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Many students face issues with landlords. Here’s how to avoid pitfalls, and where to find help

Many students at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign sign leases in off-campus apartments located in Champaign’s Campustown.

This is the time of year that many college students in Champaign-Urbana scramble to sign off-campus leases for the next academic year. 

The process can be very complicated, and the race to quickly sign a lease can lead students to make uninformed decisions about their living situation, according to Dana DeCair, director of Off-Campus Community Living at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Many leasing companies will rush students into signing leases before the student has toured the apartment or reviewed everything in the agreement, DeCair said — a practice she considers a gimmick.

“They’re handed a lease and are expected to sign it immediately, without having time to read it, without being informed,” DeCair said. “[Landlords] should give them time so that they understand that a lease is a legally binding contract that can’t be broken.” 

The sense of urgency many students feel to sign a lease was on full display last month when a line formed overnight in front of the JSM Living leasing office on Green St. in Champaign’s Campustown. DeCair said she was concerned by the number of people in line because it suggested many worried they didn’t have other housing options, when that’s not the case.

“My concern is the fact that students had this feeling like they had to stay out all night to get housing,” she said. “There are still plenty of apartments that are affordable and close to campus.”

Students who live in off-campus housing are often not treated fairly, according to DeCair. She said some landlords capitalize on the fact that their consumers are young and uninformed. 

“There definitely are landlords in this town that don’t show students where they’re [going to be] living, that can’t guarantee roommates,” she said. “Then when they run into issues where they don’t have hot water or heat, [they] do not handle it quickly or ignore it. It’s because they know that students don’t know what their resources are.” 

U of I sophomore Tiarah Vickers has experienced issues with her apartment. She said she requested help to repair broken furniture yet never received assistance. 

“I had a maintenance request in there for over a month, but it did not get answered,” Vickers said. 

Kanzah Zuberi, a U of I junior, said her apartment was filled with dust, and she didn’t get a chance to see it before moving in. 

“They wouldn’t show us the apartment properly,” Zuberi said. “We didn’t get proper pictures of the entire apartment. We didn’t know what we were getting into.” 

Some students report their leases being terminated, forcing them to find a new place to live on short notice. U of I sophomore Aayush Desai said he had signed a lease in October of 2022, but it was canceled this past summer. 

“Out of the blue, we just got an email saying that they had cut our lease, and they didn’t give a reason,” Desai said. “We had to scramble and find a place to live. It shouldn’t have to be this difficult.” 

DeCair said these kinds of issues are not uncommon. She’s also seen students be forced to pay security deposits for damages they were not responsible for. To avoid this situation, she advises tenants to take pictures of everything in their apartments to prove that they did not cause any damage. 

DeCair also has seen students get charged a refrigerator cleaning fee even if they did clean their fridge before moving out.

“I had students come to me, they were like, ‘We cleaned it,’ but they didn’t have a picture of it, and the landlord provided another picture of another apartment,” DeCair said. “The goal is to have evidence. Take pictures and videos of everything before and after you move out.”

If issues arise, DeCair suggests U of I students reach out to make an appointment with her office, OCCL, located in the Dean of Students’ office on Sixth St. and John St. 

OCCL can intervene if students are not getting the quality of service they paid for or if they are facing legal problems, she said.

“We’re just trying to get the word out about what we do and how we can help students and be a resource,” DeCair said.

For C-U residents who are not affiliated with the U of I, the Champaign-Urbana Tenant Union offers lots of similar resources.

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Illinois Student Newsroom

At the IPM Student Newsroom, journalism students from the U of I's College of Media work alongside professional journalists -- public radio reporters, editors and producers -- to produce multimedia stories on issues affecting east-central Illinois. Follow us on Instagram: @illinoisstudentnewsroom

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