By Walter Lesczynski
College students might get the short end of the stick more than any other demographic. With textbooks that are obsolete 15 minutes after you buy them, the last thing you want to worry about is losing your security deposit for your apartment or dorm.Many students think of a deposit as money in the bank. It doesn’t ever occur to them that not only do they stand to lose that money, but that the landlord may be counting on it as extra income.
If that comes as a surprise, just think of the auctions on eBay where the shipping is twice as much as the item being bid on. If you’re careful, you can get most or all of your money back.
Students staying on campus at Eastern have fewer problems than those lodging elsewhere in Richmond. You only have to put down a $100 deposit with the initial application, compared with up to a month and a half’s rent at some apartments.
When you move out, however, be sure to ask for your deposit back-it won’t be automatically refunded.
“When they ask for it back it will show up as a credit on their account,” said Matt Lavery, associate director of university housing. Like any housing situation, you can lose the deposit for any damages, or improper checkout. This can include leaving without notice, not turning in your keys or leaving a mess.
“Our residents are good,” Lavery said, adding that most students check out without incident.
Off campus you are pretty much on your own, and need to exercise some caution-both with what you sign, and who you live with.
Consider the case of Jacob Lambert, an English major who said he got screwed over by a friend when he moved out two weeks early.
“My roommate was supposed to square things away with the landlord, but he ended up busting up the door when he moved out–and we got stuck for the whole $500 deposit,” he said. “That was a total rape. I mean, $500 for a couple scrapes in the door frame?”
Taking your time when you move out can help get that deposit back into your wallet.
“We moved all our stuff out a day early, then went back in to check for anything that they might try to claim,” said Sheri Magnan, a junior from Owensboro.
“My boyfriend filled in all the little holes in the wall with toothpaste, and we borrowed a carpet cleaner to get out the dirt and such,” she said.
While dental products might seem a bit odd, the ruse was successful.
“We got the whole deposit back, and the landlord even said it was one of the cleanest he had ever seen,” Magnan said.
There are a few things you can do to play it safe. R. Scott Wilder, an attorney in Richmond, said that Kentucky law is clear on a landlord’s responsibility to provide you with a walk-through list, where you document any existing problems with the apartment.
“If a tenant truly wants to protect their investment. they could take pictures before and after,” Wilder said. “That way. if there is an issue, you’ve got some evidence to use in small claims court.”
Wilder said that while the law isn’t clear on issues such as being charged for a carpet cleaning, pictures and the walk-through list could help hold the landlord’s feet to the fire and give you some leverage.
David Baker, who rents out several apartments in the downtown area, said that he usually has no problems with students. `”It’s the typical few bad apples who give student renters a bad name,” he said.
While it might seem obvious, Baker had a basic piece of advice for anyone considering signing a contract.
“Read it before you sign it, he said. “Knowing what you are agreeing to, and then following it, is the most important part of a rental situation.