Tips For College Students Shopping For Rental Housing

Renters Have Bargaining Power

College students are preparing to head back to campus. The fall semester at San Diego State University starts Wednesday, Aug. 27. At the University of San Diego, classes get underway Sept. 3. Students attending UCSD have a little more time since the quarter doesn't start until Sept. 22.

Any way you look at it, time is running out for college students eager to rent an apartment.

Luckily the rental market in San Diego is better than it was a few years back.

"There are a lot more vacancies available to tenants. Tenants have a lot more bargaining power now than they had years ago. You'll find move-in specials, bonuses, $99 deposits specials." said attorney Steve Kellman of the Tenants Legal Center of San Diego.

"There are a lot more vacancies available, so tenants have a lot more power finding units than they did a few years ago," he added.

Still, college students should learn their renter's rights before they enter the housing the market. Kellman advises students to ask lots of questions of potential landlords and trust their instincts.

"Sometimes in the law things just feel wrong, it feels unfair. It feels like you're being taken advantage of," Kellman said. "It just feels like it's not right."

Berkeley sophomore Jane Tran said her experience renting an apartment for the first time didn't feel right. Tran, a 10News Troubleshooter intern, said her landlord charged her an extra $100 for an additional roommate.

"We expected it to be $2,000 but then the landlord said it would be $2,100 because there were three of us and that $2,000 only applied if there were two of us living in the apartment so we went ahead and said yes because we thought it was legal," Tran said.

But the rent adjustment is illegal. "They should keep the rent consistent whether you have three people, four people or even five people," said Kellman, who explains that landlords wants to keep tenancy in each apartment low to limit wear and tear, while tenants like to share apartments to split costs.

The 10News Troubleshooter wanted to see how widespread rental discrimination is so intern Lindsay Davis and a producer toured apartments all over San Diego. Scouring online apartment rental ads and newspaper classified ads, the Troubleshooter team checked out apartments from La Mesa to the College area.

"It seemed they were being very straight forward and honest about what we would be charged," said Davis of the apartment on 70th Street in La Mesa.

The only apartment with a questionable rental agreement was a complex within walking distance of San Diego State University. "If we were going to have three people in two bedroom would be charged extra $25 for water consumption," said Davis.

Kellman frowns upon that fee, but said renters have a lot of bargaining power.

"I think tenants have some power to negotiate the rents. If a tenant feels the rent is just a little bit too high they can offer a lower rent. Sometimes a landlord will accept that," he said.

College Rental Tips

Getting your first apartment can be an exciting experience. Many college students move out of the dorms and into a rental. But having your own space comes with its share of liabilities. The 10News Troubleshooter has some tips for first time renters.

CREDIT Many students do not have a rental history especially if they have been living with their parents. The best thing to bring along when meeting with landlords. The student's bill paying history such as cable bills, phone bills and car payment bills. Showing copies of the paid bills will tell the landlord that the student is a responsible person. "You take care of your credit and your credit will take care of you," Kellman said.

SECURITY Look for apartments that offer good lighting, locked windows and doors and additional security features. The San Diego Police Department can tell you the neighborhood's crime statistics.

LEASES When it comes to rental agreements, students face two options: month-to-month agreements or leases. With a lease, the rental term and the rent is fixed, while a month-to-month option could leave a student facing eviction, rental price hikes or other changes without much notice. Kellman favors leases because he says they are the most stable option for students who do not want to face mid semester disruptions in their rental agreement.

BE RESPONSIBLE Students need to be good tenants. By paying rent on time, minding quiet hours and being respectful of neighbors, students can ensure that they are ideal renters. "Although tenants do have rights and that's important, they also have responsibilities and they have to abide by those responsibilities. It's kind of a partnership and a two-way street," Kellman said.

ROOMMATE AGREEMENTS Kellman recommends that students devise agreements among the apartment's tenants to create harmony in the unit and void conflict. "I think it's really important with roommates especially with students to have roommate agreements so they understand what their rights and responsibilities are within their own house," he said. "In other words, who's paying what portion of the rent, who's putting up the deposit? Who gets it back when they move? Who's responsible for this, versus that? Cleaning this, taking care of that?"

COMPLAINTS Once students are living at an apartment and a situation arises within the apartment that needs to be resolved, the tenants need to let the landlord know about the problem. Work with the landlord to address the problem, making legal help the last resort. "Document your complaints. Document your problems. If that doesn't work then you need to get legal assistance," Kellman said.

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