Published: Oct. 21, 2019
Sidewalk and houses

Before your student signs a lease, it’s crucial that they read and understand the document fully. It may be tempting to skim through it, but they could miss important information in a legally binding contract. With many students preparing to sign a lease for next year’s housing, here are some things to know before signing a lease.

Ask to review the lease with your student

It’s common for family members to help pay their student’s rent or co-sign leases, and some property managers require a parental guarantee. A parent responsible for a student’s obligations under the lease is responsible for all of the student’s financial obligations. This potentially includes the rent of and/or costs for damages caused by any roommates and even sub-lessees of roommates.

If the lease requires a parental guarantee, or if you or another family member will be paying rent or co-signing the lease with your student, ask to see the lease and review it before anyone signs it.

Occupancy limits

As your student considers who their roommates will be next year, they should check the occupancy limit for the residence they plan to rent. Discourage your student and their roommates from over-occupying a residence. There could be consequences for this, including eviction, paying more rent than planned or large fines.

Types of leases

If your student chooses to live with roommates, make sure they know if they have an individual liability lease or a joint and several liability lease. The most common type of lease is a joint and several liability lease. This is where your student and their roommates are jointly responsible for paying rent in full and any damages caused. In other words, your student is responsible for their roommate’s share of the rent and repair costs. While we often don’t see this, it’s worthwhile to consider what could happen if your student ends up in this scenario and how they might handle it. Encourage your student and their roommates to sign a roommate agreement before moving in.

Tenant responsibilities

Your student should know their specific responsibilities under the lease agreement, such as:

  • Rent payment process, due dates and late fees
  • Utilities
  • Lawn maintenance
  • Snow removal
  • Trash disposal
  • Repairs
  • The lease end date and time
  • Move-out and cleaning requirements

Additionally, make sure your student knows if there is a clause requiring them to leave the heat on at all times during the winter. Water pipes can freeze during Colorado winters, causing major damage for which your student and roommates would be financially responsible.

Other things to review in the lease

  • Check if a written notice to terminate the lease is required. This could be required even if the lease ends on a particular date. If your student doesn’t comply with a notice requirement, they could end up paying rent after the lease is supposed to have ended.
  • Take note if there is an attorney fee clause and under what circumstances your student would be required to pay attorney fees.
  • Does the landlord charge administrative fees, fines and costs in addition to rent and, if so, are they reasonable? Look for these five words that should raise a red flag: “fine”, “penalty”, “waive”, “forfeit” and “liquidate damages”. These may be unenforceable provisions where the landlord is trying to charge the tenant money they’re not entitled to charge.
  • Check if a damages check-in sheet is required and when it is due to the landlord. Some leases state that if the check-in sheet is not turned in on time, the renter accepts the residence as is. Your student could be charged for damages caused by a previous tenant.
  • Most leases contain a clause stating that any promises not written into the lease are not valid and cannot be enforced. If anything is discussed about the residence with the property manager, make sure it’s added to the lease before signing.
  • Know if there is a way “out” of the lease and, if so, under what conditions.

Have the lease reviewed by a lawyer

All currently enrolled fee-paying students have access to legal advice on campus. A lawyer can help your student understand their lease and provide tips on other rental concerns. Your student can:

  • Set up an appointment with the Off-Campus Housing & Neighborhood Relations (OCHNR) staff attorney for a free, confidential lease review and advisement.
  • Call or visit Student Legal Services to set up an appointment for a confidential lease review and advisement, available for a small fee.

Families can participate in attorney meetings with the permission of the student.