Tips for Parents
The 7 Biggest Pitfalls When Searching for Student Housing
When you’re searching for off-campus housing, make sure to consider these 7 pitfalls before you sign the lease.
1. Not understanding what’s included in the lease rate.
If a lease rate seems too good to be true, it probably is. Make sure you understand exactly what is included, and what isn’t included in the rate. Here are a few questions to ask:
- Are utilities included? Which ones? Gas? Electic? Water?
- Is trash removal included? Snow removal (if applicable)?
- Is Internet included? Cable?
- Is there an application fee?
Don’t sign a lease before completely understanding the financial implications. If these items are not included, be sure to ask the landlord for an estimate of monthly expenses on top of the base rent, such as the monthly electric or gas bill.
2. Guarantor Requirements.
Many landlords require students to have a guarantor on the lease. A guarantor is someone who will be held financially responsible if the primary tenant is unable to pay the rent. In many cases, parents act as guarantors for student leases. If you are guaranteeing a lease on behalf of your son or daughter, find out if you’re responsible for the entire lease, or just your son or daughter’s portion. In many cases, you’re responsible for the entire lease, even if a roommate is the one not paying rent. (See liability below for more information).
3. Subleasing Rules.
Most leases last 12 months, but many students only need a 9 month lease because of the timing of the academic year. Ask the landlord if subleasing is allowed, and if so, understand their specific requirements. Do they charge a fee to sublease? Do they have to approve the new tenant? Do they fully release you from the lease, or are you still responsible if the sublessor doesn’t fulfill their obligations.
4. Thinking you’ll get your deposit back.
Many students are shocked at the end of the semester when they do not get their deposit back. But many landlords rarely return the deposit… Make sure you ask, “Do most people get their deposits back in full?” If not, why not? Find out exactly what you can do to get it back – such as taking photos and documenting any issues with your landlord before you move in so that you understand what you will and won’t be responsible for when you move out. Also, ask if they have any mandatory fees, such as carpet cleaning.
5. Know the difference between Individual Liability Leases or Joint Liability Leases.
Does the lease provide individual liability, or joint liability? This is especially important if you plan to have roommates. Individual liability leases provide more protection if you have roommates because this lease only holds the individual responsible if something goes wrong, rather than a lease where all roommates are responsible. For example, in an individual liability lease, if one roommate moves out unexpectedly and stops paying rent, if the lease provides individual liability, then only the non-performing roommate will be held responsible, whereas with a joint liability lease, all roommates will be held responsible for the full amount, regardless of their individual performance.
6. Maintenance Response Time.
What if something happens in the middle of the night? Who do you contact? Is it a company, or a person? Does that person have a back-up? Even in a fairly new apartment building, something will probably require maintenance at least once during your lease. When this happens, make sure you know exactly what to do. Landlords operate differently. Some hire property management companies that will offer 24-hour maintenance, and others may be a smaller operation where they can’t cover emergency issues around the clock. If this is the case, find out what you should do in an emergency situation, such as a pipe breaking. Should you call a plumber on your own? If so, will the landlord reimburse you in full? How long will it take for them to reimburse you? Or, are there specific service providers that they want you to call? This is critical to understand exactly how the landlord will operate, and what the financial implications, or even convenience might be for you.
7. Surprising Fees.
Make sure to ask your landlord for a detailed list of any miscellaneous possible expenses, such as the fee to replace a lost key, replace a broken window, late payment fee, or to change a lock. Sometimes landlords and property management companies charge significant fees for things that might not seem fair or reasonable. Be sure to know what these might be upfront, so that you can avoid them as much as possible!
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