Landlords, leases and lighting, oh my! Apartment features to consider in search

The Lantern
Before students decide to sign a lease, they should consider a few concerns when looking at places to live, including safety, location and condition of the unit. Credit: Mackenzie Shanklin | Photo Editor

Everyone always says location is key, but there are other important factors students should consider when apartment hunting.

As students search for their off-campus housing, there are many safety concerns they need to be aware of when touring units and considering where they want to live, Molly Hegarty, managing director for Student Legal Services, said.

“Do your research,” Hegarty said. “Landlords are business people, and you want to be an educated consumer.”

The first thing students should do is make sure they see the actual place they will live before renting, Hegarty said.

“Some of the larger complexes may have a model apartment,” Hegarty said. “If possible, we really want the students to see the place that they’re actually going to rent because they can differ quite a bit from a model apartment.”

After students know what unit they are looking at, Hegarty said they should check the location of the apartment and consider the commute to and from the place.

Even if the location is great, Hegarty said students should take a friend with them to look at the conditions around the unit and consider safety after dark.

“If it’s a freestanding house or a duplex or something like that, do you enter from the alley, or do you enter from the road? Is your entrance adequately lit?” Hegarty said.

Kyle Huffman, graduate associate for Off-Campus and Commuter Student Engagement, said adequate path lighting is important to consider when looking at apartments.

Hegarty said it is also important for students to tour inside the apartment because it can reveal the true condition of the unit.

“If you’re seeing things like insulation coming out in the basement or there’s hanging or loose wires around, those are both fire hazards,” Hegarty said. “If that’s what they’re showing you when they’re actually letting you tour the property, that should be a red flag to students.”

Huffman said signs of existing damage can also indicate other issues.

“If you have water damage, you are probably likely to have other issues in your unit as well, like mold,” Huffman said.

Students should make sure all windows can open and close and have working locks, especially in older buildings, Hegarty said.

Additionally, Hegarty said she is wary of bedrooms in basements and attics. Students should ensure that windows are accessible in those spaces in case of a fire.

Hegarty said even after the apartment itself passes inspection, there are still issues students need to watch out for in their lease. In particular, she said some landlords will say all damages to the property, while it is being leased, are the responsibility of the tenant, but this is not always the case.

“You can’t be liable for the acts of a third party,” Hegarty said. “If somebody breaks into the place while you’re living there, and let’s say they break the window, the landlord can’t charge the tenant to replace the window. That’s unenforceable.”

Huffman said there are many parts of the lease that are important to consider before signing, such as the stipulations the landlord includes and, for students, the idea of living independently.

Hegarty said students should not feel discouraged while searching for an apartment because they have many resources at their disposal.

“Please do not feel like just because you’re a student that you have to live in deplorable conditions or that you have to put up with behavior or treatment from people that is not respectful or, quite frankly, are not following the law,” Hegarty said.

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