Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Save Yourself From Off-Campus Horrors

Most meetings between students and the Georgetown Student Tenant Association occur when it is already too late.

The students have already experienced the discomfort, stress and financial strain of horrible living conditions. Students feel powerless, bullied and unaware of their rights; tears are not uncommon.

We’ve seen it all, from landlords who refuse to pay for exterminators to tenants who struggle without hot water in January. Unfortunately, many students sign a lease without fully understanding its contents because they feel pressured to commit in a competitive housing market.

So, how can juniors save themselves when they eventually live off campus?  We can help review your lease before you sign it.

The main role of the GSTA is to advocate on behalf of student tenants and defend their rights against exploitation. This begins by reviewing leases for students in order to identify confusing clauses and illegalities lurking within the fine print. While each of our cases is confidential and unique, we can help first-time student renters avoid common housing pitfalls.

First, when you are considering signing a lease, make sure you know the landlord. Do they have a poor history or a bad reputation with previous tenants? We hear students complain about the same handful of landlords, who show up at their homes unannounced at odd hours. However, after the lease is signed, nothing can be done because their leases allow their landlords this liberty.

Also, be sure you know the condition of the property. Ask if the house is furnished, what utilities you are responsible for, if the property has working smoke detectors and if there are potential safety hazards. Many Georgetown students are familiar with the fire that killed MSB senior Daniel Rigby in his townhouse on Prospect Street in 2004; the reason he couldn’t get out safely was because the basement he was renting wasn’t up to code. Safety is the primary concern, so make sure you trust the place you plan to call home.

Although it might seem unimportant now, find out if you are allowed to sublease. Many students come to us outraged that their landlords will not let them sublease, despite unknowingly agreeing to pay rent for the summer in their leases. Landlords are not required to let you sublease, but negotiating this could save you three months’ rent down the line.

Your most immediate concern is the security deposit. It is only legal to charge a security deposit on up to one month’s rent, but landlords have not been shy about exploiting the ignorance of students who are desperate for a lease. Your landlord might also automatically deduct certain costs like repairs or cleaning fees. Ask about this and get your answers in writing — you do not want to fight to get your money back after you have graduated and moved to another city.

The bottom line: If you don’t know what it means, then don’t sign it.

A term like “joint and several” might sound like legal mumbo-jumbo, but it means that if one of your roommates flakes, then you’re responsible for their rent. Do not be afraid to negotiate with your landlord; it is possible that he will be responsible and compromise.

But, most importantly, if there is something that you don’t understand about your lease, let someone help you. We can explain confusing language and let you know if you missed anything. We will inform you of conditions that break the law and protect you from issues down the road. We are happy to help and will accommodate the needs of each and every student.

Mary Hanley is a junior in the School of Foreign Service. Nicholas Suttle is a senior in the College. They are co-directors of the Georgetown Student Tenant Association.

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