The spring semester may be under way at colleges across Long Island, but many students need some extra help when it comes to finding off-campus housing. Commack real estate attorney Lita Smith-Mines offers these tips to help students avoid getting in over their heads:
- “Try to speak with a current tenant and ask a few questions," she says. You might ask some of the following: Was the apartment or house clean when you moved in? Does the landlord respect your privacy and give advance notice before entering? How quickly does the landlord respond to problems like overflowing toilets or no hot water?
- Any promises made by the landlord should be on the signed copy of the lease. Prior to moving in, prospective tenants should also attach a list of items that were damaged before moving in. “If the landlord promises to fix something, like a broken window, make that clear," she says. "If it’s something you don’t want to be charged for at the end, like burn marks on the carpet, make that clear, too."
- “If you are renting with others, it is rare to have the landlord agree that each of you may pay for your share separately and that you can stay if another fails to pony up his/her share," she says. "But it is worth trying to get this provision.”
- Prospective tenants should also check to make sure that they would be living in compliance with the town’s zoning restrictions. “If the landlord is breaking the law, the authorities can come in and shut down the structure, leaving the tenants with a broken lease, money tied up with the landlord and no place to live,” she says. Prospective tenants should ask for a Certificate of Occupancy of the property and inspect the property. If there is a violation that threatens the health or public safety of the tenants, immediate action should be taken.