Renters’ survival guide

Join the club in Boulder, Colorado

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Sue France

It isn’t always easy for renters in this town. Between the University’s 33,200-and-counting students, more startups and larger tech companies coming to town, plus the fact that this is still the “happiest city in America,” finding a place to hang your hat in Boulder is becoming both increasingly difficult and expensive. It may be part of the price of living somewhere spectacular, but…

Don’t be discouraged by that, renters!

With a little bit of inside intel, tips, tricks and local wisdom, you shouldn’t have any difficulty navigating the strange and often frustrating enterprise of renting a room in Boulder. The process might give you a headache, sure. It might even push you to the edge of sanity itself, but it’s not an impossible thing to do… just, sometimes, an arduous one.

Getting started

You should be familiar with your budget and know how much you are willing and able to spend on your monthly rent.

Generally, the accepted rule of thumb is that you should never spend more than one-third of your income on rent. But, everyone is different and you may choose to pay more or less than tha. Either way, figure it out before you even start the search.

From there, it’s a matter of checking resources. Websites like Craigslist and apartments.com are widely used — they are all accessible, with daily updates and the ability to filter searches by price and location. And if you can get on nextdoor.com in your desired neighborhood, locals may have otherwise unknown rental leads.

Also, some Facebook groups, like the “University of Colorado (UCB) Housing, Sublets & Roommates” page, can be useful places to find rooms or link up with potential roommates.

Do you have friends or family in the area? Word of mouth can also be a powerful connector.

Roommates are the way to go

Studios and single-room apartments are, of course, available, but they are typically more expensive. Which is to say, in Boulder, living with others is more affordable than living by yourself.

As is the case in most cities, having roommates or friends to look for housing with when you begin the process can make finding a place easier in the end. It will increase your options, for one, because most homes and many of the apartments for rent in Boulder are multi-bedroom, multi-bathroom situations. And it will help avoid the risks of living with total strangers.

If, however, you don’t know anyone and still need an affordable living situation, your best bet might be finding a room to sublet, and move into an outgoing tenant’s room before their lease is over. This relieves the burden of rent from the tenant, while at the same time ensuring that the landlord still gets paid… by someone. This can be particularly helpful if you are looking to move into a single room during non-peak season (outside the summer and new year months). Craigslist and Facebook groups like “Boulder Creative Housing” and “Boulder, CO: Real Estate, Housing, Rental and Sales” are goldmines in this situation.

Boulder also has a few of cooperative housing opportunities — such as the Ingram Court Co-op, Wild Sage, the Boulder Creek Community or Nyland Cohousing — that are scattered throughout and around town. The rent is usually cheap at these places and the living situation is communal. Aside from being the most environmentally friendly way to live in a city, it’s a surefire way to get close to new people and learn the nuances of cooperative co-habitation.

Be strategic about where you look

Just like anywhere else, the more attractive the location, the more expensive it’s going to be. There are, however, some exceptions.

Generally the closer you are to the mountains, to Chautauqua, Pearl Street or to campus (i.e. the Hill), the more expensive the rent will be. Though, that’s not to say with the right kind of determination and a little luck you can’t find some steals in those areas, too. Check into older houses or apartments in these more expensive neighborhoods — what you might sacrifice in modernity you could make up for in location and affordability.

It’ll take vigilance, however. Cheap places in choice neighborhoods typically vanish as quickly as they appear. If you attentively refresh housing websites, you might just catch one.

The easiest way to save on rent, though, is to withdraw from the heart of Boulder. Whether you go north, east or south, with distance, you’ll find more availability and more affordable options.

Consider transportation when looking for a place. Are there bus stops nearby? Is there a bike path you can use? Do you know any friends in the area with whom you can carpool? How close is the highway?

It also never hurts to check in with the Boulder Police Department for information on crime statistics in certain neighborhoods — if only for some peace of mind. These can be found on the City of Boulder’s “Weekly Crime Map & Statistics” page.

Perhaps most useful, though, are the personal accounts of other Boulder renters. Just talk to people. Ask your friends and acquaintances or even total strangers about their experiences renting in certain places or from certain landlords and real estate companies.

Be strategic about when you look

Most leases in Boulder turn over at the end of July, just before school starts. This is one of the best times to look for a place because there are so many people changing residences and availability flourishes.

Similarly, in December, when the first semester of school is over, a lot of CU students travel to study abroad. This creates a wave of rooms that students need to sublet out — an opportune time for anyone looking for a single room or shorter-term lease.

Tips for the move

Once you’ve found the right place that fits your budget and your personal standards, it’s time for the main event — the typically stressful, usually labor-intensive challenge of actually moving your life from one building to another.

Before you do, though, it is important to do a walkthrough of the new place — preferably with the landlord. Fill out a condition of rental property checklist, like the one provided on the Colorado State Government website or the one courtesy of CU’s Off-Campus Housing & Neighborhood Relations department. Make note of anything and everything that’s damaged or in disrepair, record what is scheduled to be fixed, take pictures of anything noteworthy, and sign these documents with your landlord. This is useful in avoiding damage disputes and security deposit difficulties later on. 

There are several local moving truck companies like Boulder Valley Transfer and Taylor Moving and Storage, along with more corporate, widespread companies like U-Haul and Penske. Moving trucks can be an expensive aspect of moving, so keep your eye out for bargain deals or coupons that could save some change — websites like Groupon sometimes have deals on moving services. Splitting the cost with a roommate or friend who is also moving is another good way to shave down those moving expenses.

And, when it comes to packing and transferring stuff, there are a lot of easy hacks that can help to simplify the process and mitigate loss/breakage. Here’s a few of our favorites:

• Pick up cardboard boxes from local liquor stores — they’re usually free. 

• Wrap delicate or fragile objects (like plates or glassware) in shirts or coats.

• Label boxes on the side, not the top, for easy organization.

• Color code your boxes by room with colored sharpies or stickers.

• Pack a small separate bag with all of your basics and daily necessities, so they’re easily accessible.

• Use all suitcases and duffel bags for the heaviest items.

• Put trash bags around hanging clothes to protect them and make transportation easy.

• Roll your clothes up (don’t fold them) to make more space.

• Cover all bottles of liquid (soap, cleaning supplies, etc.) with plastic to mitigate leakage.

• Pack loose jewelry in egg cartons to keep it organized and protected.

• Plastic grocery bags are great for adding extra padding to boxes (and it keeps them from the landfill).

• Have a yard sale and get rid of things — you’ll be glad you did and can make a few extra bucks to help soften the cost of moving.

Green-minded moving

In a place as environmentally conscious as Boulder, it’s also important to maintain an element of sustainability and efficiency when you’re moving. Try to avoid unnecessary waste, use recyclable materials wherever possible, limit the number of moving truck trips and do your best to generally diminish the impact of your migration on the planet.

However, no matter what, moving will always create waste — some of which requires a little more effort to dispose of responsibly.

The easiest, most mindful way to get rid of hard-to-dispose-of materials is to bring them to Eco-Cycle CHaRM, a nonprofit out on East Arapahoe that accepts electronics, plastic appliances, scrap metal, plate glass windows, mattresses and much more. Check out the full guidelines and pricing brochure online. It also provides a complete A-Z recycling guide on its website, which explains where you can take different items to have them properly disposed of.

Alternatively, if you choose to have the folks at Western Disposal Services (Boulder’s trash, recycling and compost service) dispose of larger items, you need give them a call at 303-444-2037 for pricing information and to schedule a special pick-up. They charge per bulk item. 

The joy of second-hand furniture

Sometimes, it’s simply easier to get rid of old furniture and furnishings than to move them to a new home. Sometimes it’s just necessary.

That can be an exciting prospect in this city — there’s no shortage of cool second-hand furniture in Boulder.

Goodwill Boulder on South Broadway, near Baseline Road, is a hot spot for people donating furniture, clothing and household items. This is one of the busiest and most widely utilized thrift stores in town — so it’s a great place to find a new couch, crock-pot or that special rug you need to tie a room together. Naturally, the best time to visit is around the end of July, when everyone is moving and donating.

The TRU Hospice Thrift store on East Arapahoe is another great place for second-hand items. You’ll find a ton of used furniture items, and all the proceeds go to hospice. Visit on a sale day and everything in the store is half-off. There’s also the Humane Society of Boulder Thrift and Gift Shop on Arapahoe and the Greenwood Wildlife Consignment Gallery and Thrift Shop, also on Arapahoe. And on Valmont, Estate Alchemy is a great place to find some upper-end second-hand furniture.

The beginning of May (when CU’s school-year wraps up) and late July (when leases throughout town start turning over) are two of the most fruitful times to go furniture hunting on the streets and among the alleyways of Boulder. People are known to leave tables, chairs, couches and other household items outside, in hopes that either the garbage man or a fellow Boulderite will come pick it up. That might sound a little weird to some — but one person’s trash is another person’s living room furniture. Plus, it’s a very real way of diverting waste and recycling household effects.

If you do go on a furniture street-hunting trip, The Hill is a predictably productive neighborhoods for it.

Adapting to a changing game

As life in Boulder continues to grow and evolve, renters are going to have to adapt in ever-more creative ways to keep up. This is survival of the most determined — perseverance of the innovative and resourceful. And it might sometimes take more effort than it does in other cities.

But the more energy, thought and strategy you put into your move to or around Boulder, the better chances you have of finding the right place that fits your personal tastes, your budget and that allows you to live with the right people in your preferred part of town. And if you really put your mind to it, you can do it in an environmentally conscious, low-impact way.

So, good luck out there, renters. It may not be an easy road, but it’s also not an impossible one. And if you want to live in Boulder, it’s all part of the experience.