Tips to avoid leasing problems

Apartment lease problems, when they occur, often begin early in the tenancy or housing contract period. The following are steps you should take immediately to help prevent hassles and to be prepared for them should they occur.

1. Keep records. If you don’t have a copy of your lease and/or room condition check-in report, get them. Be persistent. If oral requests to the landlord or manager don’t do the trick, write a letter and keep a copy requesting the documents(s) in question. Also, keep records of all rental and other payments and keep a monthly receipt. Finally, you need to give thought to how to preserve your records, a file or file box should be used.

2. Document the condition of the apartment. More tenants lose ground by neglecting to make and keep a room condition or damage report than any other act or omission. Your legal duty as a tenant is to return the premises in as good or better condition as you found them, except for ordinary wear and tear. If you failed to make out a condition report when you moved in last week, don’t despair—a condition report made out now is much better than none at all. Forms are available in the Students’ Legal Assistance Office in the lower level at the Holmes Student Center. Take pictures as appropriate, particularly when structural damages are involved.

3. Contact your landlord about promised repairs and improvements. If your landlord has promised to make improvements, but hasn’t done so, contact him and get a commitment about when the improvements are to be made. The same with damages. If it becomes apparent that your landlord is evading his responsibilities, you need to confront the issue. Depending on the problem, it is advisable to write a letter detailing your complaints. Make a separate written record of any work order you submit to your landlord or management. Finally, the City of DeKalb has a housing code which specifies minimum conditions of health and safety which lessors of residential property must provide for their tenants. A complaint to the city will lead to an inspection of the premises by a code enforcement officer and if violations are shown to exist, a directive to the landlord to make repairs.

4. Check with your parents’, homeowners or rental insurance to determine if property you brought up to school is covered in the event of loss by fire, theft, etc. If not, consider getting renters insurance, especially if you are keeping a stereo, color TV or other valuable items in the apartment. The landlord is not necessarily responsible for such losses unless he contributed to the loss through his own negligence.

5. Try to establish common ground with your roommates. Having roommates is a little like sharing a lifeboat in the middle of an ocean, survival dictates that the ruling principle should be one for all and all for one. The applicable legal doctrine is “joint and several liability,” meaning that in the standard lease situation each tenant, both individually and as a member of the group, is fully liable for all the obligations contained in the lease for payment of rent, observance of rules and regulations, etc. A written roommate agreement, available in our office, can help to clarify and reinforce recognition of the mutuality of these obligations.