Some apartment problems avoidable

By Mary Beth Arimond

Some students are starting to look for places to live next year, and they should learn some tips before signing a lease; otherwise, according to Students’ Legal Assistance, they could run into landlord and roommate problems. The landlord problems began for Heather Hoydn when her neighbors played a trick one evening by shutting off the power from the main line, she said. However, as the power went out, so did the lights hovering over the parking lot. Hoydn, a senior in early childhood education from Bartlett, said she realized she was paying her landlord’s electric bill along with her own. After ranting and raving, she finally received a refund on the difference of about $100 between her electric bill and her landlord’s bill, she said. “I felt victimized when I rented from my landlord,” Hoydn said. But, she said her problems were not over yet as one of her roommates pulled her into a financial disaster. “My roommate tried to live in my apartment for free,” she said. “She didn’t pay rent, and she delayed almost every utility bill by about a month. By the end of the first semester, she owed me a $1,000.” Hoydn said she finally got her money back after kicking her roommate out, but she still had to pay for her roommate’s bounced checks and had to search for a new roommate to help cover utility costs. To avoid these kinds of problems, students should visit the SIUC Tenant-Landlord Union or Students’ Legal Assistance on the third floor of the Student Center to pick up a 30-page booklet on what tenants should look for before signing a lease with a landlord and their prospective roommates, Scott Pfeiffer, USG chief of staff, said. Pfeiffer said the booklet suggests that students find out the background of the landlord. It informs students on how to understand and read the lease. The booklet also has a section on how to avoid being taken advantage of when a roommate leaves, he said. “One tip the booklet gives is students should settle any financial matters before the other roommate leaves,” Pfeiffer said. Larry Schultz, law clerk for SIUC Students’ Legal Assistance, said students could be victimized if they have little experience or knowledge of renting property. Schultz said if students have legal problems with their landlord, they should refer to Students’ Legal Assistance. “We go over the general facts of the situation between the landlord and the tenant,” he said. “Once we determine the legal rights, we advise them the advantages of out-of-court settlements and the consequences of being successfully sued.” Schultz said his office does not handle student-to-student conflicts. He said for this type of service, students should go to Alternative Dispute Resolution, a service in the SIU School of Law. “It’s an organization that helps folks who would rather not litigate,” he said. “Students usually realize they can’t afford to sue or be sued.” Schultz said most universities have offices dedicated solely to helping off-campus housing residents, but that is not the case at SIUC. Sharon Hammer, Carbondale city attorney, said students should do research on landlords and roommates before they sign a lease.”Students could learn which landlords have a bad reputation and should know their roommates’ financial history,” Hammer said. She said students should create a checklist of what should be in the apartment and what is broken upon moving into an apartment. “They should walk through the apartment or house with the person they will rent from,” she said. “If they won’t come along, then students should take photographs of anything they could be charged for, so if the landlord charges students for a ripped carpet, they have a better argument to get their deposit back.” Hammer said students should ask for a blank copy of the lease and read over it very carefully before signing it. She said students might be able to negotiate certain terms of the lease. “Landlords are willing to alter leases with tenants if they are responsible and won’t tear up the place,” she said. Bonnie Owen, said many of the misunderstandings she has with her tenants arise when tenants do not read leases thoroughly. “My leases are very comprehensive,” Owen said. “My staff goes through the lease with the students, and they explain to them what they need to pay.” Darren Pierson, supervisor of Home Rentals, said anyone who wants a copy of the lease can get one, and they should take it seriously. “Everyone should read the lease, realize it’s a document and know they are going to deal with Home Rentals for the next 12 months,” Pierson said.