What you need to know before signing your lease!

Congratulations! You’re an adult! Crazy, right? You get to vote; buy tobacco (though you really shouldn’t), and play the lottery (really, don’t – keep your money). Oh yeah, you also get to make legally binding agreements. Hurray!

There are a handful of basic things you should know and look for before you (and your roommates?) decide to sign on the line that is dotted. Trust me, we’ll make it brief and to the point…

Know what you're doing before you sign it!
Know what you're doing before you sign any contract!

First overall tip: Read the whole lease!
“Ugh, it’s so long and boring!” I know. But this isn’t the terms and conditions of use for your itunes account. This stuff is real right here! So get a pad and look for the answers to these questions before you sign.

1. What are the dates of move-in/move-out?
Are they going to work for you? Are they what you agreed to? Are you planning on attending summer school? If so, most student leases end prior to the completion of the summer term. Make sure you’re cool with that or you feel reasonably comfortable moving in the middle of finals!
2. Monthly rental rate? Annual Sum add up correctly?
Again, make sure these numbers are correct and if there was any special offered (like a month free or an iPad) that you have an addendum to the lease that clearly states the conditions of the special and how it will be redeemed. Many “specials” are billed back to you should you fail to fulfill the terms of the lease.
3. What are the late fees and when is the rent due without penalty?
What is the policy on mailing a check in? Most places don’t care when the post mark is, only when it arrives. Additionally, many have steep late fees of up to $180 a month (adding up per day) which they’re not inclined to waive, regardless the excuse! If the grace period for rent is up on the 3rd, they often won’t accept it on the 4th without the fee attached! No one plans on being late, but it’s better to know the policy before you wind up in a jam.
4. How do you terminate the lease? Can you? Errrr….
This is a biggy! More often than not, there is no option to terminate the lease – other than subleasing the unit, for which you’re responsible for finding the person to take over your lease. Don’t take the Agent’s word for it, it’s not as easy to do as it is often made out to be! If it were, the Community would be inclined to do it for you at great financial reward to themselves. This can happen from time to time, but is incredibly rare in the student housing market.
5. Can you cancel your lease if you: Feel unsafe? Fight with your roommate? Get kicked out of school? Have a medical issue?
The answer is virtually always “NO!” If someone tells you otherwise, ask to see where it states the provision in writing and what the requirements for documentation are. Guess what? There won’t be as Apartment communities aren’t in the business of losing paying Residents mid-year when they can’t likely fill the unit. It’s not that they’re careless, they just have to be consistent. And if they’re going to be consistent, they’re going to err on the side of fiscal caution.

6. But seriously, I have an allergy and my roommate’s BF is a creeper who’s always here and I’m failing ENC1102.

Again, unless you have a specific addendum or agreement in writing releasing you, your odds aren’t good.

7. What are your options for transferring units should you hate your roommate?
Look over the transfer options and make sure you understand what the proceedure is should you have a falling out with your roommates or desire a change of sceneary, mid-lease term. Some companies offer a no-questions-asked transfer for a fee of $100-$300, or more.
8. Exactly what utilities are included?
Most “By-the-bed” student communities are all-inclusive: Cable, Internet, Power, Water, Furniture, etc… generally speaking, there is a cap on electricity per room and any overages are divided amongst the roommates. Know what this amount is and call the utility provider to get an average monthly usage for that address to help gauge what to expect. Actual usage of $45-60 per room seems to be a solid average if you don’t have the specifics for that address. Also, if internet is provided, make sure you know in what form and if bandwidth is capped at a certain amount. Wi-fi or LAN connection? One port for everyone or does each room have it’s own?
9. Damages and deposits?
Most by-the-bed leases hold the Resident responsible for damages to their own room and for an equal share of the common area (living room/kitchet, etc…) unless otherwise stated. If your roommates throw a party while you’re in Spain for the summer and wind up torching the couch, you’ll owe on it. Many communities will allow damages to be placaed on individual parties if they claim responsibility in writting for it, though you’ll want to be sure.
10. Did you pay a deposit? Doubt it!
Due to the administrative deluge that is student housing, many companies are forgoing traditional deposits in lieu of one-time “reservation” or “administrative fee” in addition to an application fee. These are usually $99-250 (per person!) and are non-refundable. Make sure you know what fees you’re paying up front and make sure you get and keep the receipt.

Go forth eager student and sign thy lease! But before you do, know full well that I’m not an attorney. Not even close, in fact. I look great in a suit – granted. But that’s about where it ends. If you have ACTUAL legal questions, find a contract lawyer and ask them to look it over. This post is only general, FAQ-type stuff and solid advice for the lay person.


One response to “What you need to know before signing your lease!”

  1. nic Avatar

    Great summary Rob! And students – if you’re in a hurry and know you’re going to “just sign it”, still read the lease afterwards so you don’t look careless when you barge into the office (or your mom calls the office) asking for something your lease states you can’t have (waived late fees, new roommate, 90lb dog, etc).


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