What students should know about leasing

Prepared by attorney Doug Holthus of Poling | Petrello’s Columbus office and reprinted with the permission of the Ohio State Bar Association.

Q. I attend college away from home and am getting ready to sign an apartment lease. What should I know?

A. Ohio law outlines the basic rights and responsibilities of all residential landlords and tenants in the Ohio Revised Code, Section 5321. Anyone who rents property should be aware of Ohio’s tenant/landlord laws before signing a lease. The Ohio State Bar Association provides an overview of these rights and responsibilities in its LawFacts pamphlet, “What You Should Know about Tenant/Landlord Rights and Obligations,” available at bit.ly/1cWmAxu. College students who may be new to the process of leasing property likely will have additional, particular concerns, some of which are addressed in this article.

Q. Can I sign a lease for just the school year, or will I have to sign a lease covering the full 12-month period?

A. The duration of any residential lease is negotiable, but most landlords in college neighborhoods will require students to sign a 12-month lease. No law requires a landlord to give you lease for less than a year just because you’re a college student.

Q. Can I be held responsible for damage caused by my guests, or by someone who has agreed to look after my place while I’m away on vacation?

A. Yes. Ohio law and most college landlord leases make damages caused by guests your responsibility. Although you would be liable to the landlord for any damages, you would probably want to try to collect from the responsible party whatever you had to pay your landlord. Renter’s insurance can protect you against such potential liability, and many landlords require you to have this protection. Not all policies are equal, however, so you should talk with a knowledgeable insurance agent about what is covered before buying a policy.

Q. If my parents co-sign my lease, will they have any rights and obligations?

A.  Yes.  In fact, most landlords who rent to college students will require the signature of a parent, who is usually designated as the “lease guarantor.” The rights and obligations of the lease guarantor are identical to yours as the tenant, whether under the language of the lease or under Ohio law.

Q. What are my landlord’s responsibilities regarding the return of any security deposit?

A. Section 5321.16 of the Ohio Revised Code governs security deposits. When your lease ends, any security deposit you provided in advance to your landlord may be applied to the payment of any past due rent and to cover the cost of any damages. Within 30 days of the end of your lease, your landlord must send you an itemized statement showing the amount withheld from the security deposit owed to you and the reasons for the charges.

You must provide your landlord (in writing) a forwarding/new address to which the written notice and security deposit return (if any) can be sent. If you don’t do this, you are not entitled to damages or attorneys’ fees under Ohio law. If your landlord fails to return your security deposit, even though you provided a forwarding address, Ohio law allows you to recover any money due to you along with damages in an amount equal to the amount wrongfully withheld, and your reasonable attorney’s fees.
Q. What if the university owns the property I’m renting?

A. Ohio law contains a special rule for this circumstance. A university may terminate a lease with you (the student tenant) before it expires, and require you to leave the apartment, but only after a university hearing determines that you violated a term of the rental agreement or any of the university’s separate code(s) of conduct or other policies or procedures.

You must be given written notice of the hearing, and you must be given the right to be heard. Also, the university must fully comply with its own procedures for disciplinary hearings. Any lease with a university as the landlord must specify the conditions under which your lease can be terminated and must specify the notice and hearing procedures.