Renters need to know their rights

Sarah Lentz, Staff Writer

Arguably one of the best things about college is that students get their first especially when
they move from their family home to live is renting their first house or apartment.

The allure of being in charge of their own household tends to draw a small amount of students off campus after freshman year and students are more likely to move off campus each year they stay.

“Between freshman and sophomore year about 38 percent move off campus,” Matthew Weekley, Assistant Dean of Students and Director of Residence Life, said. “Going from sophomore to junior year that number moves to roughly 40 percent more.”

If the idea of having an entire bedroom to themselves or having guests over at anytime gets students off campus, it is important for them to know the rights and responsibilities of renting.

The state of Nebraska affords renters many rights. Under the Landlord Tenant law, landlords must provide running water, electricity and gas. Maintaining a safe structure, keeping electrical and plumbing in working order is also the responsibility of the landlord. The law states all local housing codes must be followed.

Landlords cannot enter their rental properties without giving tenants at least 24 hours notice. Security deposits cannot be more than one month’s rent and can only be withheld to cover damages.

While city codes and the Landlord Tenant law outlines what is expected of landlords, renters also have certain responsibilities.

“The biggest hurdle is knowing what your responsibilities are,” Keri Wren, executive director of Wayne Community Housing Development, said.

Wren suggests that some students, in their haste to get off campus, forget that renting a property is a big commitment.

First and foremost, renters need to make sure they understand everything about the lease they sign. A rental agreement should include how much a security deposit and rent will be and the date it is due. It should also state the length of the agreement and outline which utilities and repairs the renter is responsible for.

If there is anything unclear or confusing to a renter, all they need to do is ask.

“I think sometimes students are afraid to ask questions,” Wren said. “There are things that you need to know before something comes up.”

Along with understanding the lease, renters are responsible to fix any damages to a property that doesn’t fall under normal wear and tear. If the renter has a friend over and they break a window, for example, fixing the window is the renter’s responsibility.

If you’ve never lived outside family or dorm housing, finding rental property can be challenging. Luckily, there are several sources in Wayne to which students can turn.

Along with private property owners who rent independently, and incomebased housing from Wayne Community Housing Development, there are real estate management companies in town that can be beneficial for student-renters.

Because management companies have more oversight, students are more likely to have better quality housing.

“I am licensed and there are laws that everybody has to follow, but the licensees are held to a higher standard,” Amy Schweers, Property Exchange Partners broker, said. “We really have to follow the rules where sometimes, the private individuals don’t.”

Even with the brand new housing available in Wayne, the fact remains that there are still a few rental properties that probably don’t meet city codes and shouldn’t be rented.

“There has to be a system in place to generate 68 degrees of heat. There has to be a smoke detector in each bedroom and there has to be a smoke detector outside of each bedroom. Each sleeping room has to have access to outside. Each set of stairs over four risers has to have a handrail,” Joel Hansen, zoning administrator and building inspector said, outlining some of the most important
building codes.

If a renter ends up living in a place that may be unfit, there are ways to remedy the situation.

Any problem that would lead to safety risks or anything that violates landlord tenant law, the renter should first go to the property owner to solve. Legal experts suggest that any repair request or problem should be sent to the landlord in writing. Having physical proof the landlord was aware of any issues may help a renter in the long run.

If the landlord does not remedy a situation that would cause safety concerns for a tenant, the next place the renter should turn is to the city inspector. The city of Wayne does not inspect every rental property. If there are rental dwellings that fail to meet building codes, often letting the city know falls to the renter.

“We don’t deal with anything unless we get a complaint,” Hansen said. Complaints or concerns can be submitted to the city as long as they are made in writing. Tenants should not fear that landlords would retaliate for any issues brought to the city.

“If we get a complaint, we keep those anonymous so that if a student is living in a place they don’t feel comfortable in or feels there’s violations, they can contact us, but we don’t share it with the landlord,” Hansen said. Once a complaint is made, Hansen’s job begins.

As soon as an issue is brought to the city, Hansen informs the landlord that there will be an inspection.

“The main things we’re looking for is hot water. The water heater should have some safety features on it,” Hansen said. “We want to make sure the heat, especially in the wintertime, is working. Then we start looking at smoke detectors, handrails, egress windows and things like that.”

If an actual problem is discovered, Hansen recommends the property owner an initial time frame in which to fix the violations. He then takes any violations to Wayne’s Problem Resolution Team.

The team meets once a month to discuss issues brought by Hansen. It is meant to represent the community as a whole. There are representatives from the Landlord Association, the college, the City Council, the mayor’s office, the police chief, utility companies and others.

“It gives some insulation and it gives the community a voice in the process,” Hansen said.

The Problem Resolution Team has the final word on any recommendations that Hansen makes and after their ruling he makes his final inspection, by which time the problem must be dealt with.

If a problem still remains or there are problems that fall outside the scope of the building inspector’s jurisdiction, renters, especially those with little money, do have another option.

“There is Legal Aid of Nebraska. They can assist tenants,” Schweers said. “Most times tenants don’t have the money to hire an attorney, so Legal Aid will help because there is privately owned property that doesn’t follow the rules.”

With the new apartment buildings, there is more available housing in Wayne than there has been in the last few years.

Many believe the new apartments and rental properties will encourage owners of some of the properties in poor condition to improve them.

“The more apartments and quality offcampus housing that gets built, you’ll see some of those more deteriorated, less desirable ones either get fixed up or just go away,” Ken Chamberlain, Mayor of Wayne said.