Tenant Union advocates students, urges lease review before signing in order to avoid problems later on

By Meghan O'Kelly

Danielle Burian, sophomore in LAS, recently visited the Tenant Union with a copy of a potential lease. After sitting down with Esther Patt, coordinator of the Tenant Union, she left in surprise.

“There was so much that actually surprised me,” Burian said. “My jaw dropped.”

The lease’s wording implied to Burian that utilities were included in her lease, however Patt’s closer look revealed that they were not, and she planned to talk to the landlord before signing.

Burian said she is thankful that she is now aware of liability, accountability and utility bills she would have incurred had she signed.

Patt said she frequently sees cases like Burian’s.

“The best thing we can do is prevent these problems by checking the landlord and having the lease reviewed,” she said. “We are not magicians. If you agreed to something stupid in your lease, we can’t fix it.”

The other main function of the Tenant Union, located in Room 326 of the Illini Union, is to provide students with landlord complaint records.

The records document incidents of students’ problems with various area landlords. Students can visit the Tenant Union to see them in person or request the records by e-mail at [email protected] Patt said the e-mail requests are generally answered within one hour.

“The hardest part of this job is getting people to take the landlord complaint records seriously,” she said. “Students tend to focus on location, but a good location with cockroaches and a leaky roof isn’t worth it.”

Brittany Gebka, senior in Education, used the Tenant Union’s services last year when she moved into a house that had not been cleaned and needed extensive repairs.

“They told us what action we could take and how to file a complaint,” she said, adding that the Tenant Union suggested calling the city’s health inspector, who took action by condemning one of the house’s rooms and fining the landlord.

Patt said there is a limit to what the Tenant Union can do, and sometimes Student Legal Services gets involved in student-landlord disputes.

“Students don’t sue landlords often enough,” she said. “Part of why landlords are ripping off people’s deposits is because they know how easy it is.”

Move-in and move-out photos are crucial when it comes time to get deposits back, and landlords often take advantage of students by not refunding an adequate amount of their deposits, Patt said. She discourages students from taking the Student Organization Resource Fee refund, which funds the Tenant Union, Student Legal Services and hundreds of other student programs. Students who take the refund are not eligible for free legal representation offered by Student Legal Services.

After being counseled by her parents to visit the Tenant Union, Burian encouraged other students to have their lease reviewed before signing. Students can walk in from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., Monday through Friday and can also pick up a copy of the Tenant Handbook.

“If you’ve never lived in an apartment before, have your lease checked out by the Tenant Union,” Burian said. “You’ll be surprised by what’s hidden in there.”