Published: Nov. 18, 2021

off campus housingA lease is a legally binding contract. Before signing a lease, it’s crucial to read and understand the document fully. While it may be tempting to skim through a lease, you could miss important information or an opportunity to negotiate more favorable terms. When preparing to sign a lease for next year’s housing, here are some things to know.

Occupancy limits

As you consider who your roommates will be next year, check the occupancy limits for the residence you plan to rent. Keep in mind that most properties in Boulder only allow for 3-4 occupants per unit. Boulder code requires every lease to clearly state the occupancy limits of the property. If it does not, or your landlord tells you something that differs from the printed lease, you should clarify. There can be consequences for over-occupying a residence including eviction, paying more rent than planned and a potential fine of $2,000 per day from the city of Boulder. For more information on over-occupancy and occupancy limits, depending on the location and zoning of a specific property, visit the city of Boulder website.

Types of leases

If you choose to live with roommates, make sure you know if you 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 you and your roommates sign the same lease together. You are responsible for your roommates’ share of the rent if they miss any payments. You are also responsible for any damage to the property even if it was caused by your roommate or their guest. 

An individual liability lease is less common and is usually found in situations where the landlord has assigned your roommates, although you may be able to request specific roommates. The tenant is responsible only for their own rent and damages attributable to that tenant and their guests. However, you also have less control in regards to your roommates, who have their own agreements.

Whether you are signing an individual liability lease or a joint and several liability lease, a roommate agreement is a great way to address joint responsibilities. It can also help with other issues that come up in living with roommates, such as privacy, sharing food, cleaning schedules, etc.

Your responsibilities as a tenant

Know your specific responsibilities under the lease agreement, such as:

  • Rent payment process, due dates and late fees
  • Utilities including electric, gas, water, sewer, trash, internet, cable, etc.
  • Lawn maintenance
  • Snow removal
  • Repairs including how and when to request repairs and who pays for the repairs
  • The lease end date and time and whether you have to notify your landlord that you will be moving out at the end of your lease
  • Move-out requirements, specifically including move-out time and the landlord’s cleaning expectations

Additionally, make sure you know if there is a clause requiring you to leave the heat on at all times during the winter. Water pipes can freeze during the winter, causing major damage for which you could be financially responsible.

Other things to review in your 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 you don’t comply with a notice requirement, you could end up paying rent after the lease is supposed to have ended.
  • Take note if there is an attorney’s fee clause and under what circumstances you would be required to pay your landlord’s attorney’s fees.
  • Look for any administrative fees you are required to pay and whether you are receiving any type of service for those fees. Also, see if there are fines and costs in addition to rent and under what circumstances they are assessed.
  • Check if a damages check-in sheet is required and when it is due to the landlord. Some leases state that if you fail to turn in your check-in sheet on time, you accept the residence “as is” and could be charged for damages caused by a previous tenant.
  • Make sure that all promises or representations made by the landlord are in writing. If anything is discussed about the residence with the property manager, make sure it’s added to the lease before signing, or it may be unenforceable.
  • Know if there is a way to get “out” of the lease, such as an early termination clause or subletting or assignment clause, and if so, under what conditions.

Share the lease with others who will be responsible for it

If the lease requires a parental guarantee, or if a guardian or other family member is going to be co-signing the lease with you, or if someone else will be paying your rent, share the lease with them. Give them time to review and ask questions before signing.

Have your lease reviewed by a lawyer

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

Set up an appointment with the Off-Campus Housing & Neighborhood Relations (OCH&NR) staff attorney for a free lease review on Tuesdays and Fridays. Roommates or family members are always welcome to participate in these sessions as long as a CU student is present. 

OCH&NR is located in UMC 313 and is open Monday-Friday from 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Students and families can also access services and resources via LiveChat on the OCH&NR website, email och@colorado.edu or call 303-492-7053. Bruce Sarbaugh, OCH&NR’s legal advisor, is currently conducting appointments in person or via Zoom. 

Student Legal Services (SLS) can also provide lease reviews (for a small fee) if OCH&NR does not have availability. SLS can also provide advice and attorney representation if you need more than advice, or if there is a dispute regarding a lease or security deposit. SLS attorneys are available to help with other legal issues too. SLS can be reached in the UMC room 311 or at 303-492-6813; the office is open Monday through Friday 8:30 a.m. to 12 p.m. and 1 to 4:30 p.m.