BEFORE YOU SIGN THE LEASE
First, tour the property you will be signing a lease for, if this is an option (pictures and reality can sometimes be different). Second, ask for a sample lease to review before you sign the lease. Third, if you have the option of reviewing the lease with a lawyer, such as the SLS attorney, do that. Fourth, be sure to actually read and understand everything in the lease; do not sign if you have not read, do not understand, or you are not comfortable with something in the lease. Fifth, be sure 100% that this is what you want to do, because once you sign the lease, there is no going back; you are obligated to perform during the term of the lease (that is to pay rent). Sixth, ask for copies of anything that you signed (such as lease, addendums to the lease, policy handbooks, etc.), and ask for receipts for any payments you are making. To familiarize yourself with some terminology you will encounter in leases, you can review our primer on leasing terminology. You can also avoid some potential problems by reviewing our leasing tips.
The majority of the properties in the Blacksburg area are multi-bedroom units, which means that there is a strong likelihood that you will be living with roommates. If that’s the case, not only try and pick your roommates, if this is an option, but also consider signing a written roommate agreement with all of your roommates. A roommate agreement is a legally binding contract between you and your roommates. The lease usually only defines the relationship between a landlord and the tenant (or tenants), but does not define the relationship between the tenants themselves. This is where the roommate agreement comes in place. The roommate agreement can specify how the rent will be split between the roommates; how the utilities will be split; what happens if a roommate inflicts damages to the property; and other rights and obligations of each roommate. Having all of this in writing not only can make each roommate understand what his/her rights and obligations are, but can also make it much easier to prove in court, in the event someone defaults and there is a lawsuit. The SLS attorney can provide sample roommate agreements to students upon request.
SUBLEASING & ASSIGNING
Often times students are not able to complete the full term of the lease, because of early graduation, a semester abroad, and so on. In those situations students can either assign their lease to someone else, or sublease their bedroom to someone else. Before a student can do either of those however, the student needs to make sure that the lease allows him/her either both options or one of the options. In addition, leases will usually require that the student obtains a written permission by the landlord in advance. However, whether you are subleasing (or assigning) to someone, you need to understand that the original lease between you and the landlord remains in effect, and that if the new person to whom you are subleasing (assigning the lease) defaults in his/her obligations, the landlord still has the right to go after you. Thus, pick your sublessees (or assignees) wisely! Also, the lease may specify that in addition to the written permission from the landlord to sublease/assign, there may be a sublease/assignment fee that the student may have to pay, and the landlord will require that certain permission sublease/assignment forms are signed by the student, the remaining roommates, and the new person (sublessee/assignee). In addition to those, the student should also consider signing a sublease agreement with the sublessee/assignee. The SLS attorney can provide sample subleases to students upon request.
VIRGINIA LAWS APPLICABLE TO RENTAL SITUATIONS
The Virginia General Assembly provides a copy of the Virginia Code online . The Code is organized into “Titles” that cover broad subject areas. Each title is subdivided into Chapters, Articles, and Sections. Title 55.1 of the Virginia Code covers Property and Conveyances, and Chapter 12 of that title covers the Virginia Residential Landlord and Tenant Act, which would be the law in VA most applicable to your rental situation.
WHAT SHOULD YOU DO IF YOU’VE FOLLOWED THE TIPS AND STILL HAVE AN ISSUE WITH YOUR LEASE/ROOMMATE/S/LANDLORD?
If you’re a VT student, make an appointment to see the SLS Attorney.