Center for International Studies
There are some important terms to know when you rent an apartment:
- Lease - a legal contract you sign before you move into your apartment
- Tenant - the person who lives in the room or apartment
- Landlord - the person who takes owns or takes care of the room or apartment
- Sublease - when you find someone to move into your apartment to take your place, this is a sublease (also called subletting)
When you rent an apartment, a room in a house, or a dorm room, you will sign a legal contract. This means you promise to live there for a certain amount of time and your promise to do and not do certain things. If you live off-campus, the contract is called a "lease." If you live in a university residence hall, the contract is called a "housing contract."
If you are not yet in the United States but want to find an apartment before you arrive, the apartment companies are willing to send you a copy of the lease for signing. You would just need to contact them with the specifics; for example, number of rooms, number of bathrooms, etc. If you want to do this, you can also ask them to send a copy of the lease to the Center for International Studies so someone can read it and help you if you have questions.
Almost all of the apartment companies in Macomb have international students living there. They are used to some of the special needs international students have and understand that sometimes there are language or culture issues. They are willing to work with you if you have any problems.
The lease says:
- How many months you will live in your apartment and how much money you will pay.
- What you can and cannot do in the apartment.
- Who can and cannot stay in the apartment with you.
- What problems the building owner can fix for you and what problems you have to fix.
This contract is VERY important. If you do something that is not allowed in the contract, you might have to pay a lot of money. So you need to read the lease or housing contract very carefully.
For example, let's say you sign a lease in January for your apartment for one year. This means you will live there and pay rent for the whole year (12 months). That means you promise to live in the apartment from January to December. But during the summer you decide you want to move to your friend's apartment. If you move out of your apartment, you "break the lease." You will have to pay a lot of money to your landlord because you promised to live in the apartment and did not. So be very careful when you sign a lease.
In the lease, you are called the "tenant." The person who owns or manages the apartment is called the "landlord." If you live in a residence hall, you will be called the resident. You will not have a landlord, but you will sign a contract with the university.
READ ALL of the lease before you sign it. If you need help understanding your lease, please contact the Center for International Studies.
The "security deposit" is money you pay when you move in. If you break something or damage the apartment, the landlord keeps the money to fix the damage. But you can get your security deposit back when you move out if your apartment is in the same condition as it was when you moved in. If you live in the dorms/residence halls, you won't pay a deposit when you move in, but you will have to pay if your room is damaged.
Before you move in, take pictures of the place so that you know what things were already damaged. If there is anything that needs to be replaced make sure and tell your landlord; for example, screen door has no glass in it, window lock is broken, etc.
Be sure to check out the apartment or house as much as you can! Notice small things, such as cracks in walls, discolored paints, dirty carpet, etc. It is a very good idea to take pictures of these things.
If your landlord does not want to give your security deposit back when you move out, and you disagree, you can use the pictures to help your case.
When you sign a lease, you legally agree to EVERYTHING in the lease. Make sure you understand it before you sign. Get help if you do not understand. It is very important to keep a copy of the lease.
Important Questions to Ask Before Signing a Lease
- How long is the lease for--6 months, 10 months, 12 months, or per semester? When are the beginning and the ending dates?
- When is the rent due? (Usually a landlord will require the first and last month's rent and a security deposit that equals the cost of one month's rent before you move in.)
- Does the rent include water, gas, and/or electricity? Be sure any verbal agreements with your landlord are added in writing in the lease.
- What other deposits or fees will you have to pay?
- What do you need to do to get a refund?
- Is there a penalty for late payment? Is there a grace period for late payment?
- What happens if you lose your key?
- What are the reasons for which your landlord can break your lease contract?
- Are there any penalties for moving out of your apartment before the expiration date?
- How many people can live with you? What about family and visitors?
- What happens when one roommate leaves school or becomes ill?
- Is subletting permitted? Is there a fee for subletting? (Subletting means someone else takes your place on the lease.)
- Will you have rental insurance?
- Who is in charge of repairs?
- When can the landlord come into your place?
- Are there any rules concerning conduct, quiet hours, etc.?
- Is everything working in the apartment now? Do the pipes or sinks leak? Does the water work?
- Does the shower work properly? Does the toilet flush?
- Do all of the lights and outlets work properly?
- Are there any cracks or mold on the walls?
- Is it noisy outside?
Breaking Your Lease
As with any contract, you could face a penalty (have to pay a lot of money) if you break your lease. If your lease is for a fixed term (such as a year), as leases usually are, it means you've agreed to pay rent for the entire term. The fact that you only pay your rent month by month doesn't mean that you don't have to pay the rest of the money if you decide to move out early.
- Talk with your landlord to see the possibility of breaking your lease.
- Give as much advance notice as possible.
- Give good reasons why you want to move out.
- Offer to help by looking for a replacement tenant yourself--this is called "subletting". It is often the ONLY way that you can break your lease without paying a lot of money.
Personal property is not covered under University or landlord insurance. If you have valuable personal possessions that would be difficult to replace or have extreme sentimental value, it is strongly suggested that you have personal property insurance/renter's insurance. If something happened to your apartment, your landlord is not responsible for that and his/her insurance will NOT cover your personal belongings. You can often buy rental insurance from the same company where you buy your car insurance. Contact the Student Tenant Union or the Center for International Studies if you need help.
For a list of insurance agencies in Macomb, click here.