

“The No. 1 predictor of a good roommate match is compatibility. There’s a big difference between roommates who want to be friends and do everything together and people who are just looking for a housemate,” Mathews-Ailsworth said.

Off-Campus Student Services is part of the Student Leadership and Involvement Center in the lower level of the University Student Commons in room 018. All students can visit their office to assist with housing searches, roommate and landlord conflicts, help understanding leases and anything else related to off-campus living. For more information about upcoming events or questions regarding off-campus living, contact Lisa Mathews-Ailsworth by email at

SLIC1516-016B - OCSS 8.5x11 Flyer


  1. Greetings. After reading the information on this website I feel compelled to leave a comment. During our off-campus housing search 2016-2017, it appeared that The James would be the best option. On move-in day I discovered I had made a horrible, horrible mistake. The issues are too numerous to list in this message but I will attempt to list a few. We were not offered the opportunity to view the premises before signing the contract and giving a security deposit. On move-in day I witnessed multiple smoke detectors beeping, in apartments and corridors. I witnessed an apartment littered with bags of trash and multiple empty vodka bottles. There were other concerns after moving day. For example armed robbery of a VCU student not to mention the assault of my own son. The phrase, “gated community” is used very loosely. I have visited, the complex, on multiple occasions and the gate doesn’t work properly. Sometimes the gate is not even closed. Overflowing trash dumpsters are a common occurrence. The trash compactor has been pad locked. The biggest issue I have with The James is safety. As I mentioned above armed robbery and assault. There have also been incidents of gunfire in the community. This is extremely alarming!

    To end my comment on a positive note, The James brought in a new manager this past summer. She has been very helpful. I hope she is able to make a difference in this housing option.


  2. Thank you for the post on how to find your perfect off-campus housing fit. I like the idea that some places offer roommate mixers to help you find someone to room with. It would definitely be a nice boost to find someone you are compatible with and actually want to be roommates with.


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