What to know before signing a lease

Deciding to move off-campus is the easy part. How to do it can be a bit trickier.

Finding a place is a good start.

GW offers an off-campus online housing service where students can browse properties in the area. The site also offers a guide to living off-campus, useful links and community information.

But students looking for off-campus residences face potential pitfalls. Finding the right place means being informed, said Michael Rupert, who works for the D.C. Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs (DCRA).

“The first thing you should ask a potential landlord is whether they have a business license. If they say no, ask why not or walk away,” Rupert said. “A license shows that the house or home has been inspected.”

Once a student has found the right place, Rupert recommends doing a little sleuthing.

“Once you move off-campus it’s good to ask a neighbor who’s been there for a while if there are any safety issues, when the trash comes, that kind of thing,” Rupert said. “It’s good to get used to the environment.”

Signing a lease is the biggest step. Leases should always be written and not verbal so that in the event a problem arises there is a binding legal document that list the rights and obligations of both parties. Typical leases should include all parties’ names and addresses, a description of the property, the dates of the lease, rent, protocol for missed rent, maintenance and repair information and other informative elements. Students should read the lease carefully – the GW Department of Off-Campus Student Affairs warns that a tenant’s lack of awareness of elements of the lease does not justify breaking it. Students should also keep a signed copy of the lease in a safe place.

The DCRA also operates a website, www.thisshouldbeillegal.com, where students can look up landlords to see if they’re licensed, download inspection checklists, and, if they need it, request a free installation of smoke detectors from the D.C. Fire Department

“It’s a really good resource for students who are probably looking for a home away from home or a home away from the dorms for the first time in their life,” Rupert said.

The Hatchet has disabled comments on our website. Learn more.