Representatives from the Office of the Tenant Advocate and the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs came to campus Friday to talk with students about the logistics of renting and sub-letting. The Hoya sat down with Delores Anderson, a program support specialist who helps tenants resolve problems with landlords. Anderson spoke about the perils facing students who are signing — or ending — their first lease.

 

The Hoya: What does an ideal process for a student renting an apartment for the first time look like?

Delores Anderson: The first [step] is identifying the apartment and … the area of concern here is that students not become victims of all the scams out there. … The second thing is making sure that the housing provider is in compliance. … The next thing is the application process [which is] required by most housing providers. … Once you pass that … you have to look at whether or not they are going to provide you with a lease, which is what guides the relationship between the landlord and the tenant. … And then what we encourage students to do is when [you] move in you want to do a walkthrough to establish the condition of the place when you move in so when you move out … there will not be this great fight over the return of the security deposit.

 

The Hoya: What should students be looking out for during the walkthrough?

Anderson: They should be looking to see what the conditions of the walls are. Are there any cracks? Are there any holes?…. If there are a lot of housing problems, then a red flag should go up. … If there’s roach infestation and there’s … major leaks, that’s expensive to deal with and it may mean that the problems have been there for a long time. … Basically, you want to look and see, what’s going on here? … That will tell you whether or not this is a place that you want to rent.

 

The Hoya: What are some of the major concerns that students have come to you about?

Anderson: One of the biggest concerns is the return of their security deposits. … What we do is walk them through the steps they need to take to make sure that if that the landlord does keep all or part of their security deposit they can mount a successful challenge. …

The next big issue, of course, involves housing code problems. Bedbugs, infestations, leaks, no heat during the winter months, no air conditioning during the summer months, things like that.

For students [these issues] come up a lot. Each time I’ve done a clinic I’ve had students who were experiencing housing code problems. It’s a big deal because students are transient — they’re not going to be here forever. So landlords … think, “Let’s just collect the money. [The students] are not going to complain, they’re going to be gone at the end of the year, [and] we don’t have to fix anything.”

 

The Hoya: Is there anything students can do to be better or more informed tenants?

Anderson: Yes. They have to realize that they’re living in a community. They have to take care of the property. …  But even more important is reporting any problems as soon as they occur. … From my experience dealing with students, a lot of time they’re hesitant [to lodge a complaint], because they think the landlord is going to retaliate against them. Other times it’s a time issue, because they are going to vacate the premises at the end of the academic year.

 

The Hoya: What steps can students take to resolve issues with their landlords?

Anderson: They have a choice. If they [have] housing code problems they can contact the DCRA and request an inspection. An inspector will come out and look at the premises and if there are violations the inspector can cite the landlord and give him or her a certain amount of time to make the repairs. … The other option is to file a complaint with the housing conditions calendar, … [which] basically is just a docket within superior court. And it’s not a hard process … you fill out the complaint … and then you have a hearing before the judge.

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