College Connect: Read the fine print: why students should understand their leases

By Charlotte Norsworthy

For most students, college is their first attempts at adulthood. Students must learn how to manage personal finance, maintain class-work-life balance and develop the perfect elevator pitch to answer the question, “What do you want to be when you grow up?”

Thus, it is easy to see how signing a rental lease, a legally-binding 12-month contract, can add to the stack of intimidating tasks students come in contact with during their time in college.

However, Pamela Turner, an associate professor in the College of Family and Consumer Sciences at the University of Georgia, said it is wise for students to slow down and read the fine print when apartment shopping.

“[Students] tend to skim over [a lease] and believe everything that’s in there,” Turner said. “It isn’t unusual because most people are focused on that end result.”

Turner said it is common for leasing agencies and property management groups to apply pressure to potential tenants to sign a lease quickly, especially if those tenants are students.

“A lot of times they will say something like, ‘If you sign now, we will give you a special discount,’” she said. “But it is better to say, ‘No, I need to look at [the lease.]’ The deal is never so great that you should jeopardize a year lease when you don’t know what you’re signing.”

Disclosures that involve security deposits, cleaning fees and property maintenance are items Turner said students should take the time to read over, while potentially consulting a third party if any red flags come up.

“If you’ve ever read over a lease with a law student or a lawyer, they go through and cross stuff out all the time, which you and I would never do because we are sort of intimidated that it is a contractual agreement and we don’t have the right to do that,” Turner said. “But yet, you do.”

Madi Veltman, a junior psychology major from Newnan, Georgia, said the biggest advice she would offer to students seeking to sign a lease is to know their rights backwards and forwards.

“Don’t let the complex take advantage of you and stand up for yourself. We are adults and should be treated like it,” Veltman said. “Inform yourself about the lease before signing and before bringing an issue to the office so you’re aware of your rights in the complex.”

Veltman’s housing complex issued individual leases, which allowed the complex to place separate tenants into a multi-room apartment. Veltman was placed with three other women, one of which had a criminal history.

“She had been arrested three different times, one of the arrests being for theft and another being for fighting,” Veltman said, add that she and the other roommates were “shocked” because the complex performed background checks on its tenants and a clause in the lease said people with criminal backgrounds were not allowed.

Veltman approached the complex about this roommate because of the lease terms and the complex eventually had her evicted. Veltman said she learned a lot from her leasing situation.

“I would recommend trying to find roommates that you know you will have through the duration of your time at the complex to avoid having a random person moved in. I would honestly not recommend individual leases at all,” she said. “Don’t be afraid to ask your parents or other students who have dealt with leases for advice regarding specific situations.”

Charlotte Norsworthy is a student at the University of Georgia.

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