Tips, resources for students navigating the C-U housing market

By Jonathan Alday, Assistant Sports Editor

For University students who choose not to re-sign with University Housing, the stress of finding a new home in a confusing market can be daunting. Students can miss quality defects in the rush of apartment hunting and signing leases, often navigating a lease for the first time.

While these student oversights do not usually lead to complicated situations later on, for some, it causes major legal disputes between landlords and tenants.

For many students, a major obstacle is going through this process alone. Taylor Pinto, sophomore in Business, has heard horror stories about poor living situations caused by bad landlords.

“I don’t know (about) any services,” Pinto said. “(I worry about) a bad landlord. You hear about a lot of places not to sign with around here because they’re terrible.”

There are two groups on campus that directly help students navigate these disputes, Off-Campus Community Living and Student Legal Services. They are available to any and all students, providing information about leases and tenant protections under the law once a contract is signed.

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    Dana DeCair, a representative from OCCL, noted that students are often under the impression that leases must be signed quickly.

    “The biggest common misconception about the rental process here in Champaign-Urbana is that you need to sign a lease early and quickly,” DeCair said.

    The Champaign-Urbana housing market is large for the size of the University. While one of the major selling points of a property is its location relative to campus, the Champaign-Urbana Mass Transit District still has major networks that extend outside of campus. Longer commutes to campus are still doable and could be worth losing 10 to 15 minutes in the morning depending on what a student wants for their living situation.

    Thomas Betz, an attorney with 37 years worth of experience with SLS, advocates for students to expand their apartment search farther off campus.

    “We have a great bus service, so being a few blocks from campus should not determine whether you sign a lease,” Betz said.  “I urge students to not be pressured into signing early. It is a landlord tactic that rarely favors student tenants.”

    Due to the complexity of housing contracts, it can often take time to understand and process. Asking trusted adults or employees at campus resources about their lease is a valuable resource. Most importantly, taking the time to read every single clause can benefit students later on.

    “Important things to look for in leases are mold clauses, rules and regulations, sublet fees, cleaning and repairs, eviction and notices, rent increases/automatic renewals and forfeit of deposit,” DeCair said.

    It’s essential to catch these types of details before signing the lease, as students will be legally obligated to follow them once their initials or signature are on it. Judges will assume a student’s signature means they comprehend the lease. “I didn’t know” will not be a convincing argument when problems arise. Making sure to follow what’s on the contract is important as it will save money and time later on.

    “Leases have become massive documents over the past 10 years with lengthy addenda protecting landlords from claims regarding mold, asbestos, bedbugs etc,” Betz said. “No smoking means no smoking, no pets means no pets. Some have clauses that allow them to bring actions outside of Champaign County where (OCCL) cannot practice.”

    DeCair said there are certain things to keep in mind when signing a lease.

    “Do not sign the lease unless you are presented with two, identical copies — one for you and one for the landlord, and the landlord (or agent) is signing one copy while you are signing the other,” DeCair said. “You need the landlord’s signature on your copy of the lease. Get all promises in writing. Oral agreements are not binding when you have a written lease.”

    OCCL recommends a few things you should look at when searching:

    • Start by setting a budget: rent, utilities, parking, etc.
    • Understand your roommate situation
    • Identify your needs
    • Identify your location
    • Only look at options that are within your parameters
    • View the exact apartment you may want to rent

    There are many more months before the school year ends. Being diligent and aware of the free resources available to students may stop headaches later on.

    “The massive number of pages often thwarts tenants reading much beyond the first few pages,” Betz said. “Tenants need to take the time to read the document when making such a major financial and personal investment. Shop around, shop around, shop around.”


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