Apr 062008
 
Authors: Kathleen Harward

“I have three days to rescind the lease I just signed.”

“Drinking coffee will make my feet turn black.”

“Eating bread crust keeps my hair curly.”

All are myths, and unfortunately, too many people believe the first one is true. Spread the word — there is no right to rescind a lease contract. The second you sign, you are bound.

“But I just signed yesterday and realized in the night I really can’t afford the rent; my roommates bagged on me and I don’t want to live with strangers; my grandmother is dying and I’ve got to move back to my home state.” None of these excuses will make a difference.

Most leases are joint leases obligating you “jointly and severally.” If your roommates leave you in the lurch, you’ll be responsible for the full rent and utilities. For three bedrooms for a year, that could be around $15,000.

Don’t let anyone pressure you into signing on to that much debt in a rush. Vacancy rates are still high in the area around campus – around 9 percent. Some of the larger complexes near campus report a 20 percent vacancy. There are plenty of units to go around. Students’ plans seem to change dramatically in a month or two – you can wait until it’s closer to August and you’re surer of your destiny for the next school year.

Don’t let signing bonuses that run out at 5 p.m. cause you to act in haste. The highest bonus I’ve seen is $500. That’s big, until you compare it to the multi-thousand dollar obligation of the lease.

Research before you sign.Thoroughly inspect the property. Do windows lock? Are shrubs trimmed and lighting sufficient to make it a safe place when you come home in the dark? Look for mold. Ask if there are any hidden problems with the property. Has it ever been used as a drug lab? Do not rent a place that shares utilities with an upstairs or downstairs tenant when you don’t each have your own thermostat and meter.

Get a full copy of the lease and any additional house rules. Read every word of these. Go to our Web site (sls.colostate.edu) and breeze through our tips that alert you to common problems in leases used by landlords in Fort Collins. Decide which clauses are deal breakers for you and negotiate these with the landlord, or move on. Ask the landlord to sign our universal addendum that fixes the most common problems in leases (found on our Web site).

Most importantly, conduct your own background check on the landlords you are considering. They will be doing one on you, and you should do one on them. Talk to the current tenants. If there aren’t any, ask for references from your landlord.

There are notoriously bad landlords in this town, as there are consistently good and reliable ones. Find out who you’re dealing with. It’ll make a big difference when a heavy rain floods your basement apartment and you need action from your landlord or your shower stops working and you can’t go without for a week or a month.

Finally, if you do have to break a lease, there’s a right and wrong way to do it. Come see us for help.

There’s no way to break a lease without paying consequences, but you can minimize them. The law always imposes a duty on landlords to mitigate or lessen losses from a tenant breach. This means the landlord has to try to replace you. You should also be searching for your own replacement.

Some leases impose specific dollar penalties for breaking the lease on top of your duty to keep paying rent and utilities until the replacement takes over. These “liquidated damages” clauses are not always enforceable by courts, so talk to us about your particular situation.

As the Eagles sing it, “Take it Easy.” You don’t have to be “running down the road” in a rush to sign a lease. Check out the property carefully, read and be willing to accept every word of the lease or negotiate changes, and be sure your landlord has a reputation for trustworthiness — before you sign.

Kathleen Harward is the director of Student Legal Services. SLS’ column appears biweekly Mondays in the Collegian. Letters and feedback can be sent to letters@collegian.

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