Think before you sign on the dotted line

Caroline Lautenbacher

Getting ready to move out of the dorms and into a house or apartment next fall? Here are some helpful tips to think about when looking over and signing a lease.

“Read the lease and understand its terms,” said Carol Crimi, senior staff attorney at Student Legal Services. “If anything is vague (or) difficult to understand, get it clarified before you sign.”

Some apartment complexes offer joint leases — if one roommate leaves the residency, the other roommate is still required to pay the entire payment, she said.

“Students sometimes have to have a guarantor — this is someone who, if they are unable to make payments, that person is guaranteeing that they will,” Crimi said. “We caution parents not to sign this, unless it states in a joint lease that the parent is taking on liability only for his or her own child and not for the other students on the lease.”

It is a tenant’s legal right to pay only for the utilities he or she uses.

“If your landlord pays the utility bill and charges you because you went over a certain amount, you have a right to ask to look at the bill statements,” Crimi said.

Crimi also cautioned students against signing a clause that entitles landlords to hold some of the security deposit for carpet cleaning or any type of cleaning charges. The only reason a landlord can withhold money is for unpaid rent or cleaning of unusual wear and tear.

“The thing I looked for in the lease was, in case something happened and I had to move out, what would happen,” said Jon Drager, senior finance major. “Also, I looked at how often they do repairs: Do we have to pay for the repairs, or is that included in the lease?”

It is important for renters to know the name and address of the landlord as well as the name of the agent the owner works through — this information is not listed in many of the leases.

“Students should also check and note the condition of the complex when they move in,” Crimi said. “Document everything. If the landlord doesn’t provide a check sheet, then we provide one at legal services.”

The biggest problem Student Legal Services employees see is roommate trouble.

“We see a lot of problems when one roommate bails out and doesn’t want to pay rent,” Crimi said. “So when it comes to roommates, choose wisely.”

When looking at apartments, Crimi said, students who feel uncomfortable with a particular landlord should rethink their living arrangement.

“Anyone is welcome to bring their lease here for us to look over,” Crimi said.

Mark Spring, owner of Spring Property, which owns six houses in the Kent area, said he strongly advises new tenants to thoroughly look over the lease and terms of agreement.

“Most people always ask about pets, termination or eviction, or whether it is a joint or separate lease,” he said. “Another thing I get asked a lot is about if the lease is a year long.”

Spring said he usually requires renters’ parents to sign the leases.

“The biggest problem I have had is people leaving houses dirty,” he said. “I gave one group of girls $100 off their security deposit since they took the time to clean the house after the last girls moved out.”

Contact general assignment reporter Caroline Lautenbacher at [email protected].