When signing leases, it’s important for students to understand their rights and responsibilities, Molly Philipps, chief counsel of the Student Legal Services Civil Team, said. Credit: Joe Matts | Lantern Reporter

Whether it’s a missing security deposit or a sluggish maintenance response, housing issues can become legal issues when a landlord-tenant dispute goes far enough.

It’s important for students to know their rights and responsibilities when it comes to lease agreements with off-campus landlords. Security deposits and maintenance disputes are the most common legal issues that students can avoid with a little preparation, Molly Philipps, chief counsel of the Student Legal Services Civil Team at Ohio State, said.

Philipps said that in the fall, the most common issue for which students come into the office is missing or unfairly small security deposit returns. In the spring, the most common issue is landlords not completing maintenance requests.

To avoid issues with security deposits, Philipps recommended documenting the condition of the house at the beginning and end of the year. This should include pictures and videos, which could help support students if a disagreement goes to court. Students must leave the house in the same condition they found it, barring normal usage damage, according to Ohio law.

Neil Sethi, co-managing member at Columbus-area property company Landis Properties, said in an email that knowing how a security deposit should work can help students judge what is fair.

“I think students often have the wrong expectations on their security deposit in entering into the leasing relationship (and some landlords look to take advantage of that). The default should be getting all of the deposit back,” Sethi said.

George Kanellopoulos, owner of OSU Properties, stressed the importance of following move-out instructions to get the full deposit back.

“If your landlord or rental company provides move-out instructions, follow them exactly,” Kanellopoulos said in an email. “Our move-out packet is almost 25 pages long. We tell our tenants that if they follow the instructions exactly, and assuming there are no egregious damages to the property, they will receive their full deposit back.”

To prove that a landlord is not completing a maintenance request on time, Philipps said the Landlord-Tenant Act requires communication between the two in writing. She said a lease that details a maintenance request process via phone is fine, but students should also always send requests in writing as well.

Sethi said communicating about problems early is also important.

“Sometimes residents don’t call something in because they don’t want to be charged or don’t want to bother our maintenance staff, but the problem often then becomes bigger and more costly than it would have been if they had called it in initially,” Sethi said.

Philipps encouraged students to do research on a landlord before signing their lease by speaking to current tenants, reading the Undergraduate Student Government’s Renter’s Guide and checking online reviews. 

Philipps said an SLS consultation is free and encourages students to come in and get a lease review, which can help students learn about the Landlord-Tenant Act. A lease review will ensure that students know their rights and their responsibilities and can shed light on parts of the contract that may be illegal, she said.

“You can always come and see us; you should never be concerned that your question is silly or anything like that, and also, if you make an appointment, you are not going to have to pay any money when you come in here to speak with an attorney,” Philipps said.