College-bound kids: Safety in off-campus housing

Adult Daughter Moving Out Of Parent's Home

Now is the time for your senior student to check out colleges and make a choice. While this is an exciting time, it’s also one that encompasses more than just academics.

Where your child will live is a consideration. Are the dorms the best option for the first year? Is off-campus housing a more cost-effective choice?

Consider this: Your college kid sounds very excited over the phone. She and her friends have found a great old apartment building with a three-room unit they can afford.

“The apartments were built in 1911,” your daughter says. “You should see the old ironing board that springs out from a kitchen cabinet! It’s so cool.”

She’s right about one thing: You should go see the apartment. Not for the ironing board that she’ll likely never use, but to check the building and the unit for safety.

What’s the concern?

According to the U.S. Fire Administration (USFA), 94 percent of fatal college fires between 2000 and 2015 occurred in off-campus housing. In nearly 60 percent of fatal fires, there were no working smoke alarms. Electrical problems caused 11 percent of fatal fires, and 9 percent were caused by cooking.

So take a tour of your daughter’s dream rental, whether it’s an apartment or a house. If you can’t check off all the items below, you might not want to sign the lease:

  • A working smoke alarm should be outside every sleep area and in every bedroom on every floor.
  • Every room has two unblocked ways to get out. (A window counts as an exit.)
  • Any bedroom above the first floor has an escape ladder or stairway.
  • The apartment (or house) has two unblocked ways out.
  • The unit’s electrical system can safely handle the power demands of computers, printers, TVs and other appliances. The National Fire Protection Association says to never plug more than two appliances into an outlet at once, and only use outlets designed to handle multiple plugs.
  • The stove is in good working order.
  • Smoking is not allowed in the building. An indoor ban may not be good enough, however. Keep in mind that many off-campus smoking-related fires start in upholstered couches and chairs on outside porches and decks, according to the USFA. Look to see if neighbors have upholstered furniture sitting outside their home. That may be a cause for concern.

While college is a big step toward independence and maturity, it’s not going to happen overnight. Your college-bound kid needs help figuring out the bigger picture when it comes to housing.

Together, using this list, you can make sure the housing experience adds up to an A-plus.

Additional sources: Campus Firewatch; U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission




Related Reading

Brad Kieffer