A Student Guide To Renting
For many college students, heading off to college means leaving the nest and renting your own apartment. It’s a dream come true, your perfect pad, a refuge from the world. But while getting your own place can feel a-ma-zing, it is important that you consider some of the pitfalls of renting, know your rights, and protect your finances when you sign a lease. Here are some tips to being a savvy renter!
You’re living in student housing. What can you expect?
Living in student housing can be so much fun! You’re close to classes, and truly a part of the school community. It is important to know all of the University’s terms and conditions when you’re living on campus. Luckily, the University Student Apartments have put together this comprehensive resident handbook, and the Resident Policies and Education have put together this comprehensive resident handbook as well. With these resources, you can stay informed of all of your rights and responsibilities in student housing!
Paying rent: How much and how to?
You’re looking at Zillow or KSL, and you’re seeing a lot of cool places...but you’re also seeing a lot of numbers. You wonder, what is an appropriate rent amount to pay? When you’re budgeting for rent, it is recommended to keep housing costs within 30% of your gross monthly income. That means, if you are making $3,000 per month, you can safely afford $900 for housing.
Another important tip for paying rent is to keep a record of your rent payments. It is not recommended to pay cash rent payments. Cash is risky, as it can be lost and it is untraceable. Make sure your landlord will accept checks or online payments, to ensure you have a paper trail that proves you’ve paid the rent.
Renters have rights! It is important to know what your rights as a renter are. Some important ones include:
- The Utah Fair Housing Act states that landlords cannot deny tenancy or make drastic changes to their rental policies based on discrimination. You cannot be denied housing for any discriminatory reason, including your race, gender, age, disability, nationality, number of children, religion, etc. If you think you’re being discriminated against, you can report it to HUD Federal Housing Complaints.
- You have the right to live in a safe and habitable home. It is your landlord’s duty to maintain your home consistent with Utah’s health and safety codes. For example, your doors and windows must be working and weatherproof, roofs and walls must be leak free, plumbing should be working (hot and cold water, please), and the home should be free of vermin.
- Any dangers or issues must be dealt with in a timely manner. If something goes wrong in your apartment, verbally inform your landlord. Next, create a timestamped record of communication, by writing an email or sending a dated letter, if they do not take action after your first request. Document the dangers or issues with photos. Your landlord must respond in a timely manner to your requests for assistance.
- In Utah, your landlord must give you 24 hours notice before they enter the premises. This varies by state, so check your state’s guidelines if you’re not a Utah resident.
- Upon moving out, if you do not get your security deposit back, your landlord should provide a list of reasons (including amounts) of why they’re keeping the deposit. Insider tip: before moving into an apartment, do a walkthrough and take time stamped photos of any aesthetic issues in the apartment, so you can refute claims of damage when you move out.
- In case of a dreaded eviction, your landlord must give you notice (the amount of notice depends on the reason), and only law enforcement are allowed to physically remove you from the unit. However, make sure to respond to eviction notices promptly and make arrangements to vacate on time- if you stay past when the eviction notice expires, you’ll have to pay treble expenses, which are three times the cost of rent in Utah. You can fight an eviction, but be sure to find representation and have ample documentation, otherwise a lost eviction case could put you into debt.
You have responsibilities too. Make sure to be the best tenant you can be.
- Pay your rent, and pay it on time. Make sure you are communicative with your landlord if you hit any snags, and call 211 to inquire about utility assistance or rent assistance.
- Comply with your lease agreement.
- Be a respectful and not overly loud neighbor.
- Keep the unit in the condition you initially rented it in. Dispose of waste properly.
- Report dangers and safety code violations.
- Refrain from illegal activities on the premises.
Some extra fun tips for being a pro renter:
- Know your lease! Read it and re-read it. Don’t be afraid to ask for clarifications from your landlord. Sift through the jargon and make sure you understand what you’re signing. Do not sign a lease you cannot maintain. Request a copy of the signed copy of your lease, and keep it accessible.
- Keep a record. Keep a record of all payments made, of damages or safety code violations, of requests for maintenance, and of correspondence with your landlord.
- Get renter’s insurance. You can usually find a reasonably priced policy, and renter’s insurance will protect you from theft, damage caused by other people, and damage caused by natural disasters.
- Get to know your neighbors! Renting is often temporary, but neighbor relationships can help protect you. Offer them a cup of sugar, and request that if you’re ever being too noisy, that they give you a call first instead of calling the cops or the landlord. Keep an eye out for each other’s safety and wellbeing around the neighborhood.
- Before signing a lease, ask your landlord to accompany you on a walkthrough of the unit. Document any aesthetic damages verbally and with photos. If you find any dangers or safety violations, request that the landlord attend to them.
- If you’re leaving an apartment and you have a good relationship with your landlord and a good rent history, ask for a letter of recommendation from the landlord (or the ability to list them as a reference). Bring this with you when you look at new places. Additionally, bring a copy of your most recent credit report from annualcreditreport.com.
- If you find that you may be facing an eviction soon, it is important to arm yourself with knowledge. The Utah Courts website has eviction information for tenants, including resources like People’s Legal Aid which can help you find representation, or mediation services. The S.J. Quinney College Of Law at the University Of Utah offers a number of pro bono legal consultation clinics, including one on housing issues.
Our finances and our general wellness are inextricably tied to our housing, and it is important to protect yourself from losses that can arise in the rental process. Having a habitable home that is free from landlord harassment will help you be a successful student. With these renter tips in your arsenal, you’ll be the most excellent renter on the block. The next time you find yourself searching for an apartment, remind yourself of your rights and responsibilities, and protect your wellbeing and your wealth!
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The Financial Wellness Center's discussion channel for insightful chat about our events, news, and activities.
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