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Image Courtesy: Trimark Properties
Thousands of students will be returning to the University of Florida in Gainesville for the Fall 2016 semester. Many of these UF students will be living on their own for the first time in a dorm, house or an apartment in Gainesville. In the day and age of snapchat, twitter and mobile classrooms, there is little attention being paid by these students to a vital document which can make or break their experience of living on their own for the first time-- the dreaded lease agreement.
Students spend weeks when they are searching for the right apartment. The criteria that run in the students minds are unique to their stage of life. They ask important questions about each student housing option – Is it close to campus? Is it close to the UF Law school? Is the apartment near UF Sorority Row? Is it close to midtown or downtown restaurants? After touring several properties and reading hundreds of apartment reviews, many student renters are willing to sign anything to get the keys to their new Gainesville apartment. This can be the beginning of a not-very-beautiful ending.
1 – Read the entire lease before you sign. This may seem obvious, but you should disregard anything that the agent told you verbally. Unless it is in writing, it is not enforceable in a court of law. If the leasing consultant or real estate agent promised you a discount or told you that something was included in the rental rate, be sure that the lease contract also stipulates the inclusion.
2 – Have roommates? Roommates are fun but can also be costly if you do not pay attention to the financial obligations outlined in the lease. Be sure to consider whether it is a joint and severally liable lease contract or an individual lease contract. Remember that in a joint lease, ALL tenants and ALL cosigners are JOINTLY liable for the entire rental rate outlined in the lease agreement; in an individual lease, each tenant and cosigner is only liable for a specific individual portion of the unit’s full rental rate. Many student renters don’t realize the importance of this distinction. For example: if you rent a 3 bedroom apartment with a jointly liable contract at a rental rate $1800 per month, and two of your roommates move out of and stop paying rent, YOU will ALSO be evicted and could be the person who ends up paying the full $1800 per month for the summer months—plus legal fees. If you sign a joint and severally liable contract, consider whether or not you want to have a second contract between you and your roommates, specifying individual liability.
3 – Check out the fine print on lease terminations and cancellation clauses, in case you need to withdraw from school. Terminating a lease can cause you a significant dent in the credit report and may also prevent you from renting an apartment or buying a house in the future. In many states, landlord tenant laws do not require the landlord to allow blanket cancellation. In these cases, the lease contract may specify that the tenant has no opportunities for lease termination—even if you decide to withdraw from your university.
4 – Research the lease end date. In many cases, the lease ends before classes end for the semester, which means that you run the risk of being homeless during finals week unless you renew. You do not need that extra stress.
5 – Watch out for automatic renewal clauses. In some states, landlords can legally include an auto-renewal unless you provide written notice that you are NOT renewing at least 90 days before the scheduled lease end. This could get tricky if you do not pay attention.
6 – Bonus Tip #1 - Review whether the renter or the landlord is responsible for repairs (and if there is a cap on monthly repairs) – in some states, landlords are notorious for making the tenant pay for any repair below a certain threshold (typically around $100 per month) 7 – Bonus Tip #2 - In student housing joint leases, don’t sign the lease until you have found all of your roommates. If possible, sign the lease contract together. Otherwise, if a roommate backs out, the original lease signor may find him or herself liable for the full rental amount on a one-year lease contract. In many cases one ill-advised student signs a lease on a multi-bedroom apartment, thinking that he/she will be able to find roommates before the lease starts and the rental payments become due. If that lease signor is unable to find roommates, he is legally required to pay the total rental rate over the full lease agreement, which can easily add up to over $30,000--- plus any legal and collection fees!