A rooming house is generally a larger house (3+ bedrooms) that has multiple rooms for rent. A landlord may choose to rent these out to one group of friends, or lease each room independently of another. Rooming houses typically share common spaces such as bathrooms, kitchens, and dining areas.
Large apartments (3+ bedrooms) often have similar arrangements. Some of these apartments occupy one or two floors of a converted Victorian house, while others are available in other low-rise apartment buildings or in the newer high-rise building, the Radian, at 3925 Walnut Street. The Radian offers per-room leases and includes all utilities in rent.
It is important for you to know if the house you are planning to rent is licensed by the City of Philadelphia as a rooming house or whether it is just a family house, illegally used for a group of more than three students. Rooming houses have special fire safety and code requirements meant to protect the tenants. You want to make sure that the house you are going to rent is not a fire trap for any of the roommates. Beware of basement and attic rooms. Some landlords present those spaces as livable, when they sometimes are not. Students themselves, in order to save on rent, may decide to live in such spaces.
These kinds of apartments are available in converted Victorians, small apartment buildings, and larger apartment buildings such as the Hub at 3945 Chestnut Street.
The Axis, located at 20 S. 36th Street, is a newly renovated building offering single or double rooms with utilities, a meal plan and numerous amenities included in rent. Lease options include semester and academic year leases.
If you are interested in sharing a large house or apartment with other students, you will probably have to start thinking about housing as early as October the year prior to your move. Actual listings of places available do not get advertised until the last two weeks of November and throughout December. You may want to be aware, though, that a lot of places never get to be advertised; they are just handed down from one student group to another. Studios, one- and two- bedroom apartments are not usually posted before January 15. Listings usually become available around that time and continue to be posted through late March for June 1 availability.
For a list of landlords with numerous rooming houses and large apartments, see the Special Feature insert in our undergraduate housing guide (PDF). You may also check out the University City landlord list on our web site. The best method to locate houses in the University City area is by contacting these landlords directly. Some landlords will create a waiting list to fill their vacancies as houses become available.
Our office is unable to make specific recommendations with regard to landlords and their properties. Landlords subscribing to the OCS subscription program represent they have obtained the proper licensing to rent properties in the Philadelphia area. The inclusion of a landlord's properties on the OCS is not an endorsement or approval of the landlord, its properties or its business practices. All prospective tenants are encouraged to exercise their own good judgment when evaluating a rental unit or landlord.
To get feedback from previous tenants, check out the results of the GAPSA Landlord Survey. University students and other affiliates rated their landlords in several categories. Go to www.gapsa.upenn.edu/gapsa-landlord-survey and click on Results.
If you receive financial aid, the amount of your housing allotment and distribution schedule is the same, whether you live on or off campus. See www.sfs.upenn.edu for more information about financial aid and living off campus.
The average rent per bedroom in University City for 2010 between 38th and 43rd Streets was $747 for shared houses. Prices vary based on the building, location, amenities, house or apartment size, and condition of the place. Utilities are rarely included in the cost of houses but may be included in the cost of some apartments. Remember to figure in the cost of renter's insurance - about $150-$200 per year. See our rent comparison fact sheet for more detailed information.
Before you sign the lease, the landlord may ask you for a deposit not to exceed a month's rent. The landlord cannot ask you to pay any rent before you sign the lease and get a copy of it. Once you sign the lease, landlords usually ask for three months of rent up front, designated as first month, last month and security deposit. The amount of money you put down before you sign the lease will be considered part of this amount and can be assigned as the deposit. Some landlords, such as University City Housing (UCH) will ask for the three months at lease signing and for installment payments throughout the summer such that when you move in all the rent for the first semester is already paid.
Almost without exception, leases for undergrads are one-year leases, with a beginning date of June 1. (Some UCH leases do begin September 1). This means that students are responsible for rent and utilities during the summer months. Check the ending date of your lease and be aware that several large landlords in the area terminate leases one week short of 12 months.
Landlords whose tenants are mostly undergraduate students usually ask for your Penn ID when you fill out the application for the apartment/house. There may be an application fee and a credit check performed by the landlord. Some landlords also ask for a guarantor.
In a share situation, all tenants are jointly and severally responsible for the lease. If one roommate leaves, you are still responsible for all the rent. All the roommates should sign the lease so that all are equally responsible. The landlord may ask that your parents co-sign or guarantee the lease.
Once you have signed a lease, you are bound by the terms of the entire lease. By signing the lease, you commit yourself to all financial obligations and terms of the lease, even if some of them may be unfair to you. Only illegal clauses, if any, will not apply. If you have questions about your lease, Off-Campus Services can review the lease with you or answer specific questions you might have.
You may be able to find some properties listed through our OCS database, but many rooming houses and large apartments may get rented without being listed.
We can help you plan the move to off-campus living and guide you, step by step, through the rental process. Search our online database for available rentals, sublets or roommates. We also have more information about neighborhoods, temporary housing, leases, safety and more on our website. Additionally, we provide assistance with special housing searches, emergency relocation, and counseling in landlord-tenant matters with the possibility of referral to legal assistance. We conduct educational programs, housing search workshops and seminars.
To contact us about any of these services or for information about any topic listed above, call the office at 215-898-8500 or visit our website at www.upenn.edu/offcampusservices.