I'm going to be a sophomore next year and I won't be living in college dorms anymore. What do I need to know about renting my first place?

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Answered by: Carina, An Expert in the College Life - General Category
College is an exciting time in our lives, and having a house or apartment with friends can be an especially fun experience. However, disagreements with both roommates and landlords can cause the experience to become stressful, complicated or downright miserable. By the time these problems arise, it may be far too late to fix anything. Luckily there are several things you can do when signing a lease agreement with roommates to prevent problems in the future.

1. Read the lease. This may sound like obvious advice, but it's amazing how many people fail to carefully read the lease. These documents are often long and complicated. Landlords often try to rush potential renters through the document, saying things like "Oh, that page just talks about our facilities." But once your signature is on the lease, you're probably stuck with whatever it says -- so make sure its reasonable. Many landlords will provide you with a sample lease in advance of the lease signing if you ask. This will give you a chance to understand any complicated terms and avoid any pressure from the landlord. However, make sure that the terms are the same when you and your roommates do sign the actual lease agreement.

2. If it's not in writing, it doesn't count. This one goes right along with reading the lease. Many leases contain a clause stating that any "oral agreements" between the parties are not binding. This means that if your landlord verbally tells you that you can keep your prized Chihuahua in the apartment, but the lease says "no pets," then at some point down the road the landlord can make you get rid of the dog, fine you, or impose other consequences which may be written down in the lease.

Even if your lease doesn't contain a statement about "no oral agreements," it can be near impossible to prove what the oral agreement was. Similarly, make sure that everyone who is expected to pay rent signs the lease agreement. These may be people you trust, but unpredictable events may leave you responsible for more rent than you planned to pay. A friend may drop out of school or leave to care for a family member. If he's not on the lease, then you probably can't make him pay rent. Many leases allow landlords to evict anyone who isn't officially on the lease, and if one roommate is no longer allowed to live in the house, then she probably doesn't want to pay rent either.

3. Agree on some house rules before move-in. A final step when signing a lease agreement with roommates is figuring out how you are going to live together. While dealing with the landlord can be the intimidating part, getting along with roommates can be stressful and emotionally trying. Though you and your future roommates probably get along great right now, living together can certainly test a friendship.

You don't want to make your college pad feel like a preschool, but having some expectations may save you from a troubled relationship in the future. Your friend's fun, laid-back attitude might be one of the things you love about him. However, when he's throwing a party the night before your big 8AM chemistry final, it might be less amusing. Roommate disagreements commonly arise over noise, food and cleaning. So talk about when the house needs to be quiet, whether you are all sharing groceries (and grocery bills), and who will do what cleaning (and when).

WRITER'S NOTE: This information is intended only for general informational purposes. It does not establish an attorney-client relationship, nor is it intended to give you legal advice regarding your own personal circumstances. It is not a substitute for hiring your own licensed attorney.

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