It was fun moving into the college-town apartment complex in those whirlwind days before the start of school last fall.
Packing up, patching holes in the walls and handing over the keys to the landlord this spring? Not as much fun.
Apartment living offers renters a lot of freedom, but it can also be costlier if you don’t follow the terms of the lease when it comes to subleasing arrangements, recovering damage deposits and doing a final walk-through of the apartment with the manager.
Here are some suggestions on how to avoid some of those financial woes — whether you’re preparing to move out at the end of the school year or signing the lease to move in three months from now.
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▪ Always read the lease, and keep a copy handy. That’s rule No. 1. I know, it’s obvious, but how many people really take the time to read the fine print, until the damage has been done?
Among the details to look for: Who’s responsible for trash pickup? Is there a pest control service? If there’s a yard, who’s responsible for upkeep? Cable and Internet? Are providers limited? What are the provisions for utilities? Is there a clause for pets?
“The lease needs to be very clear as to what the expectations are” for both landlord and tenant, said Richard Bryant, a Kansas City attorney who also has experience as a college-town landlord.
Pay attention to when rent is due, Bryant said. If the check is due the first of the month, don’t turn it in 10 days later. Habitual late payers could wind up with dings on their credit history, not to mention eviction.
▪ Get it in writing. Before taking possession of the apartment, make sure a manager is present to make note of gouges in the door, dents on the refrigerator, burn marks on the carpet and any other problems with the unit. Take pictures of the rooms to document the flaws before moving in.
The same goes for when the lease is up. Don’t just drop off the keys in the manager’s office and head out of town.
Always inspect the apartment with an employee — preferably a manager — before driving off, and have them sign off and acknowledge that everything is good. Bryant recommends taking pictures just in case there’s a late issue holding up the return on your damage deposit.
Generally, management must notify you of any problems or return your security deposit within 30 days of the end of the lease.
▪ Make repairs and clean up. Face it, college students can be hard on apartments — think of all those games of darts and beer pong.
But you’ll boost your chances of getting your damage deposit back in full by at least making sure the apartment is “broom clean,” said Bryant. Run the vacuum, sweep the floors and don’t leave bags of trash in the unit. Patch and paint as best you can. And many landlords will work with you on repairs.
▪ Bone up on subleases. This can be a particularly thorny problem for roommates who are required to sign individual leases. For example, the landlord of a four-bedroom apartment might require each roommate to sign a separate lease, giving each renter the right to use one bedroom with joint rights to the common areas.
Problems can occur when one roommate moves out before his or her individual lease is up. In those situations, the landlord has the right to find a substitute tenant, meaning the remaining roommates have no control over who moves in.
You might even be charged a finder’s fee by the management for filling that empty room.
If the landlord says not to worry, that he’d never put a stranger in your apartment, make sure it says so in the lease, Bryant said. Remember, get it in writing.
Also keep in mind that the lease may also have some stipulations about how long it’s OK for “guests,” such as a boyfriend or girlfriend, to stay in the apartment.
Steve Rosen: 816-234-4879