Attorneys offer advice for first-time renters



Attorney Sylvia Holmes, who works for Legal Services for Students, offers free legal advice and help to students.

Photo Credit: Shelby Tauber | Daily Texan Staff

As the fall semester comes to a close, students are beginning the hunt for a place to live off campus next fall — an experience that can scare first time leasing students.

Raymond Schiflett, director of Legal Services for Students, said he encourages students to bring their leases to his office if they have any questions or concerns. The office, which has two full-time and one part-time attorney and saw more than 1,400 students last year, offers free legal advice and help to students who need it.

The Daily Texan sat down with Schiflett and Legal Services for Students attorney Sylvia Holmes to ask what students should be aware of before they sign a lease.

Daily Texan: What should students who have never leased expect as they begin to hunt for off-campus living space?
Holmes: Students should be prepared to be dazzled. A lot of our complexes do a great job of talking themselves up, putting on big displays and offering initiatives to lease right now. There is a lot of attention paid to our student renters. And that’s great, that’s exciting and that’s a lot of fun, but that’s always dangerous. For a student who is renting an apartment for the very first time, they often feel rushed, like they have to sign up immediately or they are going to lose the apartment. While a lot of West Campus apartments go pretty fast, that doesn’t mean you’re under a gun.

DT: As far as the lease itself, what are some things that should raise red flags for students?
Schiflett: Blanks that are not filled in, or not getting a copy of the lease. If you don’t get a copy of the lease, that’s horrible. If they tell you they will get it to you in a couple of weeks, that should be a deal breaker.

Holmes: And nonrefundable fees. Any apartment complex that is going to charge you a redecorating fee or a one-time administrative fee is a concern.

DT: Is there a difference between renting an apartment and renting a house that students should be aware of?
Holmes: The obligations are different. A lot of houses put more obligations on the tenant. Pest control, yard control, a lot of those things are left up to the tenant. There is just more responsibility to a home, because there is more to it. But the leases are very similar.

DT: What makes a good, law-abiding landlord?
Schiflett: Well, we don’t see any good landlords in this office. One time in 19 years someone has come in and said, “I have the best landlord that I want to refer you to for other students.” All the other cases I’ve had have been students claiming their landlords are hurting them. But the good landlords are the landlords that are good at communicating. They tell the students up-front what is expected, what they are going to do, and this is the time you need to do it in. And a good landlord is flexible with students. The majority of landlords are fine. Sometimes I walk into Pluckers and I look at the names of nearby complexes, and I don’t recognize the names. And that’s a good thing.

Printed on Wednesday, Nov. 28, 2012 as: Attorneys offer legal advice on new leases