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Legal lecture: local attorneys give advice to students planning to sign a lease

Student legal services is a useful resource for students signing their first lease.
Photo credit: Shelby Metzger

As midterms come to a close, many Ohio State students have already gathered friends and signed leases for the upcoming year. And if you haven’t, you will probably be working on one in the near future.

However, leases are often complex, and many students who have never glanced at one might be quick to pick up a pen and sign without a second thought.

Paul Wilkins, chief litigation attorney at Ohio State’s Student Legal Services, recommends students come talk to an attorney at SLS before signing.

“[Students] should come into our office for what we call a lease review,” Wilkins said. “We’ll go through the lease with them, explain what it means, explain what their rights and responsibilities are.”

Michael Schottenstein, a Columbus-based real estate attorney, said he agreed it’s important for students to know what they are signing.

“They key thing is to make sure you understand the terms of your lease and what your obligations are,” Schottenstein said.

Wilkins said students also might not be aware of their rights as tenants. It’s important to know what landlords can and cannot do. For example, landlords must notify tenants before entering the apartment. Generally, a 24-hour notice is given.

“Sometimes, a lease will say that if you ask for a repair, the landlord can come in whenever they want. And that’s not enforceable,” Wilkins said.

Other issues students often come across include unmet expectations. Wilkins’ first tip is to always look at the exact apartment being rented. If the landlord promises renovations or changes will be made to the apartment, make sure it’s written in the lease. Additionally, students should talk to the current tenants outside of the landlord’s presence to hear their opinions and experiences.

Wilkins also said to look at the apartment during different times of the year.

Conflicts with roommates are other issues students often have. Wilkins suggests composing and signing a roommate agreement to ensure everyone on the lease is on the same page. Once a lease is signed by all the tenants, it’s difficult for one person to back out.

While there’s certainly an array of issues that could occur when signing for your first apartment or home, Wilkins said students always have resources available to help mitigate any problems.

“No matter what issue you’re having, come talk to us,” Wilkins said.

Both Wilkins and Schottenstein said it’s important to ask any necessary questions about your lease before signing.

“If you have questions, ask them. The best time to get your questions answered is before you enter into the lease, as opposed to after,” Schottenstein said. “Once you’re signed on, you’re bound.”

14 comments

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