Where to go for assistance
If you are having issues with your off-campus landlord or property manager it is always a good idea to start out with the local legal aid society.
Legal Aid Society of Eastern Virginia
(Cities of Norfolk and Portsmouth) at (757) 627-5423
When living off-campus one of the most important relationships you can have is with your landlord. If you have a strong relationship with your landlord, you will probably find living off campus quite nice and enjoyable. However, problems with your relationship with your landlord can create a myriad of problems.
Getting to know your landlord
Spend some time with your landlord talking about the complex; this will help you learn more bout where you will be living and let's the landlord know that you are serious about living here. Having open communication can help makes problems easier to overcome when they arise. It is also common for the landlord at some communities to actually live as a member of the community.
Remember, there are certain things which your landlord is required by law to do and provide. While all of these provisions are outlined in the Virginia Residential Landlord and Tenant Act, here are a few highlights about their rights and responsibilities:
- Application Fee and Deposit. Any landlord may require an application fee and a separate application deposit.
- Insurance Requirements. A landlord may require as a condition of tenancy that a tenant have insurance coverage at a certain value.
- Privacy. A landlord may not disclose or release any information about a tenant, prospective tenant, or a third party without tenant consent (unless a matter of public record).
- Inspection of Premises. A landlord must submit a written report to the tenant within five days of occupancy itemizing existing damages at the time of occupancy.
- Disclosure of Mold. A landlord must disclose to the tenant if there is any visible evidence of mold in the interior of the dwelling unit.
- Maintain Fit Premises. There are many specific items that a landlord must maintain; such as adhere to building codes; keep the premises clean and habitable; maintain electrical, plumbing, heating, air-conditioning, etc.; prevent moisture and mode; etc.
It is important to remember that while your landlord does have responsibilities, you as the tenant also have responsibilities and obligations.
- The Lease. You are responsible for reading and understanding any lease or agreements that you legally enter in to. If you do not read the lease, you cannot get mad at the landlord later because you did not do what you were supposed to do. Make sure that you thoroughly read the lease and have the landlord review it with you; it is important that you both have the same understanding of what is being agreed to.
- Paying Your Rent. It is your responsibility to pay your rent payment by the due date. Landlord are permitted to charge late penalties immediately if a payment is not made on time and then refer your case to a lawyer as they move forward with eviction...it doesn't even matter if you are only five days late; late is late.
- Take care of your property! While you are only a renter and are not obligated for the general upkeep of the property, you are responsible to ensure that you leave the complex in the same condition that you received it. While you may want to spend some time painting or making the place your home, make sure you talk with your landlord about what you are and are not allowed.
- Maintenance Repairs. You may not be responsible for general maintenance repairs (fixing a leaking pipe, repairing a cracked wall, etc.); however, you are responsible for notifying your landlord of required maintenance. If you ignore a problem and let it go unnoticed it may cause additional damage! Your landlord also has the right to routinely enter your apartment to make necessary repairs with, and sometimes without, prior notice.
Things to do before signing the lease
- Make sure that your renter's insurance is up to date and meets the requirements of the landlord (if applicable).
- Ask to take a copy of the lease home to review; have a friend or unbiased party review it with you to make sure you aren't missing anything. Once it is signed you cannot undo it!
- Check your finances; make sure you can afford it for the full length of the agreement.
- Call the power company and find out how much the previous tenants typically spent on electricity; this will help give you an idea of what you will have to spend.
- Check out the neighborhood at night to make sure you are comfortable there. If it looks nice during the day, but you wouldn't want to go outside alone at night it probably isn't right for you.
- Check out the crime map on the ODU PD website to see how safe the neighborhood is.
- Take a test drive; try driving to and from the apartment to campus to around your normal class times to determine if you are able to make the commute (if you are looking at a place on a Sunday afternoon it will take you a lot more time to get there on a Friday at 4:00 p.m.).
- Talk to your friends and family; everyone has their own stories and experiences that may be of benefit to you before you enter into a legally binding lease.
Important questions for tenants to ask a landlord
- What are the dates of the lease (i.e. the date you can take occupancy and the date you need to move out)?
- Is subleasing permitted? If so, what is that policy?
- What utilities are included with my rent?
- What if I need to break my lease; is there a provision for that?
- When is rent due? What if I am a few days late on paying rent?
- What is the community like?
- Are there fire extinguishers provided in each apartment?
- Are the buildings on a central fire alarm system or individual smoke detectors?
- What types of security does the facility provide (i.e. security guards at night; gates to the community; dead bolt locks in the apartments, etc.)?