Top ten(ant) tips
Preventing pitfalls with roommates, neighbors and landlords
Since CSUS can accommodate Since CSUS can accommodate only 1,100 of its 30,000 students in campus housing, chances are good that, this fall, you’re celebrating your newfound freedom in the privacy of your own apartment. Don’t open the champagne yet. With this long-awaited independence comes more responsibility and the remote possibility that you might end up 1) living with a roommate who prefers wearing your underwear to washing her dishes, 2) playing the unwelcome role of dowdy outsider in a Melrose place-style apartment complex, or 3) engaging in phone-to-phone combat with your landlord over a plugged-up sink.
We’ve sought the advice of three experts on renting—Peggy Luers, Coordinator for Off-Campus Housing Services at CSUS; Gary Link, a Sacramento attorney who has litigated thousands of eviction cases; and Misty Massaro, leasing manager at Capitol Towers—to help you avoid the common (and uncommon) problems that can surface before, while and after you rent.
1. Negotiate with roommates BEFORE problems arise.
You might hit it off with the woman you met during orientation, but can you cram for your midterm when she’s blasting the Black Eyed Peas? Your buddy from high school is fun to hang out with, but if he’s recruited for Average Joe IV will he hightail it to LA, sticking you with the bills?
Discuss financial issues and lifestyle preferences when you first move in together, not after the first argument. Does your roommate object if you smoke, drink, and have loud parties or frequent overnight guests? How will you split the bills? Will you share food or buy our own? “I encourage students, even if they already know each other, to talk about issues ahead of time so things don’t become a problem later on,” Luers says.
2. Read the lease.
Yes, it’s dry and dull, but consider it preparation for the boring textbooks you’ll read in college. Leases are binding and legal, so you should know what you’re committing to. Don’t discover too late that, along with paying the rent, you have to bake your landlord a chocolate cake and take his introvert daughter to the movies once a month. Do be clear on the length of the lease and the penalties if you break it (which we strongly advise against). Know when the rent is due and don’t expect to bribe your landlord with a chocolate cake if you forget to pay it on time.
3. Be paranoid.
Before you unpack, inspect the apartment and take pictures, especially of stained carpets or broken items that you could be unfairly blamed for later. Spend an extra $10 to $20 each month for renters insurance. It will help replace your belongings in the event of a fire, natural disaster or theft.
4. Don’t be a slob.
Assuming that you eventually want to reclaim your security deposit and get a good reference from your landlord, treat your apartment like your mom lives there, even though she clearly and blissfully doesn’t. Don’t throw your television out the window, punch a hole in the wall, dry your laundry in the oven or, if your toilet backs up, close the lid, barricade the bathroom door and move in with your boyfriend. Experience the beauty of renting: Call the landlord when something breaks. If your landlord ignores repeated requests for maintenance, document everything. Link advises students to treat the property as their own: “Don’t wreck things, stain the carpet, or anything else that shouldn’t be done to another person’s property.”
5. Do be neighborly.
After your waiter and your hairdresser, the person you least want to piss off is your neighbor. The retribution can be devastating: loud banging, persistent alarm clocks, visits from cops and even the fire department (yes, I’m speaking from experience). You can prevent some problems by following our advice in #2, and by introducing your friendly, courteous self when you first move in. But, inevitably you’ll have something to celebrate the same night your neighbor has the flu. Exercise common sense. If it’s 3 a.m., someone, somewhere close by, is sleeping. Likewise, if neighbors are noisy, rude or disruptive, diplomatically ask them to pipe down. If a fellow tenant is repeatedly disruptive and unresponsive, document everything and consult your landlord.
6. Follow the rules.
If your lease says “no pets,” don’t bring that cute kitten home from the pound. When your roommate unexpectedly moves to Thailand to study Buddhism, consider the “subletting” rule in your lease before inviting his friend to move in. Massaro says most leases can be renegotiated if new roommates move in, so it’s wiser to tell the landlord than be surreptitious. And remember it’s a lease, not a Blockbuster card. Pay the rent on time. If you don’t, Link says, your landlord can notify you to either pay up or move out within three days.
7. Plan for next year.
What if your apartment search didn’t yield soul-mate roommates and a luxurious apartment close to campus? If you know you’ll want a different living situation next year, begin your new apartment search with zest in the spring. Competition for coveted apartments—those within walking/biking distance of campus or with pools, gyms and laundry rooms—is fierce. Start with the classified listings in this paper or the glossy rental magazines scattered around town. The CSUS Off-Campus Housing Services Website (www.csus.edu.offcampus) features available rentals and a handbook listing local apartment complexes, their prices, amenities, pet policies and distance from campus.
If you didn’t find the most suitable apartment the first time, don’t make the same mistakes again. For example, if your rowdiest Saturday night includes your laptop, Halo and a six-pack of Pepsi, avoid properties where fraternity brothers and party animals are known to congregate. Visit complexes and talk to neighbors. Find out how boisterous, or boring, the tenants tend to be. Visit www.apartmentratings.com to read what other tenants say.
8. Clean up.
If you want to see your security deposit again, leave the apartment cleaner than it was when you moved in. Vacuum, dust, wash the refrigerator and scrape the melted cheese from the inside of the oven. Did you paint the walls, hang pictures or otherwise alter the décor of the place? You might have to “spackle” the nail holes or repaint the walls in the original color to avoid being charged. Take all of your belongings with you, even the ugly stuff you don’t want anymore. Don’t feel like lugging the dirty throw rugs and the wood veneer entertainment center down three flights of stairs? Neither does the landlord, and he’ll charge you if he has to haul them out.
9. Return your key.
Before you drive off in your U-Haul, leave your keys and your new address with the landlord or leasing agent. Massaro says Capitol Towers, like most other complexes, charges a fee for every day the key is not returned. “People think that when the lease is up they can just leave, but until you return your keys, you haven’t given up possession of the property.”
10. Don’t lose that number!
Just because you’re moving out doesn’t mean you should lose contact with your former landlord. You’ll need (glowing) references from him or her when you rent apartments in the future.