Melissa Greenlee, staff attorney at The Center for Student Legal Services, is an alumna of Ohio University. She began her career as a social worker in Southeast Ohio. Liking the idea of empowering individuals, she decided to study law. She graduated from Cleveland-Marshall College of Law. As the CSLS Staff Attorney, Melissa practices civil law and educates students of their legal rights. Her experience in fair housing and consumer protection rights has made her an expert on student rights in the housing market. Here is some advice from Melissa on signing a lease, moving in and out of off-campus housing and protecting your security deposit.
What should students do before signing a lease? They should talk to the current tenants, you can learn a lot about the property and landlord from them. Ask them about the utilities because it will give you a good idea about what the cost will be.
Is there any “red flags” that a student should watch for before signing a lease? Understanding when rent is due is a priority; if you pay it late, there is a penalty which will affect both you and your roommates. Also, know your roommates and make sure they are reliable; if one person doesn’t pay rent or bills, everyone is liable. Knowing your roommates will also be helpful in establishing who is responsible for what and that people don’t plan on moving out mid-year. If there are things on the lease you don’t understand, bring it to our office and we will review it. Also, it is important to make sure that any promises the landlord has made are in writing, so that they are guaranteed.
Are there any steps you should take when moving out to help ensure the return of your security deposit? Make sure you completely vacate the property, take all of your stuff out by the appropriate date. Returning your keys to the landlord and leaving them with a forwarding address is also important. I always tell students to clean their property better than when they moved in and then take photographs for evidence. This could include paying to have the carpets cleaned so they don’t smell. I would also ask the landlord if they could do a pre-walk through to help address any problem areas before you move out. These steps will help you and your roommates get the security deposit back.
What about moving in? Again, take video and pictures of specific problems. And, if there are problems, see CSLS immediately. We will put those in writing to make sure everything is clear.
Be sure to visit the CSLS website at www.studentlegalrights.org, or stop by the office at 50 S. Court St. Suite D (above College Book Store) for any questions or concerns about housing issues.
–Kari Nickell, CSLS Marketing Intern
This information does not constitute legal advice, nor is it intended as a substitute for legal advice.