Are you subleasing this summer or finalizing your housing arrangement
for next year? Are you concerned about getting your deposit back from
your current landlord? The Center for Student Legal Services (CSLS)
Not only can CSLS help you get back your deposit, we have free
subleasing / rental information, co-tenant agreements and much more to
improve your off-campus experience. We also offer full lease reviews
with our civil attorney to help you make the best choice for next
year, as well as roommate mediation if you’re experiencing a conflict
in your house / apartment.
Did you waive your $12 per semester legal services fee? No problem!
You can re-enroll confidentially by visiting the following site:
This small fee provides you with unlimited access to criminal and
civil representation to help you protect your money and rights -
including identity theft, misdemeanors and consumer fraud.
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
The Center for Student Legal Services has been serving the students of Ohio University for fifteen years, but there are still many myths, misconceptions and incorrect information circulating about our organization. To help you gain a better understanding of our services, here are the top five misconceptions about The Center for Student Legal Services and the facts to set the record straight.
Misconception #1: The Center for Student Legal Services is staffed by law students, not attorneys.
FACT: The Center for Student Legal Services is staffed by two licensed, experienced attorneys. Your legal issue will always be handled by an attorney, not a student or legal assistant. Our Managing Attorney, Patrick McGee, has over 30 years of experience in law and has served the students of Ohio University for ten years. Melissa Greenlee, our Staff Attorney, has worked at Southeastern Ohio Legal Services, owned a private law practice and has many years experience in housing and civil law. She has been on our staff for almost two years. Read about our attorneys on the “Meet Our Staff” page!
Misconception #2: The Center for Student Legal Services exists to help students who are “in trouble” with the law.
FACT: We provide all OHIO students with legal education, advice and representation. Most students who need us but didn’t pay the fee say they didn’t think they would need it because they don’t get in trouble. You don’t have to be “in trouble” to need us; our services are very valuable to all students! We review off campus housing leases, provide mediation, notary services, contract review and many other services that can be extremely helpful to college students. We even provide assistance for debt collection issues, internet fraud/scams, car repair problems, cell phone contracts and other civil issues that may arise during a student’s college career. Our attorneys provide court representation for misdemeanors and civil law cases in Athens County courts and they also provide valuable information, advice and referrals on most legal matters.
Misconception #3: The Center for Student Legal Services is an Ohio University department and the $12.00 semester fee is a fee charged by the university.
FACT: The Center for Student Legal Services is a non-profit, independent law firm that works solely for the students of Ohio University. We are chartered by the OHIO Trustees and sponsored by Student Senate but we are not a university department. Ohio University works with us by offering the legal service fee on students’ tuition bill and then distributing the funds to our office. The $12.00 semester fee supports our organization entirely. The more students that pay the fee, the better our services can be for the students of Ohio University.
Misconception #4: The $12.00 semester fee does not cover the cost of an attorney.
FACT: The $12.00 semester fee allows access to an attorney as well as all the other services we offer. You do not have to pay anything more to retain one of our attorneys and there is no limit on the number of times you can use our services during the semester. You may have to pay court costs and other court fees if you have a court case but we have no control over those fees.
Misconception #5: If the $12.00 fee is waived, you can no longer receive assistance from us.
FACT: If you waive your fee, you can re-enroll during the first three weeks of classes. See the fee section for details on how to re-enroll. When you re-enroll, the legal service fee will be put back on your tuition bill and you are responsible for paying it. This is intended for students who waived the fee accidentally or changed their mind about being covered by our services. If you are re-enrolling because you have a legal problem, you will also have to pay a $25.00 consultation fee and attorney fees if an attorney has to work on your case. After the three week deadline has passed, students cannot re-enroll for our service but they can see an attorney for a consultation fee of $25.00 and may have to pay attorney fees. See our fee section for details.
We hope this answers some of the questions that students often have about our services. Feel free to contact us if you have other questions or would like to make an appointment.
Heidi Sochia, Program Coordinator
The Center for Student Legal Services offers mediation services to help students resolve disputes in a friendly and confidential environment.
Mediation is an informal process during which an impartial third party, called a mediator, helps disputing individuals find a mutually acceptable agreement. The goal of mediation is to clarify misunderstandings and to arrive at a solution to which all parties can agree. A mediator is not a judge and does not impose a decision. Instead, the mediator helps those involved in the dispute explain their concerns, understand important issues and arrive at a shared solution.
The Center for Student Legal Services can mediate a wide range of conflicts including landlord/tenant issues, roommate disputes, employer/ employee conflicts, neighbor and community disagreements and other civil matters.
There are many benefits to mediation, including confidentiality and freedom to generate mutually agreeable solutions. Additionally, mediation can promote healthier relationships through improved communication and shared problem solving. Mediation is entirely voluntary and many mediation sessions can yield results in 1-2 hours.
The cost of mediation is already included in the $8 dollar quarterly fee assessed to Ohio University students. Students who have paid the $8 CSLS fee will not pay anything for mediation services, regardless of the length or number of sessions. This makes mediation far more affordable than taking a dispute to court, which can cost hundreds of dollars in court fees. Our trained mediators have flexible hours to help work around your schedule.
For more information about CSLS Mediation Services, or to make an appointment, contact us.
For many Ohio University students, the only thing on their minds after completing that last final exam in Fall Quarter is to get out of Athens for a much-needed Winter Break. The Center for Student Legal Services would like to take this opportunity to remind students who intend to vacate their rental property for long periods of time over the Winter Break of the need to make preparations before their departure.
Temperature Control: Students should read the terms of their lease for any specific provisions regarding temperature control in the winter months and be sure to comply with the lease. In the absence of a specific lease provision, students should set the thermostat at a temperature that will be sure to keep the pipes from freezing. Note: This temperature will vary depending on the condition of your rental property and the temperature outside. We recommend setting the thermostat on at least 60 degrees to ensure that pipes do not freeze, however, this temperature could be lower for a newer, well insulated rental unit. Students should also keep in mind that long absences and low temperatures can lead to musty or moldy conditions.
Notice to Landlord: Students should read the terms of their lease and determine if they are required to give notice to their landlord of an extended absence. We recommend that all students notify their landlord in writing of their intention to be absent from their rental property over the Winter Break and indicate the time period, their home address and telephone number. In addition, we recommend that students include in this notice any problems with the property that might make temperature control more difficult, such as a broken window, etc. and request the landlord to check on their property if weather conditions become severe.
Cleaning Considerations: A tenant is required to keep their dwelling unit safe and sanitary pursuant to Ohio law. Students should be sure to dispose of all garbage and properly store remaining food items before vacating their rental unit in order to deter insects and rodents.
Safety Precautions: An empty home for an extended period of time can increase the risk of criminal activity. We encourage students to remove valuable items from their rental properties. In addition, we encourage students to temporarily stop their mail and consider putting a few lights in the home on timers in order to give the appearance that the home is occupied to deter criminal activity.
Melissa Greenlee, Staff Attorney
When renting a house or apartment, Ohio law clearly states that the landlord is responsible for keeping the dwelling in a safe and sanitary condition. Whether this obligation extends to the extermination of insects and pests is often a matter of debate between landlords and tenants. Often, landlords believe that it is the responsibility of the tenant to absorb the costs associated with pest extermination because they assert that the tenant has created the condition that lead to the infestation.
There are instances where extermination costs are properly shifted to the tenant. One obvious circumstance is a flea infestation that was brought into the dwelling by a pet owned by the tenant. Under that scenario, liability for the costs of extermination would likely be shifted to the tenant. However, not all circumstances are that obvious.
Who is liable for the cost of extermination related to bed bugs is an issue receiving a great deal of attention in certain cities because bed bug infestation has increased greatly in the United States in the past ten years. Although these blood-thirsty pests have been residents of this country since the early 17th century, their recent population boom has received a lot of media attention and created anxiety for many.
Bed bugs are parasites that feed primarily on human blood at night. They are excellent travelers and move easily from one place to another on luggage, used furniture, shoes, and clothes. Bed bugs can invest trains, busses, airplanes, and ships. They are most frequently found in places with a high occupancy turnover such as hotels, hostels, dormitories, apartment complexes, and movie theatres.
Due to their small size and nocturnal nature, bed bugs often go undetected for a long period of time. Most people become aware of their presence after developing a rash from being bitten, but only about 30 percent of the population develops the itchy welts associated with bed bug bites. Because the presence of bed bugs is not always apparent, the question of when they arrived in a dwelling and therefore who is responsible for the costs of eradicating them can arise between a landlord and tenant.
The most obvious place to find evidence of a bed bug infestation is in the bedroom. By pulling back the bed linens and inspecting the seams of the bedding you are likely to uncover the bugs themselves or dark brownish or black spots, which are the tell-tale fecal matter of the bed bug. Bed bugs like to hide so you are not likely to find them in out in the open; look in the cracks and crevices of bedroom furniture, and even behind picture frames.
If you are renting an apartment and suspect that you have a bed bug infestation, you should immediately make a written request for inspection and extermination. Extermination of bed bugs must be done by a licensed exterminator. If you live in a multi-unit dwelling, it is advised that apartments adjacent to the infested unit be exterminated as well. Bed bugs are excellent travelers and it is highly likely that they have spread out or will do so when extermination begins.
If the landlord refuses to pay for a professional extermination or attempts to charge you for this cost, seek assistance from us.
Kristine Hayes, former Staff Attorney
Many students are eager to move out on their own: they make plans early in the academic year for the next school year to rent a house or apartment with friends from home or friends that they have made here at Ohio University. Unfortunately, many events can arise that leave students wondering if they have made a good choice with respect to who they will be living with. This leaves students wondering if they can validly break their lease because of circumstances relating to their roommates.
The short answer is no, a lease is a contract between the tenants and the landlord and disagreements between tenants do not excuse the tenants’ obligations under this contract. Although the landlord is not required to get involved in these situations, and is usually not willing to, it could be helpful to advise the landlord of tenant-related concerns to see if they are willing to negotiate with the tenants to release one or all of them from the lease or come up with other solutions to remedy the problem.
Another way that tenants find relief from their lease obligations is to locate a new renter who is willing and able to assume their lease obligations. Finding a new renter to take over the tenant’s obligations can be done as an assignment or as a sublet. If the tenant’s lease has not yet begun, most landlords are willing to accept the new renter through an assignment. An assignment completely removes the old tenant from the lease in exchange for the new renter. This is the best solution for the original tenant as it extinguishes all responsibility under the lease agreement. If the lease has already begun, landlords are less willing to accept this arrangement and may insist on adding the new tenant through a sublease. A sublease creates a contractual relationship between the new tenant and the old tenant. The original tenant remains liable to the landlord under the lease and will be held responsible for the original lease terms by the landlord if the subleasor fails to fulfill his/her obligations. Landlords cannot unreasonably deny a tenant’s request to sublet their lease.
If the tenants are unable to work out a solution through the assistance of the landlord or by finding a replacement renter, they need to think seriously about the consequences of breaking their lease without a valid reason for doing so. When tenants fail to honor the terms of their lease agreements through no fault of the landlord, they can be held liable for rent due under the lease term until a replacement tenant is found and the landlord’s out-of-pocket expenses related to re-renting the property. Under these circumstances, the tenant or tenants are likely to be sued by the landlord in court or be subjected to collections efforts, and will probably suffer adverse consequences to their credit history.
Of course, the best solution is to work things out among the tenants. If you have signed a lease and are having difficulty with those obligations, you should immediately contact the Center for Student Legal Services for advice and assistance in dealing with this issue.
Kristine Hayes, former Staff Attorney