The last weeks of summer in Tallahassee mean two things. First, we enjoy moderating temperatures with daytime highs dropping from the upper 90’s towards the upper 80’s. Secondly, and maybe even more noticeable, is that the students return and the local campuses awaken from their summer slumber.
It is my understanding that each year approximately 50,000 students attend our local colleges and universities. The majority of these students do not live in on-campus dorms, but rent housing in our local community. This means that the local student housing market is a very large part of our local economy. While there are many honest and legitimate landlords in our community, there also exists, a very notable and predatory few who cheat and exploit both students and their parents. Therefore, it’s important that students and their parents know how to protect themselves when renting student housing. Here are 5 suggestions for protecting the rights of student tenants based upon my experiences with student housing conflicts:
- Read and keep a copy of the lease agreement – this may sound very basic, but I have found that many students sign leases without ever reading the document and without ever obtaining a copy of the lease agreement. Leases are contracts and contain the enforceable promises that each party makes to the other. Regardless of what may be promised verbally, a Court will generally look to the written lease to determine the rights and responsibilities of landlord and tenant. Therefore, students and parents should carefully read any lease agreement prior to signing it. Ask questions about areas you don’t understand and if you don’t like the terms find another place to rent. I cannot stress how vulnerable not having a copy of the lease agreement makes a student tenant. Make sure that you are provided with a copy immediately after you sign the lease and if at all possible make sure you witness the copying of the lease.
- Pay your rent on the date due and keep a copy of the payment – Regardless of whether or not the lease allows you 5 days for payment without a penalty, the best practice is to pay the rent on the date it is due. If you pay in cash, get a receipt. Make sure to keep records of your payments. Many students fail to do this and as a result are defenseless against a landlord’s claim for late fees or claim that rent was never paid. Lastly, be aware that you can’t simply refuse to pay rent because the landlord fails to maintain or repair the property. The law requires that you provide the landlord with specific seven day notice of the defects and your intention to withhold rent if repairs aren’t made.
- Photograph the premises on the day your move in and move out – Excessive or false claims of damage are among the most common ways students are ripped off by dishonest landlords. Students who photograph the premises when they move in and move out have a strong defense against claims to repair damage that existed at the time the student moved in.
- Choose your roommates very carefully – Many large student apartments run more like a college dorm than an apartment in that they rent one room in a 4-bedroom apartment with the expectation that students will share a common area. What is frightening about this prospect is the student often has no say about who they room with, but are jointly and severally liable to the apartment complex for any damage that may be done to the common area. I frequently meet with students who find themselves living with older non-student roommates or later find themselves liable for damage caused by an intoxicated out of control roommate. Sadly, the apartment complexes are often non-responsive to student complaints about roommate behavior problems.
Document maintenance problems – Failure of the landlord to properly maintain the rental property is probably the most common issue that students consult me about. The biggest challenge in many of these cases arises from the student tenant’s failure to have documentation of the defect or the notices given to the landlord. Good landlords will immediately respond to a verbal request for repairs. However, the poor ones will often ignore such requests knowing that there’s no evidence of the request if they are ever challenged. If you are confronted with a landlord who is refusing to maintain or repair the property it is very important to make your repair requests in writing and to keep a copy of each written request.
For more information on student housing issues see my law office website at https://www.dhabramslaw.com/how-we-can-help/consumer-rights-law/tenants-rights.html