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A guide for renters navigating their first leasing process

Kait Murray
University Townhomes, located at 1898 East Summit St. Kent Ohio, 44240 was voted one of the best off-campus living spots in the 2023 Best of Kent edition.

While entering their first time living independently, students may find the process of signing a lease and renting a place to be nerve wracking, as they face concerns about getting scammed, paying too much in rent or overlooking little details in the renting process.  

But guidance is available. From walk-throughs to recording damages, tenant-landlord counselor Steven Ellsworth said he aims to mentor first time renters to ensure a smooth transition to the next phase of their life. 

Walkthroughs are key

“Prior to giving a landlord money for rent or a security deposit, tenants should do a walkthrough of the rental unit with the landlord or property manager to assess the unit’s conditions,” Ellsworth said. 

“While on the walk-through, a future renter should document everything,” he said. Photos should be taken of every room, and if possible, a list of any damages should be documented and signed by a landlord or property manager. 

When doing a walk-through, Ellsworth suggested people find a move-in checklist, which may include checking for leaks and holes in the wall. 

Ellsworth explained that documenting the condition of the unit before moving in will act as a safeguard if the landlord tries to charge a renter for damages that were present in the residence before they lived there. 

Questions and Repairs

Ellsworth said a walkthrough serves as a chance to strike up questions or raise concerns with a landlord.   

“I wish I would have known how expensive our electric bills can be before I moved in,” said junior nursing student Peyton Smith, who lives at University Edge near campus. 

“Any questions should be asked and answered before signing any papers,” Ellsworth said, “and repairing any previous damages to the property should also be made by the landlord prior to moving into the space.”

“It is also a chance for tenants to ask the landlord to make any necessary repairs,” Ellsworth said.

Looking out for red flags in rental agreements is also an important factor to consider, he said.

Rights and Obligations

“Any term or condition that contradicts Ohio tenant-landlord law should be considered a red flag,” Ellsworth said.  

As a tenant, a person needs to be aware of all the rights they have.

According to Ohio Bar Law Facts, a tenant has the right to complain to a governmental agency if a landlord violates any health or safety rules. A tenant has the right to privacy, which must be respected by a landlord. They have a right to take action on a landlord failing to perform or meet any legal duties, and much more. 

Tenant obligations 

According to section 5321.05 of the Ohio Revised Code, a tenant is expected to do the following: keep the premises they occupy safe and clean, dispose of all trash, use electric and plumbing fixtures properly, follow various codes and personally refrain from and forbid any other person that is damaging any of the property, among other expectations.   

If a tenant resides at a college or university apartment, they may be evicted from their lease before it expires if they are taken to court and proven guilty of disobeying any rental agreement term or any of the college or university’s code of conduct or other policies they have in place, according to the Ohio Revised Code. 

According to Ohio Laws and Administrative rules section 5321.031, “A college or university may terminate a rental agreement with a student tenant prior to the expiration of the term of the agreement and require that the student vacate the dwelling unit only when the termination follows a hearing in which it was determined by the college or university that the student violated a term of the rental agreement or violated the college’s or university’s code of conduct or other policies and procedures.” 

One of a landlord’s obligations is to make all necessary repairs to a residence and to do whatever is needed for the place to be fixed for the tenant to live in a safe and habitable space.

If necessary, if repairs aren’t made in a timely manner, a renter has the right to take action immediately.

“For any repairs not being made, a tenant may put their rent in escrow until the repairs are made,” Ellsworth said.

Paying one’s rent in escrow is a law that Ohio allows. This means an Ohio tenant can pay their rent into court to force their landlord to make the necessary repairs. One can pay in escrow if they are not behind on any rent payments and have a written notice to their landlord of the problems have not been fixed. 


Another issue students may face is a lack of parking, said Kristi Mergenhagen, senior manager of operations at Rent Prep, which is a tenant screening service. 

Students face parking issues because of a lack of parking spaces available, as well as high prices of parking passes.  

“While developments must provide a minimum number of parking spaces for new construction based on size, occupancy, and use, there are no specific laws that mandate whether a tenant must have access to parking when renting,” Mergenhagen said. 

For a full listing of apartments in Kent and near campus, click here. For more information on rental agreements or renters’ rights, contact Akron Fair Housing at 330-376-6191.

Kylee Coles is a reporter. Contact her at [email protected].

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