Know your rights: Five important legal tips for living off campus

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Moving into off-campus housing is a huge step toward independence that rightfully causes concern for many students, but Kansas State’s Off-Campus Housing Support staff is a key resource available to help students through everything from roommate disputes to property issues.

Here are five key tips to guide you through the process of living off campus.

Do your research

It is critical to learn as much about the space you are planning on renting as possible. First, look for reviews about your possible landlord to make sure you’re working with a good landlord.

“Ask around; ask people you know who live off campus,” said Mariah Kinderknecht, director of Off-Campus Housing Support and junior in hospitality management. “See if they’ve had any issues with a management company before. For most big-name rental companies, you can find reviews online.”

When looking at prospective properties, you should have an understanding of what makes an acceptable home. Manhattan has a city housing code that mandates what a dwelling must have. Calling the Manhattan Code Services at 785-587-4506 can also ensure that the property is a legitimate rental registered with the city.

“Most kids don’t want to come in and stir the pot, but you should know what the code requires so that you choose a safe and suitable place to live,” said Sarah Barr, staff attorney for Student Legal Services.

When renting out a space with multiple units, make sure you are visiting the exact unit you are planning to live in. You should also try to visit your space during the day and night to see if there are any lighting issues.

“Don’t look at how it’s decorated — you have to look beyond that,” Barr said. “For example, if they have a blanket hanging in the window, ask if it’s the ambiance they’re going for, or is it there because there is an issue with the window?”

Read your lease (the whole thing)

Your lease is a legal contract, and there’s not much you can do to get out of a lease once you’ve signed it. This is why it is so important to read and understand your lease before signing it.

“There are going to be events where property management companies are going to have iPads and encourage you to sign [a lease] then and there and offer a free month’s rent,” Barr said. “If you don’t read your lease and you sign it right there, you will have no idea what you’ve just agreed to.”

Choose your roommates carefully

When it comes to roommates, trust is a necessity.

“Especially when it’s someone you don’t know, someone you found on an advertisement or a friend of a friend, make sure that you’re compatible with each other and able to make your rent payments,” Kinderknecht said.

When a group of roommates sign a lease, it is called joint and several responsibility, which means each roommate is individually responsible for paying the whole rental fee. If one of the roommates leaves, the remaining roommates are responsible for that person’s portion of the rent.

“If you hate your roommate, wanting them to move out may not actually be what you want, since you’ll have to pay more when they leave,” Barr said. “Not only do you have to trust them around your stuff, but you have to trust them to pay their bills and behave in a way that you are comfortable with.”

Know your rights and responsibilities

In the Kansas Landlord and Tenant Act, the respective rights and responsibilities of each party are defined.

“There are things you need to do in your home,” Kinderknecht said. “You need to keep it clean and avoid putting holes in the walls or breaking doors off of hinges. If it’s something you can’t fix, like if the sink is backed up due to bad plumbing or if there’s an issue with electrical wiring, that’s a landlord issue, and they need to come out and fix it.”

Understanding your responsibilities as a tenant is important, but you also have rights.

“Your security deposit can only be one month’s rent, but that can be different if it’s a furnished apartment or if there’s a pet involved,” Barr said. “A landlord cannot say that your security deposit is three month’s rent, which they have done, often to international students.”

If you’re looking to avoid legalese, a summary of the Landlord and Tenant Act is available on the Off-Campus Housing Support website in plain English.

Document everything

“Do everything in writing,” Barr said. “Send texts, send emails, make sure your interactions with your landlord and roommates are well documented. If an issue ends up in court or there is some other kind of dispute, it’s a lot easier to go back and establish what’s been done and said when you can look at all of your emails and text messages.”

A good way to help you get your security deposit back is to take as many pictures as possible of your space the day you move in.

“It’s not the tenant’s job to prove that they didn’t do damages to the space, it’s the landlord’s job to prove that they did,” Barr said. “It would be very helpful to have plenty of pictures to prove the condition of the rental prior to the tenant’s time there. Take pictures of things like the toilet, bathtub and drip pans. The details are important.”

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Hi there! I’m Leah Zimmerli, community desk co-editor, relentless optimist, and lover of big and small dogs. I’m a junior in political science and journalism from Overland Park, Kansas. I hope to bring you pieces that challenge you, that broaden your mindset, and help you learn more about your K-State community.