Student renters need to know their rights

Summer is rapidly approaching, and with it, the end of dormitory housing for some students. As they seek new places to live, students might want to heed an old adage: Renter beware.

“I have seen students that are best friends move in together for the first time, and within a year, can’t stand each other,” said Kimberly Boyer, community relations director for Greenbriar Apartment Community. “It’s not usually a big deal to change the lease, but the problem is, the kids don’t do it the right way, and it winds up backfiring on them.”

Not knowing the full implications of a rental or lease agreement at the time of signing can lead to disastrous results later.

Part of the problem is that students who become apartment renters usually don’t know their rights when they sign on the dotted line, or what responsibilities they are agreeing to. Illegal activities on the premises can result in immediate “termination of tenancy” by the landlord. Contrary to popular belief, this can occur in the winter or even if the tenant has small children.

Under Alaska state law, if the tenant winds up being evicted by the court, they can be liable to have a judgment of collection pursued in the court system to win any outstanding funds owed to the landlord. If the judgment is awarded, the law is clear that the funds will be collected.

“I know Permanent Fund Dividends can be garnished – it is something that can be done, and is done – we garnish them on a regular basis,” said Sherry Simmond, spokesperson for the Alaska Housing Finance Corp. “That’s the one thing I am very clear on.”

The organization offers free seminars each month for tenants having problems with a landlord. There, participants can learn the full extent of their legal obligations as renters.

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“Generally in these seminars they open the floor up to the questions the people there want answered, so they can address their particular situations,” Simmond said. “But if that’s not the case and there are no questions-and you’ve come for more general things, the instructors just go ahead with their topics, but they will answer specific questions.”

Simmond said it’s important for renters to maintain good credit because an application for rental can be refused due to financial irresponsibility.

“When you are young and trying to buy a place, you might not have a long established credit history. But (for) a lender, looking at your rental history is very important,” she said. “By showing that you made their rental payments (it) will show whether you’ll make your mortgage payments on time.”

The Alaska Department of Commerce, Community and Economic Development, publishes “The Landlord and Tenant Act: What it Means to You” to help both tenants and landlords know what can and cannot be done under the law. One example is that landlords can’t have the cost of carpet cleaning deducted from their rental deposit even if it is not done when the tenant moves out.

Even being in a good situation can change when the landlord decides to increase the rent or sell rental units.

Mandy Martin is sophomore journalism major at UAA who just signed a year-long lease for a new apartment a month ago.

“I hope that the rent doesn’t increase when the year is up, because depending on what I am making at the time, I would have to move.”

“The Landlord and Tenant Act: What It Means To You,” is available at www.commerce.state.ak.us/occ/pub/landlord.pdf.