Issue The WHATs The WHYs
Don’t rely on anything the landlord says unless it’s in writing as part of the lease. Most leases state that any promises not included as part of the lease don’t count. Even without such a provision, when a contract is in writing, courts will generally not enforce any unwritten terms outside the contract. Also, it can be difficult to prove an oral promise in court.
Know how many people are legally allowed to live in the residence and don't go over that number of occupants. Boulder has a law governing how many people can live in a residence with a penalty of $2,000 per day for each resident of the unit as well as the landlord (and some leases say the tenant has to pay the landlord's fine too). You can also be evicted by the landlord or kicked out by the city for violating the law. Find out what the occupancy limit for the residence is and do not exceed it. While it may seem cheaper to divide the rent between more people, it can end up much more expensive if you get caught.
If the lease requires a guarantor (sometimes referred to as a co-signer), make sure your guarantor has the opportunity to review the lease before you sign and do not sign the lease before the guarantor agrees. Most student leases in Boulder require a guarantor, such as a parent, for each tenant. Guarantors are responsible for tenant obligations under the lease if the tenants default. Many leases state that a tenant is obligated to the terms of the lease (including rent payments) after signing it even if the guarantor doesn't sign.
INSURANCE Does the lease require you to carry insurance? Even if there is no insurance requirement, you should get renter's insurance. Boulder leases often require tenants to carry insurance, sometimes just on tenant belongings (renter's insurance) and other times on the landlord's property (liability or fire insurance). Even if there is no requirement to get insurance, you should get a renter's insurance policy anyway.  Renter's insurance covers your personal belongings from theft or damage, and may also provide personal liability benefits in case you get sued.
Is the lease is "joint and several" or individual? Most leases in Boulder are "joint and several" leases. This means that all of the tenants and their guarantors are jointly (meaning together) and severally (meaning individually) responsible for all of the obligations under the lease. For example, if one of the roommates doesn't pay rent, all the other roommates and guarantors owe the money. Be sure you pick roommates you trust if you are signing a joint and several lease, because you are on the hook if they don't pay.
RENT Know when rent is due, how it is to be paid, when it is considered late and what happens if it is late. Renting is a business; it is how landlords keep roofs over their heads and food on their tables. As a result, rent is often what landlords care about most.  However, under Colorado law, landlords cannot charge a late fee until the rent is at least seven days late, and that fee is capped at the greater of 5% of the rent or $50 for each late payment. Landlords also cannot charge interest on late fees, deduct from rent payments to cover late fees or convert late fees to rent.
Know to what extent you would be responsible for:
  • Electric, gas, water, trash, cable and internet
  • Repairs
  • Lawn care and snow shoveling
  • Plumbing, mold and extermination problems
  • Appliance filters, light bulbs and batteries
  • Common areas
It is important to know this information ahead of time so that you understand your obligations and what it will actually cost you to live at the residence. Do not agree to take on any maintenance duties you cannot or do not want to do. Otherwise, the landlord may hire someone else to do it and send you a bill that may be higher than you expect.  If it's your job to shovel the sidewalks, and you don't, you could also get a ticket or even be sued if someone slips and falls.
To the extent the landlord is responsible for repairs, know when and how to report issues. Leases typically specify a way to request routine repairs. Sometimes there is a special way to report emergencies such as a water leak that is different for normal repairs. Leases also often require tenants to "participate" in repairs, such as being home to let a repairman in or moving furniture for access to pipes or wires.  If you don't report something that is broke, and that leads to further damage, such as a leaking pipe leading to mold or water damage, you may be responsible for the cost of that further damage.
PRIVACY Know what the lease says about when your landlord can enter and what notice (if any) the  landlord will provide. Also, if the landlord can enter to show prospective  renters, know if you have to maintain the property in a  certain condition. The law does not specify any specific notice requirement, so your lease governs how much notice you will get.  Be aware that when a lease states that a landlord may enter on "reasonable notice" to the tenant, what is reasonable changes with the circumstances.
Know what might cause you to be charged administrative fees, fines and costs. Know how much those fines, fees and costs are. Know if the additional costs become rent if not paid on time. Leases often have provisions allowing landlords to collect money from tenants besides rent. You should know any other charges you are or could be subject to before signing the lease to avoid surprises later. If the lease allows such unpaid charges to accrue as "rent", fees for late rent or even eviction could result. Although Colorado law was recently changed to disallow late rent fees from becoming "rent", it still allows other fees or charges to become "rent".
Will the landlord assess attorney fees and costs to  tenants under some circumstances? If so, what are those circumstances? And what does the attorney fee clause really mean? It is typical for leases to contain attorney fee and cost provisions in certain situations, and often those provisions are skewed to benefit the landlords. Knowing what those provisions say can help you avoid being assessed attorney fees and costs if you were to ever have a dispute with your landlord. Colorado law was recently changed to prohibit one-way lease provisions that only let the landlord claim attorney fees and costs in a court dispute. Be aware, however, that the new law does not prohibit such one-way lease provisions with respect to out of court disputes.
EARLY TERMINATION You may need to get out of your lease early. Know the early termination or sublet clauses in the lease. Under what conditions could you terminate early, how much will it cost and would you actually get out of the lease, or remain responsible for some or all of it? If you think you might need to break the lease early because, for example, because you want to study abroad or transfer schools, you should  look for a lease provision that allows for early termination, sublease or assignment (sometimes called a "roommate change").  You should  calculate how much it will cost you in administrative fees to exercise that option. Learn whether exercising that option will relieve you from your lease obligations, or whether you will remain responsible for rent if a replacement tenant or one of the roommates defaults.
Know if your lease allows your landlord to terminate early, under what conditions, and any remedies. Some leases allow a landlord to terminate early if the apartment is damaged or construction is unfinished, or the property is sold. If any of the conditions are reasonably likely to occur or are within the landlord's control, you need to be aware of those terms and your remedies. Also, if the landlord decides to terminate your lease early, what is your backup housing plan?
Know if you must give the landlord advance notice that you want to renew your lease, and how and when. Some leases require tenants to tell the landlord if  they want to renew, usually in writing. In Boulder, this deadline is often much earlier than you might expect. If you don't give proper and timely notice that you want to renew, the landlord may sign a lease with a new tenant for next year, precluding you from renewing. Put the notice date in your calendar so you don't forget.
Know if you have to give the landlord notice that you want to terminate your lease, and how and when. Some leases require tenants to give the landlord advance notice  of termination, usually in writing. Even when the lease has a clear end date, you may have to pay additional months of rent if you don't give timely advance notice that you will be moving out at the end of the lease. Put the notice date in your calendar so you don't forget.
Know the date AND TIME your lease ends. Not all leases allow you to stay until midnight of the last day.  Many Boulder leases end in the morning of the last day and specify expensive fees for not being completely out and cleaned on time.
SECURITY DEPOSIT Take photos and video of the entire apartment when you move in, paying particular attention to any damage or dirt. Complete and turn in your check in sheet on time noting any damage or dirt that was present before you moved in. Take photos and videos of the entire apartment when you move out, including inside the refrigerator and oven. Before leaving the residence, leave it clean and follow any move out instructions in the lease. Be aware of any automatic charges against your security deposit such as carpet cleaning or lock changes. It is easy for a landlord to accuse you of pre-existing damage, or blame you for damage that doesn't exist. Having clear evidence of the condition at move in and move out (such as photos, videos and your check-in sheet) will help you if there is a dispute over damage. Some leases also have particular cleaning requirements, such as requiring "professional cleaning" with a receipt rather than allowing you to clean the property yourself. If there is a manager who is willing to do a move-out walk-through with you, you should take careful notes of everything the manager says about the condition of the property.
HEAT Is there a clause requiring the heat to be on all winter? Even if there isn’t, should you leave the heat on anyway? Water pipes can burst during Colorado winters, causing major damage. Many leases specify that the heat be left at a minimum temperature to prevent freezing. If the landlord blames you for not keeping the heat on, everyone on the lease, and any guarantors, may be responsible for damage from frozen pipes.
EVICTION Know what might cause the landlord to start eviction proceedings, such as unpaid rent, criminal activity, smoking, over-occupancy and major property damage by the tenants. Knowing what what might cause the landlord to start eviction proceedings against you can help you avoid not only eviction, but also accompanying costs and attorney fees. If you receive an eviction notice, contact Student Legal Services immediately.

It is always better to know the answers to these questions BEFORE signing a lease. Student Legal Services is available to review leases and provide advice. If you run into a question or a problem AFTER signing a lease, SLS is here to help with that as well.  Call us at 303-492-6813 to schedule a consultation.