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UF/IFAS expert urges returning college students to read, know their lease

Michael S. Gutter, Ph.D., Assistant Professor, Family Youth and Community Sciences.  UF/IFAS Photo.

Michael Gutter

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GAINESVILLE, Fla. — As thousands of college students across America return to school for the fall, a UF/IFAS financial expert has quick, simple advice: Read the apartment lease.

To some, reviewing the lease may seem obvious; to others, it may seem onerous. But it’s time well spent, said Michael Gutter, an associate professor of family financial management and associate dean of Extension at UF/IFAS.

Most students won’t understand the legal language of a lease, but if they read it, they’ll know whether they’re responsible for cleaning the carpet and the kitchen, for example, Gutter said. They’ll also find out major points, including the conditions under which a deposit is refundable.

Also, keep in mind that whoever signs the lease must pay the rent, Gutter said. Sometimes, at least one parent or legal guardian may have to co-sign the lease to ensure the rent is paid. That’s because some college students have little to no credit.

“Like any business owner, landlords want to make sure that they’re going to get paid,” Gutter said. “The co-signer is very much the back-up plan. If the tenant fails to make the payments on time, they may contact the co-signer for payment. There’s a true commitment; it’s not just a moral backing.”

Everyone who signs the lease may have to go through a credit check, he said. If you fail to make payments, a collection agency could get involved. This will go on your credit report, and your credit score may dip. Furthermore, Gutter said, students should make sure everyone who’s living in the apartment signs the lease. That way, everyone knows his or her responsibilities.

Gutter also advises students to take their time while inspecting a potential apartment and write down every flaw. Landlords will generally have a check list, but as a lessee, you should go beyond what’s documented on that list.

“Don’t just set aside 15 minutes during lunch,” Gutter said. He also encouraged students to bring someone who knows electricity, plumbing and is generally handy around a house so they can ask tough questions of the landlord or property manager.

Document all pre-existing damages in advance, he said, because if you don’t, you may have to pay for them when, or after, you move out. If you don’t pay, collection agencies will report you to a credit bureau. So this black mark may follow you around and hurt your credit score.

“That type of delinquency is one of the major elements of the credit score,” Gutter said. “As a consequence, you’re going to hurt your credit score for something that you didn’t do, but you’re still going to be held liable for.”

Sub-leasing can get sticky. Some landlords prohibit the practice, Gutter said. Others will make the new tenant fill out a credit application. As the existing resident on the lease, the student who remains should take equal care to review the potential new roommate, he said. Don’t just shake their hand.

“The one thing they need to know is, ‘what are the rules on subleasing,’” Gutter said.

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By: Brad Buck, 352-294-3303, bradbuck@ufl.edu

Source: Michael Gutter, 352-392-1761, msgutter@ufl.edu