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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    Some UA students trapped in leases

    Psychology senior Cassie Horgash assists student renters at the Northpointe Student Apartments, 850 E. Wetmore Road.  Office employees at most apartment complexes should have leasing agreements and terms readily available.
    Psychology senior Cassie Horgash assists student renters at the Northpointe Student Apartments, 850 E. Wetmore Road. Office employees at most apartment complexes should have leasing agreements and terms readily available.

    Many students are signing new leases for apartments and homes as the fall semester nears and should be aware of their legal rights as renters, according to a UA legal adviser.

    When searching for an apartment or house, students sometimes overlook important features of a living situation, like crime rates and landlord’s policies, resulting in bad or unsafe living conditions, said Susan Ferrell, legal adviser for the Associated Students of the University of Arizona’s legal services.

    While attending the UA last year, Katie Boyle, Lexie Dinner and Natalie Mitchell remained in their townhouse for their entire lease last year in a neighborhood where their cars were repeatedly broken into, one of their cars was stolen and they were shot at, because they did not know how to terminate their lease, said Dinner, a UA alumna.

    The three tenants wrote a letter to their landlord asking to be let out of their lease, which their landlord denied but said in exchange they would put up more lighting, which never happened, said Boyle, a secondary education senior.

    If crime in the area of a rental becomes a problem after the tenant has already moved in, as it did with Boyle, Dinner and Mitchell, the tenant, in most cases, should write a detailed letter to the landlord explaining the problem and give them a deadline to respond by, Ferrell said.

    If the landlord has not responded to the tenant by the deadline or is dishonest about the property or changes that will be made to the property, such as the installation of new lights in Boyle, Dinner and Mitchell’s case, then the tenant has the right to terminate the lease, Ferrell said.

    If tenants break a lease agreement, the landlord could take the problem to a small claims court, but it is more common for a landlord to collect rent and other fees in such cases through collections, which is damaging to the tenant’s credit, Ferrell said.

    It may be advantageous for the tenant to take the matter to small claim’s court, because if the landlord is truly in the wrong, the tenant may not have to pay the rent and the other fees associated with breaking the lease, Ferrell said.

    Taking leasing matters to court may also appear impossible for some student tenants, because of how time consuming they can be, Ferrell said.

    Kara Kanto, a graphic design sophomore, wanted to pursue compensation from her former landlord, because they began construction on her apartment without providing notice.

    “”I was too busy. It was the end of the year and I had finals,”” Kanto said.

    Breaking a lease because of unsafe conditions also isn’t favorable for tenant because of legal battles and time constraints, but sometimes there may be no other options, Ferrell said.

    “”If you are physically unsafe, it doesn’t seem to me like much of a choice,”” Ferrell said.

    The best way to avoid unsafe areas and unfair policies is to be as conscientious as possible of these issues when looking for a place to live, said Christi Rochin, a studio arts sophomore.

    Rochin said she is taking time to find a new apartment that offers more security, such as a gated community or parking garage, though in the past she was more interested in the price of rent and the apartment’s proximity to campus.

    “”It isn’t very safe in Tucson. There are lots of auto thefts. You practically have to park in a garage,”” Rochin said.

    To find out how safe a neighborhood is before signing a lease on a new rental property, students can check the crime statistics on the Tucson Police Department’s Web site for that area and go around the apartment complex or neighborhood asking people who already live in the area how safe the neighborhood is, Ferrell said.

    Future tenants should also check with the Tucson Police Department to see if the property is designated as a Crime Free Multi-Housing Property, which partners Tucson police officers with property owners to eliminate crime on or near the rental property, said Tricia de la Vara, the community manager of Sterling University House.

    Near the end of their lease, Boyle, Dinner and Mitchell were also charged for property damage outside of their townhouse they didn’t cause, but they still paid for it because they knew of no other options, Dinner said.

    Tenants, though, are only responsible for the damage done by themselves or their guests, which also includes damage from “”wear and tear”” in the rental property, Ferrell said.

    Kharisma Montes De Oca, the marketing and development coordinator for Off-Campus Housing, said tenants should fill out an inspection list for their apartment or house at the very beginning of their lease to document anything the tenants may be charged for at the end of their lease.

    Rochin said when she begins renting an apartment, she not only makes a list of prior damages before moving in, but she also takes pictures, which she has the manager sign.

    It is also important for tenants to insist on seeing the exact apartment or townhouse they will be renting before signing the lease to ensure it is in the condition agreed upon by the tenant and the landlord, Ferrell said.

    Ferrell also recommends that prospective renters talk to the landlord’s current tenants to find out how the landlord reacts to damage and maintenance issues and how long it takes for the maintenance problem to be fixed.

    “”Make sure you speak to more then one person, because you never know if you are talking to the landlord’s best friend or a person that hates everyone,”” Ferrell said.

    Before signing a lease, prospective tenants should make sure they thoroughly understand the lease, because it is a bonded contract, de la Vara said.

    In the case of tenants who have signed a lease that doesn’t comply with lease regulation laws such as the Residential Landlord and Tenant Act – whichever is more favorable to the tenant – are applied in court, Ferrell said.

    Roommates can also be a source of problems for tenants, Ferrell said.

    While looking for roommates, tenants should interview possible candidates and ask questions that are both personal and general, as if they are interviewing for a job, Montes De Oca said.

    Every roommate should also be on the lease, even if it is possible they may fail the credit or background check, Montes De Oca said.

    “”Do it the right way,”” Montes De Oca said. “”If the person is responsible, then they will be approved.””

    If a roommate is not on the lease, the tenants who have signed the lease run the danger of being financially responsible for damages or unpaid rent, Montes De Oca said.

    More information on renters’ rights can be found in the Off-Campus Housing Guide, and students can receive free legal advising from Ferrell at the ASUA offices in the Student Union Memorial Center.

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