Back to school: Legal planning for student renters
As summer vacation comes to a close, the hunt for student housing begins. While renting a first home or apartment is a thrilling first step into adulthood, dealing with the legal issues associated with it can be daunting.
From leases and financing, to inspections and rental rights, it's vital for young adults to acquaint themselves with the law and their rights in order to avoid legal landlord battles or the nightmare of an eviction.
Sign on the dotted line
A lease is the agreement between you and your landlord to rent an apartment. A lease may be oral or written, but an oral lease often leads to problems, so it's best to get your lease in writing. Once you've signed the lease, make sure to retain a full, signed copy for yourself.
Case the premises
Before moving in, it is important that you inspect your new apartment and make sure both you and your landlord agree on the condition of the property before your tenancy since you will be responsible for any damages beyond normal wear and tear. Take a disposable or digital camera with you, since pictures can be invaluable for your records, and complete a renter's inspection worksheet to describe the state and contents of each room, noting any additional observations.
Repairs are typically your landlord's responsibility. If your landlord fails to fulfill his or her duties as stated in your rental or lease agreement, you'll need documentation to show that you made an effort to resolve the problem. Thoroughly inspect and document the process to make sure repairs are done properly. Put your complaint in writing and, if possible, take pictures of the problem situation. Also be sure to keep copies for your records.
You break it, you buy it
While you may have valid reasons for wanting to get out of your lease (for example, you're moving because of a job, marriage or divorce, or the apartment is severely damaged), breaking a lease is still a breach of contract, so you could be penalized (most often monetarily).
If you have a fixed lease (usually for a year), you're obligated to pay rent for the entire year. Many tenants who no longer wish to live there until the lease has expired will choose to sublet the apartment for the time they have left rather than breaking their lease outright. Before you take any action, check your rental or lease agreement for clauses allowing or preventing you from subletting the rental property.
While some states have laws to protect tenants and landlords from bad subtenants, many do not. It's your responsibility to find a suitable subtenant and have them sign a sublease agreement.
Your landlord, as well as any roommates, will also have to approve of the terms of the sublease agreement. Consider adding a security deposit; it may be the best way to limit your liability. Take pictures of the apartment before you leave as a reference point and write down the condition of the house as you left it. Complete background checks may not be necessary, but since the lease is still under your name, you are liable for whatever damage or late payments your subtenant makes.
You don't want to come home to an eviction notice!
If you leave the apartment in the state it was when you first moved in (or in otherwise satisfactory condition), your landlord must return your deposit. It's usually as easy as a call or writing him/her a security deposit refund letter where you would give your forwarding address. Protect yourself and your deposit by walking through the apartment with the landlord, and make sure you both agree on the condition of the apartment.
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