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What College Students Need To Know About Leases

Your first move to college is a big step, not only in that you won’t have to worry about curfew and parents looking over your shoulder 24/7, but because you’re taking on a whole new level of responsibilities. If you’re in a dorm, chances are you don’t have to worry about things like electricity bills and cable, but if you’re leasing your own place for the first time, make sure you’re well aware of what will be required of you from here on out. And the majority of what you’ll be responsible for with your new place is written up in the small print on your lease.

1) What’s the difference between renting and leasing?

There really isn’t much difference between renting and leasing. “Rent” is usually considered to be the amount paid in exchange for a lease, and a lease is “a contract by which one conveys real estate…for a specified term and for a specified rent.”  There are, however, different types of leases. A fixed lease has specifically set beginning and ending dates, while a periodic lease lasts for specific lengths of time, such as week-to-week and month-to-month. There are other types, but these are the most commonly used and the difference lies mainly in how long you’re able to lease the residence. Though proper notice can typically be given for the termination of your lease in either contract, it’s important to know what your rights are in case your situation changes and you need to move out early (or the landlord calls and says they need you to vacate in 30 days).

2) What are your responsibilities?

In the lease agreement, your landlord should list exactly what he/she expects from you in regard to bill payment, property maintenance, and other residential issues. Are you paying for all of your utilities or are they included in the bill? Will your landlord pay the water bill but not the electricity? What are your responsibilities to the property? Are you required to mow the lawn once a week? Do you need to water the outdoor plants? If the landlord expects any maintenance of the property on your part, this should be clearly included in your lease. And if you have any questions, be sure to bring them up before signing.

3) What are your privileges?

You should also be clear on what you can and can’t do around the property. If there’s roof access, are you allowed to use it? Are there parking spots available or do you have to pay for off-street parking? Are there any homeowners’ organization covenants that you should abide by? All of this should be included with your lease. If not, make sure you discuss these and similar issues with your landlord before signing.

4) How are repairs handled?

This might sound like an obvious question, but there are landlords who don’t come rushing at the drop of a hat if your water line breaks or the roof starts leaking. In fact, some of them require that you pay for a repair company to fix the damages and — if it’s found that the incident was not your fault — they then pay you back as part of your rent. Be on the lookout for language like this in your lease and if it’s not included, definitely ask your landlord how he/she plans to handle such incidents.

5) Deposits and definitions

Most landlords will require you to pay a deposit along with your first month’s rent to cover any necessary repairs after you move out. If you have a dog or cat, you might need to pay a pet deposit as well. Even though these are standard requirements on a landlord’s part, make sure you’re clear on what they would use the deposits for and under what circumstances you would you not get them back. What do they think is the difference between standard wear and tear and “damages”? Once you’re clear on what your deposit would have to pay for, give yourself a little extra insurance by taking pictures of the residence you’re leasing from top to bottom before you move in. If there are any existing damages, make sure that you document them. It will make it a lot easier for the landlord to see how you left the place compared to how you moved in.

Upperclassmen — Have you had scenarios where you wished you’d paid closer attention to the terms of your lease before signing? What are the worst ‘nightmare rent stories’ you’ve experienced?

Today’s guest article is provided by Kenneth McCall. He builds creative and innovative tools for customer seeking self-storage units. Kenneth is a managing partner at, which provides storage units in Cincinnati and in many other locations across the country. In his spare time he likes to get outside, ideally with a boat and water skis.

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One Response to “What College Students Need To Know About Leases”

  1. Amy says:

    Smart questions to ask before moving in. This should be a great help to students living on their own for the first time.