As the spring semester comes to a close, students living off campus should be aware of Legal Services for Students, a free service that offers a range of legal advice, associate director Sylvia Holmes said.
The service, offered through the Office of the Dean of Students, offers free legal counseling on landlord-tenant law, criminal charges and traffic tickets, according to the University’s website. Holmes said students should be informed and responsible when signing their leases.
“A number of problems come up simply because the student didn’t understand the lease,” Holmes said. “Reading the lease is important. I’d rather prevent a bad situation, so let’s review the lease together and understand how to avoid problems.”
Mechanical engineering senior Julian Gonzalez said he didn’t know about the service two years ago when he got into a disagreement with his landlord.
“The landlord automatically renewed my lease even though I had given a 60-day move-out notice,” Gonzalez said. “I ended up having to live there two more months because I couldn’t find a way to get out.”
Students should be more educated about the apartment complex before signing the lease, Holmes said.
“Talk to people who live there, and go back and see that complex at night,” Holmes said. “Take note of the parking, the lighting, the traffic. The evening will tell you how noisy it’s going to be.”
Before moving in, Holmes advises students to take pictures and videos of the unit.
“The day you arrive, go get the keys, tour the apartment, turn your camera on and make a video blog,” Holmes said. “Open all the drawers, check all the lights, flush all the toilets, make sure everything works.”
Holmes said video evidence is important in case a dispute goes to trial. She recalled a case in which the judge ruled in favor of a student because of a 12-minute video. Additionally, Holmes said students should also take photos after moving out to document the after-condition of the unit.
If a student gets into a dispute with a landlord, they should immediately seek legal advice, Holmes said.
“It can be scary to seek legal advice, but you’d be amazed to know that most cases can be resolved without going to court,” Holmes said. “Ninety-five percent of cases get resolved with a phone call or a letter.”