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Moving off campus for the first time can be both exciting and daunting for college students. Beyond understanding leasing terminology and finding and furnishing their first off-campus place, the move-out process isn’t always the easiest either!
That's because, unfortunately, many leasing companies and landlords take advantage of inexperienced first-time renters. In any college community, there will be leasing companies with a reputation for withholding outrageous amounts of students’ security deposits come move-out.
From move-in to move-out and even in between, there are various opportunities for landlords to withhold security deposits — but that also means there are opportunities for students to protect their deposits.
Share these tips with your student throughout the duration of their lease so they know how to protect their rights and your money!
If your student is renting from a leasing company or even a private landlord, they will likely be asked to complete a move-in inspection within the first few days after taking occupancy.
Students who are understandably distracted by the excitement of their new home may be tempted to skimp on their inspections, simply taking a cursory glance before completing the necessary paperwork (I’ve been guilty of this more than once!).
The importance of the move-in inspection may not be obvious — until you move out and your landlord tries to blame you for damages that were done to the unit or house before you moved in.
Remind your student that the more time they spend on move-in inspections (tedious as they may be) the easier it will be to fight any unfair deductions to their security deposit later.
I suggest taking the inspection room by room with roommates (the more sets of eyes the better). Go through each point on the checklist. Err on the side of being overly critical and overly detailed. My roommate and I went as far as to report slightly cracked tiles and scuffs in the paint during our recent move (because our previous landlord tried to charge us for a total repaint; more on that later).
Your student should take pictures of the damages and create a dated record which they can share with you. This is especially important if there is significant damage to any part of the house.
We all know by now that things don’t always go according to plan and this is especially true when it comes to student housing! Come graduation, many college student renters have enough housing horror stories to fill a book, but doubtless they've also taken away many life lessons.
Here’s one of the most important lessons students learn (sometimes the hard way): document everything. Your student may find themselves amidst a household disaster zone whether it be pest infestations, plumbing issues or more. If they come to you unsure about their rights as a tenant, or wondering if they're being taken advantage of, encourage them to do their research and document everything.
If a landlord visits to talk about the issues in person, have your student send a follow-up email going over everything that was said. If something like a plumbing mishap occurs that is the fault of the landlord (for example, as a result of faulty pipes or broken appliances), make sure your student takes care to document and report any additional damages in writing (water-damaged floors, cracked paint, etc.). They should either send an email or report it online through their tenant portal.
Students living off campus should never hesitate to report anything wrong with the unit throughout their lease, especially in regards to pest infestations, mold and other issues that will worsen with time. Most likely these issues are outlined in the lease agreement and may include the fine print that, if the renter doesn’t report these issues promptly, they assume responsibility for the damages.
While there are the obvious steps renters should take prior to moving out (clean the unit, patch holes in the walls, etc.), the real difficulty can start after you’ve gotten your deposit back.
First things first — make sure your student receives their deposit within the time frame stated on the lease. If the landlord is late returning the deposit, you technically have grounds for a lawsuit. Of course, most students and their families have no interest in taking the issue to court, time-consuming as the process is, but it will provide you with a solid bargaining chip if the landlord made deductions from the deposit.
The returned deposit must include an invoice itemizing any deductions for things like cleaning fees, repainting, etc. Match each deduction to the lease to make sure these costs were outlined previously. Any ambiguous charges should be clarified either over the phone or in writing.
Landlords seem to assume students are too inexperienced to recognize an unfair deduction, and many students don’t realize they can challenge a majority of these fees.
If your student sees a charge that wasn’t outlined in their lease or seems unfair (e.g., patching holes in walls when there weren’t any), encourage them to write a letter to the landlord demanding they reconsider these charges.
My roommate and I almost lost hundreds of dollars out of our security deposit for a “repainting the property" charge last year. We were especially upset about this because when we moved in, it was obvious that the walls had been repainted in patches with different colored paint. The exterior staircases and hallways were decorated with chipped and flaky paint (and even splintering wood) for the two years we lived there. We knew it was highly unlikely the landlord had actually repainted anything, especially since there was no invoice included for the service.
We hesitated to write a formal letter to complain, but we were also unwilling to let our landlord take half of our deposit for numerous charges we didn't understand. Luckily, you can easily find templates online for a security deposit demand letter — we used these as reference to make sure we included the right information, copying and pasting in parts of our lease as evidence.
We ended up getting half of the charges refunded and were extremely relieved to have more money in our bank accounts. Though we hesitated to fight the deductions, we didn't want to leave money on the table simply because we were scared to go head to head with a big leasing company.
It can definitely be anxiety inducing to fight your leasing company or landlord for your security deposit, but it's also empowering. Encourage your student to be proactive throughout their lease and to stand up for themselves if they're unfairly penalized. They'll likely be renters for a while and will need these skills as they move forward in life.
College move-in is approaching! Help your student prepare by making sure they have everything they need for a successful freshman year.