The Advance-Titan

10 things to know before signing a lease

By Jessica Johnson and Megan Esau
1. Recognize that the lease you sign is a legal document

The lease you sign is a serious contract that is legally binding, meaning you are responsible for the content within the lease and are also responsible for any consequences of breaking the lease.
Many students tend to believe once they sign a lease they are only responsible for their portion of the rent, but this is inaccurate. Joint and several liability says landlords have the right to charge any person living on the property for unpaid dues or damages regardless of whose fault it is.
Struensee office manager Elizabeth Hemminghaus said students need to understand that this concept is very important when signing leases.
“It’s not just your quarter; you are responsible for the full amount,” Hemminghaus said. “So be very, very careful who your friends are that you choose to rent with.”

2. Understand and read the lease before you sign
Once you have picked a rental property, you will sign a year-long lease. Before signing the lease, it is extremely important to read over the rules and responsibilities listed in the lease carefully and to understand your nonstandard rental provision, which states the rules specific to your property. These rules may include whether or not you can have a pet on your property, lawn and snow removal responsibilities, if they apply, and also what utilities you are responsible for.
Struensee rental agent Richard Wood said if students don’t maintain their lawn or shovel the snow on their sidewalk the city will bill the landlord, who will in turn bill that property. He said it is important for students to understand what is in their nonstandard rental provision so they know what they are responsible for and to avoid getting charged extra money.

3. Document and take pictures when you move in

One of the first things you will do upon moving into your new place is fill out a move-in report, which Hemminghaus strongly recommends students do right away, along with taking photos to go with the report. This report will allow you to write down any damages in the apartment prior to your moving in. Students should take the time to do a thorough walk-through of the house or apartment to check for things such as working appliances, marks or holes in the walls, working blinds and dirty carpets.
Ben Stepanek, a UWO student and city council member, also suggests students take photos of their place when they move in so they have proof of what the place looks like and won’t be charged for something at the end of the lease that wasn’t their fault.
4. Choose your roommates carefully

Who you live with in a house or apartment can make or break your off-campus housing experience. There is usually a rush to sign for a place at the beginning of the school year, and many students feel pressured to find people to sign with right away. This can be troublesome because the people across the hall at the beginning of your sophomore year may be convenient to sign a lease with at the time, but as the school year progresses, your friend group may change and when it becomes time to move into your new place you may regret signing too quickly.
Choosing dependable and trustworthy roommates will ensure the rent gets paid, the house gets cleaned and leads to an overall happier household. Keep in mind that in terms of joint and several liability, any money that isn’t paid will fall onto the entire household, not the individual, so choose wisely in the beginning to avoid a headache in the long run.

5. Take advantage of Student Legal Services

One little-known resource students have for understanding legal matters surrounding off-campus student housing is UW Oshkosh’s Student Legal Services. For a consultation fee of $5, any university-enrolled student can receive legal counsel from attorney Erik R. Forsgren, who has many years of experience with SLS. One of the chief areas in which SLS provides full services is in property matters, which includes tenant problems and housing rights. The SLS website also contains a list of property management companies in the Oshkosh student housing neighborhood.

6. The rush to sign

Be aware that there will be a rush at the beginning of the year to sign or re-sign leases. Many students have said they receive an email from the landlord within days of moving in saying they need to resign within one or two weeks, or the property will be shown to other potential tenants. Brian Baerwald, owner of All American Investments, said when he first opened his business in 2000, lease signing didn’t start taking place until mid- to late October. Now, he said, three to four landlords have started the trend of advertising and pressuring students to sign at the beginning of September, before they have even had the chance to settle in. He said while he thinks that rush is unnecessary, if smaller property management companies such as his own do not follow suit, they will be missing out on the market.
If you are moving into a property for the first time, because you’ll need to make up your mind quickly on whether or not to re-sign your lease, pay close attention to whether or not the property is up to your standards of living and whether or not your roommates are people you’ll be want to live with for another year.
7. Cut down the cost of your utilities

What kinds of utilities you have, if any, will depend on the property management company and will vary from property to property. If students aren’t careful and don’t manage their utilities conservatively, things such as electricity, water, heat, internet or cable bills can become very high. Some tips to help cut down on your utilities include shortening your daily shower time to save water, turning off the lights in rooms when you are not using them or are leaving the house and turning off the T.V. when it is not being used.
Beyond that, Wood noted that one reason a heating bill may be large is because one resident might turn up the heat because they are cold, which causes the next roommate to open the window because they are hot, which in turn lets the hot air out and increases the heating bill.

8. Remember to maintain your house during school breaks

Students may think turning off the heat during winter break is a great way to cut down on the cost of utilities. That may be the case, but the cost of repairing water pipes that have frozen and burst is going to be a lot higher than the monthly $40 heating bill. The American Red Cross suggests setting the thermostat no lower than 55 degrees Fahrenheit while you’re away from your property and also offers additional tips on how to prevent frozen pipes.

9. Report code violations and housing concerns to the city

There is a Minimum Housing Code in place in Oshkosh that sets what the city deems to be the minimums standards a property must meet. Residents of Oshkosh, including students living in off-campus student housing, are able to report code violations to the city and request inspections of their living space.

10. Be careful when sub-leasing

If done properly, sub-leasing can be a convenient way to avoid paying rent in a property you won’t be living in for an extended period of time, whether it be summer or you’re studying abroad for a semester. It is important to know that if you do not make your landlord aware of any sub-lease and have a written consent, you could end up responsible for damages made on the part of the sub-lessee.
“We do have people who switch rooms legally and that is fine, but they have to make sure they do it right and legally,” Hemminghaus said. “But we have had people who have moved out and just moved other people in. Then those people leave the place trashed, and the original people on the lease weren’t even there but end up getting sued.”

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Independent Student Newspaper of the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh
10 things to know before signing a lease