Colorado State University


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Leases: WHAT TO KNOW AND DO, Before You Sign A Lease!,

  1. Don’t sign any lease until you’ve completed these 10 steps and considered the tips that follow--just because the lease looks official doesn’t mean the language is fair, or even legal.  Landlord leases tend to be slanted harshly against you.
  2. Don’t let anyone rush you into signing a lease. It is a long time until August 1st. Once you sign, you are obligated. There is NO 3 day right to rescind!
  3. GlassesRead every word of your lease! (If the print is too small or the language impossible to understand, you should find another landlord.) 
  4. Highlight anything that doesn’t seem right, that doesn’t match what the landlord has promised verbally, or anything that you just don’t understand. Visit your campus lawyers for advice on these items.
  5. If the lease mentions “house rules” or “rules and regulations”, make sure you get a copy and read every word of these.
  6. Pick your battles. Only negotiate with the landlord on things in the lease you cannot live with. Landlords may tell you they don’t negotiate. Convince them with references that you are responsible and will make a great tenant and that it is worth it to them to compromise on the few items that really matter to you! If they won’t budge, move on to another landlord.
  7. Get all agreements in writing—you can write in changes or additions right on the lease. Make sure you and the landlord initial any changes.
  8. MAKE SURE YOU GET A COPY OF THE LEASE, WITH SIGNATURES OF ALL PARTIES, AT THE TIME YOU SIGN!  Do not accept a promise to provide you a copy at a later date.    It often never happens and you won’t have a record of your agreement.
  9. CameraWhen you’re ready to move in, but BEFORE you take in the first load of boxes or furniture, take pictures throughout the premises!  Especially focus on defects or unclean areas.  Also begin to fill out your move-in check sheet.  When the house is empty, you’ll be able to see more problems.  Write down everything—the stain on the floor, the dirt in the windows, the crack in the linoleum, the rust in the toilets…EVERYTHING!  This is your chance to document the condition at the time of move-in.  It will protect you from unfair charges later.  BE SURE TO MAKE A COPY  FOR YOUR RECORDS BEFORE YOU TURN IT IN TO THE LANDLORD!
  10. At move-out, you need to repeat the process.  Take pictures of everything!  Fill out a check-out sheet, and insist that the landlord walk-through the premises with you.  DON’T SKIP THIS PROCESS.  You’ll be tired from packing, cleaning and moving, but drink some caffeine and get through this last important stage.  Make sure you’ve arranged the walk-through with your landlord ahead of time, IN WRITING, and keep a copy of the writing.  If your landlord doesn’t show up, you have proof that you arranged it.  It will give you more credibility with a judge if you end up in a security deposit lawsuit.
  11. Buy Renter’s Insurance!! It’s cheap (about $125/year) and it will cover your personal items from theft, fire or other damage and will protect you in the event you’re accused of negligently causing damage. For example, if you or a guest are negligent in causing a catastrophe (left a candle burning that starts a fire) and landlord submits a claim to his insurance, the insurance may turn around and seek recovery from you.  Renter’s insurance will protect you.
  12. No Joint Lease.  Don’t sign a joint lease if you can help it—a separate lease is better.  You’ll avoid liability for destruction caused by your roommates, their guests, their pets, and you won’t be stuck for their rent if they ditch you.  Under a joint lease, you’re liable for all of these things—and so is your co-signor or guarantor. Most Fort Collins landlords insist on a joint lease among roommates. Know the risks. If you’re thinking of sharing with someone you don’t know, insist on references from previous landlords and previous roommates.
  13. CalendarShorter Lease Term.  Agree to a shorter rather than longer lease term.  The #1 question we hear at SLS is “How do I break my lease?”  Don’t lock yourself in for a full year. You can always renew (though you’ll need to give proper advance notice—check your lease). If you know you won’t be here for a full year, do not sign on for a year with the false notion that it’ll be easy to sublet. Often it isn’t easy.
  14. Know the notice requirements.  Does the lease require advance notice for the lease term to actually end when the term is set to end?  Does the notice have to be in writing?  Mark your calendar and beware that failure to provide the required advance notice might result in your being charged additional rent for time after the end of the lease term.
  15. Late fees.  Make sure they are reasonable--$5/day, not $50/day. If the landlord isn’t willing to negotiate, you better make sure you are never late!
  16. Day of the month rent is due and late fees begin.  Know these dates!
  17. Utilities.  Make sure the lease spells out who pays what.  Don’t rely on verbal agreements.  Be sure to call the utility companies and set up your account within the time required in your lease (or promptly, if the lease has no timeframe).  And don’t forget trash service!
  18. MoneySecurity Deposits.  Know how long the landlord has to return your deposit (one month or up to 60 days if so stated in the lease).  Know your rights:  If the landlord fails to send a written accounting, the landlord forfeits the right to keep the security deposit and by law should return the entire deposit. This does not prevent the landlord from making a separate demand for damages the tenant caused. If the landlord wrongfully withholds part or all of the security deposit, tenant can collect triple damages if tenant sends written advance notice 7 days before filing suit in court. Click here for the steps to take if you have a security deposit dispute.
  19. Repair Clause.  Make sure the lease has a good repair clause that puts the duty to repair on the landlord. Fort Collins landlords are required by the state-wide Warranty of Habitability and the city wide Rental Housing Minimum Provisions to provide minimum habitability conditions. However, these do not cover all repair issues, so the lease language is important. Here’s a model repair clause: “The landlord shall be responsible for maintenance and repairs on the following:  Exterior of the premises, sewers, heating, air conditioning (if any), all appliances, wiring and plumbing facilities, doors, locks, windows, stairs, all common areas, painting and any other repairs that are not trivial (defined as items such as changing light bulbs).  Tenant shall be responsible for the cost of any of the above repairs if they are made necessary by the negligent or malicious acts of the tenant or tenant’s guests.”
  20. HammerYour liability for repairs.  If you or your guests caused the damage, you will have to pay for the repair—though you should always coordinate the repair with the landlord.
  21. No deducting rent for repairs you make.  If the landlord fails to make repairs as obligated, do NOT make them yourself and expect to deduct the cost from rent.  You cannot do this unless you have the landlord’s prior written approval.
  22. Make all repair requests in writing. Keep copies! You will need the written proof if the landlord ignores the repairs and the condition is bad enough that you want to explore options of moving out.
  23. Landlord’s right to enter.  Landlords often give themselves overly broad powers to enter the property you are renting. Make sure to require advance notice and beware of language giving the landlord the power to make you leave the property for real estate showings.
  24. DogCareful leaving your mark.  Do not make any alterations to the premises without landlord’s prior written consent.  Don’t use anything but small picture hanger nails—no screws or adhesives.
  25. Puppies—NOOOOO! If you must have a pet, make sure it is house trained, you get landlord approval and you follow the pet policy to the “T”.  You could easily be charged for full carpet replacement or woodwork repair.  Puppies, no matter how cute, cause incredible damage, especially when you leave them alone while you go earn a degree.
  26. Illegal activity.  Know what the lease prohibits.  Even if the lease is silent, Colorado law allows eviction for “substantial violations” that “occur on or near” the premises, that “endanger” property or persons, and that constitute a “violent or drug-related felony” or certain other “criminal acts”.  Bottom line:  don’t engage in criminal activity.
  27. MowerMowing, watering and pulling weeds.  Are you taking on these chores?  Who provides the equipment?  Do you realize what a big job it is?  You can’t leave a lawn un-watered for more than a couple days in this arid climate, which means you can’t leave town for long unless you arrange for help.
  28. Snow removal.  Who is responsible and who provides the tools?
  29. SockSmoking.  Is it allowed?  Landlord can deduct charges for special cleaning for odors and smoke residue--these are not considered ordinary wear and tear.
  30. Landlord liability for negligence.  Leases usually say landlords are not liable for any damage, regardless of landlord negligence.  This is contrary to Colorado law, which does impose liability on landlords in narrowly-defined situations: when the injury happened in a common area and the landlord failed to exercise reasonable care to protect against dangers of which the landlord actually knew or should have known. Bottom line: it’s hard to hold landlords liable for damage to you or your belongings, therefore you must buy renter’s insurance. Very affordable and huge protection!
  31. SpyHidden defects.  Ask your landlord if the place has ever been a methamphetamine lab.  Ask if there are other defects you should know of (pit-bulls next door?). Colorado law imposes a duty upon landlords to disclose hidden defects of which the landlord knows and of which the tenant is not capable of seeing on its own. You need to ask the questions!
  32. Attorney’s fees.  Leases often just stick the tenant for the landlord’s attorney’s fees. Make sure the lease charges attorney’s fees against the losing party, whether that’s the landlord or tenant.
  33. 3-Unrelated Rule.  Fort Collins’ occupancy ordinance limits the number of occupants in a dwelling to three unrelated tenants or any number of related persons plus one more. This means that if two brothers live together, they may still have only one additional roommate, for a total of three. If three brothers live together, they can have one additional tenant, for a total of four. The City investigates complaints, usually called in by neighbors who are troubled by noise, traffic, parking or volume of bodies coming and going. Tenants and landlords who violate the occupancy limit can each be fined $1,000 per day for each day the violation continues. Enforcement procedure has usually allowed tenants time to cure before tickets are issued, but this courtesy is not required by the ordinance and may change at any time.
  34. Disclosure Statement Regarding Occupancy Limits.  The City requires landlords to keep disclosure statements on file—the statement advises about the 3-unrelated rule and has a place for 3 tenants to sign.  Landlord can be fined for not having this form.  You can be fined for living with more than the number of habitants allowed, but not for failure of landlord to have the disclosure form.
  35. Don’t waive any rights.  Any time you see the language “tenant waives the right…” you should insist on deletion.
  36. “As Is” clause. Never agree that you are accepting the property “as is.”  Prior to moving in, you haven’t had the time to make a full inspection. It may take you days to discover defects.
  37. Protect yourself when the lease term begins long after you’ve signed the lease. Sometimes the property looks fine when you sign the lease and months later when you’re supposed to move in, it is trashed and you don’t want it. Consider adding this sentence at the end of the lease and taking pictures at the time you sign the lease. “This lease is conditional upon the property being in substantially the same condition at move-in that it was at the time of lease signing.”
  38. Protect yourself when the property isn’t ready at move-in time. Most leases say you are still bound to the lease regardless of how late the property is delivered to you past the start of the lease term. Consider this model clause: “If landlord does not deliver possession of the premises to tenant at the beginning of the lease term, tenant shall not owe rent until possession is granted.  If possession is not granted within 3 days of the stated beginning of the lease term, tenant may void the lease and shall be entitled to immediate refund of any deposits or monies paid to landlord, as well as any other damages allowed by law.”
  39. Your own thermostat.  Fort Collins’ rental housing standards require that you be able to control your own heat.  Do not agree to a situation where another inhabitant in a separate part of the building has control of the thermostat.  If that’s the case, the property is probably in violation of the law and you will hate not having control over the temperature.  An even bigger problem is trying to split utility bills with people you don’t know.  Don’t do it!
  40. Furnace.  Request to see the latest furnace inspection report.  If the landlord doesn’t have one from the last year or so, require one as a condition of renting.  This is a critical safety issue.  You don’t want to asphyxiate from improperly maintained equipment.
  41. BurglarSafety.  Safety should be one of the first things you look for when selecting a property.  If you overlooked this, go back to the property before you sign a lease.  Check the external doors for deadbolts.  Check all windows for secure locks.  Are the shrubs and trees trimmed so that prowlers don’t have easy places to hide?  Make sure outside lighting is adequate.  Get the landlord to agree in writing to make necessary safety changes.
  42. CleanLiquidated damages.  Beware of clauses that set a dollar amount for particular breaches by you.  They are enforceable by courts in certain circumstances and if they seem unreasonable, don’t agree to them.
  43. Pre-set cleaning charges.  Colorado law enforces cleaning charges that you agree to in the lease, so make sure you can live with these.  Look the schedule over carefully—amounts are often exorbitant and may cover ordinary wear and tear that a landlord is not supposed to charge you for.
  44. Guest policy.  Know the rules.
  45. Water beds.  If allowed, sometimes extra insurance is required.