By Caroline Friedman

A recent ranking conducted by the financial technology company SmartAsset found that seven of the top ten most transient cities in the country are college towns.

In a city like Athens, Georgia, home to the University of Georgia and a transitory student population of nearly 38,000, the options for rental housing are seemingly endless.

Although the search process is a relatively easy one for students here, it’s what follows that causes much consternation and difficulty.

Twenty-year-old Casey Bellagamba, a junior in social studies education, is in the throes of deciding whether to sign a residential lease agreement. Bellagamba has lived in student resident halls for the past two years, making the world of residential contracts unchartered territory.

As defined by Encyclopedia Britannica, a lease is a “contract for exclusive possession of property, usually but not necessarily land or buildings, for a determined period or at will.”

The person making the property available is known as the lessor or landlord, and the person seeking to occupy the property is the lessee or tenant.

The Standard Residential Lease Agreement Template is the most commonly used landlord-tenant contract in the country. Essentially, it’s a fixed arrangement usually lasting for a period of one year and both parties are bound until the end of its term. But, despite its straightforward definition, this type of paperwork is full of material that can make the leasing process convoluted and confusing.

Bellagamba’s biggest question is: “What exactly will be included in monthly rent?”

“I want to know what I’m paying for upfront and not get locked into something if I’m leaving in a few months. I feel like the process isn’t incredibly transparent,” said Bellagamba.

She is not alone in her quest to understand such complexities, as similar questions are widely shared among college-aged students looking to sign a new lease.

“The first factors you should look at before deciding on an apartment or whether to sign a lease are location and price,” explained Meg Gray, customer and sales experience manager at 909 Broad Street Apartments in Athens.

“As a student, you should check whether the location is walking distance from campus,” she said. “If not, do you have the means to pay for parking and gas?”

Despite it being more of a hassle to get to class, Gray pointed out the financial advantage of living more remotely.

“Housing price points are typically more affordable the farther you get from campus and the heart of downtown,” said Gray.

What’s her biggest piece of advice to students?

“The biggest thing that students don’t do is read the fine print,” she said. “Always read the contract in its entirety. That way you won’t be surprised with any hidden fees or addendums.”

When reading the contract, Gray recommended focusing on three main areas: (1) subleasing protocol, particularly whether the building allows it and if there are any additional fees involved; (2) utility payments; and (3) termination of contract.

Gray also advised students to ask for all fees to be fully disclosed and to understand if maintenance is included and how late fees are processed.

“If you don’t understand anything, always ask them to go through the contract with you,” she said. “This is something that students are scared to ask, but it’s so important. It’s our job to help you.”

Caroline Friedman is a journalism student at the University of Georgia.