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Sep 092007
 
Authors: Kathleen Harward Director of Student Legal Services

Even if you’re a month or more into your lease, it’s not too late to take steps now to save yourself from landlord trouble later. Consider the Rule of One-Hundred:

Spend about a hundred bucks to buy renter’s insurance. That’ll cover you for an entire year!

Your lease undoubtedly says your landlord will never be liable for damages to your belongings, even if the landlord is at fault. That’s where renter’s insurance comes in.

It will also save you when you do something stupid and cause damage to the landlord’s property – like leaving the water running and causing a flood, turning the heat too low and letting pipes freeze and break, or falling asleep with a candle burning and starting a fire.

Now take about one hundred pictures and fill in a check-in sheet. You can get a sheet from us in 182 Lory Student Center or off our website – sls.colostate.edu.

It’s hard for a tenant to win a “he-said-she-said” case in court.

Make sure to snap a picture of anything broken, scratched, stained, dirty, bent or just worn looking, even floorboards and windowsills! Err on the side of too much detail in your check-in sheet.

One landlord took offense at the detail in the tenant’s check-in sheet and refused to sign it. Tenant’s response: “That’s okay. You don’t have to sign it. Would you like a copy anyway?”

Next, spend far less than one hundred minutes re-reading – or reading for the first time – your lease. If the landlord didn’t give you a signed copy, get one now!

If the lease is full of mumbo jumbo you don’t understand, come see us. Landlord leases are all slanted against you. That is expected.

They’re not supposed to be looking out for you. The next time, you should pass on signing if a landlord isn’t willing to change the worst of the slants. But for now, just knowing the slants ahead of time will save you most of the time.

For example, do you know whether your lease makes you give 30 days written notice before the end of the term to really make the lease end when it says it is to end? Many say you will owe another month’s rent, or some even say you will forfeit your deposit, if you don’t give such notice.

Keep proof of those hundreds of dollars you pay in rent.

Not all landlords have good accounting systems. They lose track and shift the burden to you to prove you paid. If you pay by money order, keep the money order receipts. If you pay by cash, you should get a receipt from the landlord every time.

Do everything in writing and keep copies one hundred percent of the time! When the plumbing backs up – make the emergency call, but follow up with a confirming email, fax or letter.

When your landlord verbally agrees to something, follow up with a confirming email or writing of some sort. Never expect a credit or reimbursement for extra work you do on the place unless you have the landlord’s promise, beforehand, in writing.

Plan on putting about a hundred hours into yard maintenance.

If you have yard duty /- check your lease if you don’t know – it’s going to take a lot of time.

Charges for a ruined yard are common and expensive – in the thousands.

It’s easy to kill a lawn in the drought conditions of Colorado. Talk to the landlord about the expectations and getting the right equipment. Don’t wait until the end and think you can clean everything up.

Finally, snap a bunch of pictures of the yard now. Then do it again at move-out. It’s all about comparison. Are you returning the yard in similar condition?

If something happens in your life that forces you to break the lease, in about one hundred percent of the time, your landlord will mislead you about the consequences you face.

Most will tell you that you must either find your own replacement suitable to the landlord or pay through the end of the term. What they don’t tell you is that they have their own legal duty to mitigate losses and look for a new tenant.

If you break a lease, you will have to pay some damages to the landlord. The question is how much. There are several variables to consider in deciding your exit strategy. For example, do you sublease to someone else, or do you make a clean break?

If you have questions, come see us at the SLS office. One hundred percent of the time, we will do our best to help you.

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

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