A: Five “Must Knows”:
Don’t rush! There are plenty of available apartments, and it is awfully early to obligate yourself to a lease that doesn’t begin for another five or six months. Understand: Your signature legally binds you. You can’t just change your mind before August. Don’t be taken in by advertised incentives – they aren’t so great when compared to the price tag of breaking a lease.
Read every word of every piece of paper before you sign. That includes applications. You might think you’ll get your deposit back if you change your mind after signing only an application. But many applications say that you forfeit the deposit. Even if the lease is long and in small print, you must read, understand and be willing to abide by every word before you sign. You can negotiate changes, but not after you sign. Just because a lease looks official, don’t assume it is “standard” and protects you. Leases are written by landlords to protect them, not you. Go through Student Legal Services’ Do-It-Yourself-Lease kit and learn how to fix a landlord lease. Go to: http://sls.colostate.edu
Buy renter’s insurance. It’s cheap — around $120 per year. Landlords are usually not liable for damages to your property, even if it seems like they are at fault, such as when there’s a leak or a sewage backup. Even more critical, if you cause catastrophic damage to the landlord’s property (let’s say you fall asleep with a candle burning that catches the apartment on fire), you will be liable for all of the damage. Renter’s insurance takes care of this.
Document, document, document! Take lots of pictures and complete a check-in sheet at move-in. Keep a copy. Do the same thing at move out. Whenever you make a request to the landlord for a repair, do it in writing and always keep a copy.
Think twice before signing a joint lease with a roommate. A joint lease makes you responsible when your roommate misses a rent payment, skips out entirely, throws a destructive party or keeps a dog that demolishes the house and yard. Most landlords insist on joint leases. Either you search for a landlord who doesn’t, or you make darn sure you’re picking the right person to live with.
Before you sign a lease, go through the lease kit at http://sls.colostate.edu. If you have further questions after using the kit, come to Room 182 of the Lory Student Center. Three experienced lawyers are on staff to help you – free to fee-paying students and available for a nominal fee to students who don’t pay student fees.
Kathleen Harward is the director of Student Legal Services. SLS’ column appears biweekly Mondays in the Collegian. Letters and feedback can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.