Taryn Foellmer has heartily scrubbed and swept, but it never seems to work.
“I’ve never gotten my full security deposit back no matter how hard we cleaned,” said Foellmer, a senior technical journalism major.
Hers is a situation thousands of CSU students who rent face. But students aren’t at the mercy of their landlords.
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has some specific rules and regulations about housing, and being familiar with both renters’ rights and landlords’ may make the difference between a comfortable 12-month lease and sleeping on a friend’s couch.
Kathy Harward, director of Student Legal Services at CSU, said along with roommates not paying rent and the three-unrelated rule, one of the most common problems college students have is not getting their security deposits back.
According to the Colorado Division of Housing Web site, landlords have 30 days after the termination of a lease to either return the deposit or provide a statement of damages and deductions.
The law states that landlords can take up to 60 days to return the deposit if that was the agreement on the original lease. But if it wasn’t and a written statement of deductions wasn’t given within those 30 days, the landlord automatically forfeits his or her right to keep any of the deposit.
Also, a landlord can’t keep the deposit to repair “normal wear and tear” – anything that happens as a result of day-to-day living, like worn carpets. Stains and other more permanent damage do not fall under this category.
A tenant whose deposit is unlawfully withheld could get up to three times the amount of the deposit as well as court and attorney fees. But, Harward said, that’s only if the landlord is given seven days’ notice in writing before the matter is filed in court.
Another lease stipulation is the rent agreement. As long as an amount and conditions are specified, rent is locked in until the lease is up.
If a lease doesn’t exist, landlords can increase rent as long as they give proper notice: Colorado law requires 10 days written notice for monthly rent and three days for weekly or semi-monthly rent.
Harward also explained that unless the lease says otherwise, landlords can enter the property at any time to make repairs.
She added that a common problem is students wanting to get out of a lease before the term has expired.
“Unless there is wording in the lease that gives you a right to terminate, you may be held liable for rent for the rest of the term,” she said.
And, of course, there’s the Habitability Code.
According to the Colorado Division of Housing, habitability, or “the condition of a building in which inhabitants can live free of serious defects that might harm their health and safety (example – lack of running water or heat adversely effects the apartment habitability),” is defined differently in different communities.
There is no set code for the state, but the Fort Collins Building and Zoning Department has a published rental brochure listing the minimum requirements for habitability. These include: Lit hallways, windows in each unit or property, kitchens and bathrooms with both hot and cold running water, potential emergency exits and permanent heating facilities.
More than anything, Harward advises students to be cautious: “Read the lease carefully and make sure you understand it.”
Assistant news editor Marissa Hutton-Gavel can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Tips for off campus living:
-Make a list of existing damages when you move in so you don’t get charged for them later.
-Have your landlord/manager/maintenance person’s phone number on hand in case of an emergency.
-Get renter’s insurance to protect yourself against theft, accidents and vandalism.
– Visit Student Legal Services in the Lory Student Center for a lease review before signing, or visit its Web site, sls.colostate.edu, for posted reviews of leases from community landlords.