Students should educate themselves on apartment leasing contracts and campus attorney resources in an effort to avoid paying excessive violation fees.
One of the most exciting experiences for any college student is leasing an apartment for the first time. Without having to deal with dorm rules or floor meetings, students finally get a real kitchen to cook their food, a larger space to decorate and can even throw a party or two.
But there are dangers in leasing an apartment, too, especially for students who are vulnerable first-time renters. It is too easy for apartment owners to take advantage of the naïve.
First and foremost, it is important that students read their leasing contracts carefully. In the excitement of picking out a first apartment, students may be tempted to merely skim 20-page leasing agreements, but that is not a good idea. Some violations of leasing contracts can result in significant fees, so it is important that students know and follow the rules and regulations of their apartments.
The Attorney for Students, located in the Dean of Students Office, exists to help students with legal matters. The attorneys can review leasing contracts with students before they sign so they know what specific guidelines to follow. Students can also receive help from the office when they feel their rights as tenants have been violated and hold apartment owners accountable to the law.
Even when students have done everything possible to keep their apartments in good shape upon move-out, landlords may still try to keep student security deposits without explanation. This is not only unfair, but it is also illegal.
Staff Attorney Sylvia Holmes said in a Sept. 27 University Star article that landlords are required to send tenants an itemized bill explaining why they are keeping a student’s security deposit.
If students feel they are being charged unfairly for damages, they can write a letter to their landlord. The Attorney for Students offers a template for such a letter.
Landlord-tenant complaints take up about half of all cases that come to the Attorney for Students Office. So, it is not an uncommon problem. According to the same article, Emily Moore and her mother Nancy were angry after being charged for dirty carpets and chipped paint in an apartment Emily subleased out for a mere two months. The Moore family’s case is just one of many cautionary apartment leasing tales.
According to Holmes, the best proactive step a student can take to protect themselves from unfair fees is to make copies of their inventory sheet and take pictures when moving into a new apartment to document any deficiencies. That way, students will not find themselves in a “he said, she said” situation that pits a student against a powerful business owner.