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Read This Before Signing or Opting-Out of a Lease

Landlords are evil. Okay, that’s maybe a bit harsh, but landlords are (almost always) not your friends. Especially the ones who work at larger student housing corporations. The whole point of their job is to make a profit, and to do that they have to squeeze as much money out of vulnerable students as they can, which means creating intentionally complicated leases designed to confuse students. So before you sign anything, take a quick look through this article for some things to watch out for.

Here are some red flags to look out for in lease agreements.

Only one person having to sign the lease

You want to make sure everyone living in the apartment has their name on the lease to make sure no one gets screwed over.

Not having the price divvied up within the lease

If the lease only sets a price for the unit as a whole and doesn’t specifically split up the fees for each individual person, be careful. You need a legally binding contract stating what each person will be paying otherwise there is the risk of people trying to weasel out of their fees.

Having a lease that lasts for multiple years

It is by no means a bad thing to sign a lease that guarantees you get the same unit for the entire time you’re in university. In fact, it can help take a lot of stress off you. But you need to read the lease carefully. If you’re signing a multi-year lease, make sure your rent is going to stay the same for the entire duration of the lease and be sure to know what you need to do to maintain that. It is always a good idea to get outside help to make sure you’re not being taken advantage of.

Clauses where you sign the lease over to sub-letters

If the building you are considering says that having a sublet requires you to sign your lease over to that person for the time they are in the unit, reconsider. Normally when companies have you sign a lease over or have to resign a lease for any reason, it is a trick to increase your rent.

It is important to remember when signing a lease that the people getting you to sign are salesmen and they are trying to profit off of you. Always thoroughly read the agreement, and it’s never a bad idea to have a parent look over the agreement before you sign anything.

Now, here are some things to do before deciding to opt out of a lease.

Always read your lease before opting out

This is especially important when one or two people are thinking of leaving a living situation, while some other people want to stay. Lots of leases have a clause that if one person opts out, that cancels the lease for the entire unit. Anyone wanting to stay will have to sign a new lease, meaning their rent will go up and they will probably have to move to a new unit. Even when you sign an individual opt-out, odds are your roommates will still need to sign a new lease (and pay more in rent). Be safe and read over your lease before making any decisions, and make sure to talk to your roommates to come up with a game plan before signing anything. Know your options: opting out, signing a lease takeover or subletting. See what you can do, and what everyone is comfortable with.

Know the opt-out deadline

If you decide as a group to opt-out, make sure you do so before the deadline, but also be careful to think through all your options and don’t rush. Be aware that landlords are sneaky and know how to scare you to make you feel pressured, but that you don’t need to rush. Your lease will tell you the final opt-out date to get out of it. If you receive emails that tell you the opt-out date is the middle of November, but your lease tells you that you have until the end of December, you need to be aware of the fact that the landlords could be trying to rush you into making a hasty decision that allows them to charge more for the unit you are living in. You have to make the decision that works best for you and your roommates, so take your time and get informed.

Know your rights…

Do some research before you make any decisions and know what your landlord can and cannot do. Whenever you go into meetings with your landlord or approach signing or opting out of a lease, be informed, calm and know what your rights are.

… and know when to get help

Unfortunately, we’re students. That means no matter how grown-up you are and how informed you are, sometimes your landlord isn’t going to listen to you. They are going to try to take advantage in any way they can, and at that point you need to know that it’s okay to bring in a parent or older person. Normally when someone’s dad shows up, your landlord will back off and respect your rights. It’s frustrating but if it keeps you from getting screwed over, it’s worth it.

Alright folks, I know that’s a lot to throw at you. And I know deciding to sign or opt-out of a lease is a stressful decision without me being so pessimistic. That being said, just remember to be informed, look out for red flags and do what’s best for you and your roommates.

Meghan Mazzaferro

Wilfrid Laurier '21

Meghan is an English and Film Studies major who has dreamed of being a writer all her life. When she's not writing essays and watching films for class, she loves to read YA novels and rewatch her favourite TV shows for the 100th time. Proud plant mama of 24 green beauties, and willing to adopt all the dogs.
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