Engineering senior Marty Austin wishes he had read his lease more carefully.

Austin, whose lease ended Aug. 19, is still involved in a security deposit standoff with his landlord.

Austin and his roommates are now awaiting mediation by the University’s Office of Student Conflict Resolution to avoid taking roughly $1,000 in disputed damages to small claims court. The damages include thumbtack marks exceeding the lease’s quarter-inch limit, an allegedly soiled bed and residue from stickers that the tenants deny ever existed.

Austin said he and his five roommates spent lots of time and money hiring a maid service to clean their six-bedroom house on Prospect Street before moving out.

Disputes like Austin’s become more common during October, said Stephanie Chang, a housing law attorney for Student Legal Services.

The definition of damage depends on your lease. Melissa Goldstein, a housing adviser with OSCR, said that many tenants simply forget to read the lease, which outlines specific details like whether renters are subject to fines for large nail holes or too much leftover trash.

A security deposit can’t be more than one-and-a-half times a tenant’s rent. State law considers the deposit to be the tenant’s property until the landlord claims deductions at the end of the lease. If no damages are found, the tenant should receive the full deposit back.

“Some (repair) issues don’t get adequately resolved by the landlord,” Chang said. “And some tenants aren’t taking full advantage of their rights.”

Goldstein had a similar view of the approximately 28,000 students who live in housing registered with the University’s Off-Campus Housing Program. Landlords who join the program agree to work with Student Legal Services and OSCR. She said landlords often have a leg-up on students when it comes to disputes because they are more familiar with housing laws.

Goldstein said one of the best defenses against extra charges is attention to details.

“Students want to make sure to read the lease at the beginning,” she said. “The lease will say who gets the money under what condition.”

Student Legal Services also advises students to adhere to a series of deadlines outlined by state law concerning landlord/tenant relationships.

The timeline begins four days after the property is vacated, when tenants are required by law to send their landlord a forwarding address. A Student Legal Services guide on security deposits recommends that students provide an in-state address because landlords know that out-of-state residents are less likely to fight for a small claims case.

If the landlord doesn’t have a forwarding address within 30 days, he or she doesn’t have to give the former tenant an itemized list of deductions for damages. Tenants can’t take legal action against their landlord until 45 days after they’ve moved out.

Getting your money back

Tips for making sure you get your security deposit back at the end of your lease

– Read your lease thoroughly to know what types of damages you will be charged for.

– Check to see if your landlord is registered with the Off-Campus Housing Program. Registered landlords agree to work with Student Legal Services and the University’s Office of Conflict Resolution.

– Take pictures of any preexisting damage when you move in.

– Document all correspondence between you and your landlord

– Provide your landlord with a forwarding address within four days after you move out.

Source: Student Legal Services

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