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Renting Information

The Attorney for Students can review your lease with you!

When deciding where to live off-campus and BEFORE you sign a contract, there are MANY essential questions to ask, information to consider, and issues that may come up in leasing agreements.

Before You Sign....

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  • Rent is set by your lease agreement and locked in for the period of time specified in the contract. However, before you sign a contract, be aware of and budget for other common expenses associated with renting an apartment, such as:

     

    Utilities

    • Many apartment complexes either do not cover your utilities' cost or will cover only a limited portion of them. (For example, the landlord might cover water and trash costs, but not the cost of electricity, gas, or internet.) Depending on your lease agreement, you will need to set up utility payments directly with the City of San Marcos, or you will need to reimburse the landlord for the utility costs they incur each month. 
    • If you are paying directly, you will pay for the cost of the actual electricity, water, etc., you have used. But especially in student housing complexes with individual leases, your landlord may take the total cost of utilities and divide it between every unit according to an allocation method specified in your leasing contract. That means that if the total cost of utilities for the apartment complex goes up (for example, if there is a major water line leak or all of your neighbors are using extra air conditioning in the summer), your bill will also go up even if you have not increased your own utility usage!

    Necessities

    • While the rent specified in your contract may seem affordable, remember that this is not all-inclusive of your living expenses. If you live off-campus, you will likely need to pay for your food/groceries, paper products (like paper towels, toilet paper, etc.), toiletries, cleaning supplies, etc. If you plan to eat out often, these expenses maybe even higher than expected. Estimate your likely monthly spending and make a budget before you sign a lease contract to ensure that your financial aid award + other income will be sufficient to cover all your expenses.

    Parking

    • Often, apartment complexes will offer parking spaces to students at additional cost. Please make sure to read and follow the apartment complex guidelines on parking, or it may end up costing you extra. If you receive a sticker or parking permit tag to hang on your rear-view mirror, make sure it is displayed correctly in a visible location. Otherwise, your landlord may try to tow your vehicle – which costs you additional time, energy, money, and stress to retrieve your car, pay for the towing and storage fees, and repair any potential damages.

    Hidden fees

    • Please read your contract carefully, or have an attorney with our office review it with you before you sign. Some lease contracts include provisions that:
      • Allow the landlord to automatically charge you a fixed cleaning at the end of your lease, regardless of the actual cleanliness of the apartment;
      • Specify the amount a landlord can charge you for damages to the apartment, regardless of the actual cost of repair;
      • Give the landlord the right to take certain pieces of your personal property if you fall behind on the rent;
      • Allow the landlord to enter your home without prior notice;
      • Limit your right to repairs (for conditions other than those which materially threaten your health or safety), arbitrarily extend the time period for your landlord to make repairs to your unit, or require you to pay a fixed fee for every trip taken by the landlord's agents in response to a repair request; or
      • Allow the landlord to retain your entire security deposit if proper notice of move-out is not provided.

    And keep in mind that most leases, especially in student housing complexes, last 12 months, but your financial aid award likely covers nine months of rent. Ensure that you are prepared to pay all 12 months of rent, utilities, and fees when deciding where to rent.

  • Use and Liability 

    • In a joint lease situation, all residents are named on the same lease contract. Sometimes, students avoid this type of lease because it may appear more expensive on paper. However, all the residents listed on the contract have equal usage rights to and responsibilities for the entire unit and are together responsible for paying rent. This means that the rent amount written into the contract can be divided between all unit residents in any manner, so long as the full amount is paid to the landlord on time each month. (For example, in an apartment costing $1000/month, 2 roommates could split the costs for a financial obligation of $500/month each, 2 roommates could divide the costs to be $600 for the resident with the attached bathroom and $400 for the resident with the shared bathroom, 3 roommates could split rent to be $333 each, etc.)
      • On the flip side, this also means that even if only one resident is late paying rent, every other resident could also end up being held responsible for late payment of rent, associated fine and fees, potential eviction, etc. Basically, all residents listed on the contract are tying themselves together, with mutual rights and obligations toward one another.
    • In contrast, in an individual/bedroom lease situation, each resident signs a separate contract with the landlord for their own bedroom space. These may appear to be less expensive on paper and may seem to limit liability for the actions of other residents in the apartment unit. However, with an individual lease, the rent does not change depending on the number of roommates sharing the unit. Each individual pays a fixed monthly amount, whether there are 2 roommates or 6 roommates sharing the same common spaces.
      • In addition, while residents have sole use of and sole responsibility for their individual bedrooms (and attached private spaces), all residents of the same unit share the use of and responsibility for the common areas. If a resident's roommate causes damage to the apartment, violates a community rule leading to a fine, or has illegal substances in the common areas, any of the apartment residents can potentially be held responsible. All residents are effectively still tied to their roommates' actions but without a direct contractual relationship that would allow a resident to enforce any rules or standards on another resident.
      • Individual leases also often contain clauses allowing landlords to move residents at will, even if it means splitting up roommates who applied to live together in the same unit. These contracts also generally allow landlords to move residents to other units on very short notice. In contrast, when individuals sign a joint lease agreement, they cannot be separated except by mutual agreement between the residents and the landlord.

    Monthly Rent Agreement vs. Installment Contracts

    • Joint leases follow the traditional lease agreement model in which rent is charged monthly, prorated to match the actual amount of time in a month in which a resident has legal possession of the unit. (For example, if a lease is set to begin on September 21, the resident will only be responsible for 10 days-worth of rent for the month.)
    • Individual leases are often structured as installment agreements. This type of agreement effectively obligates renters to pay the total yearly rent obligation at the outset of the contract, which is then divided into equal installment payments over the term of the lease. As such, rent is often not prorated. (For example, a 12-month installment agreement-type lease for $1000/month rent is actually an agreement to pay $12,000 at the outset of the contract, spaced out over 12 equal installment payments. This has potentially enormous consequences if a resident attempts to terminate their lease early.) 
  • NO!

    • Private "student housing" apartment complexes are not required by law to honor your preferences for roommate matching purposes. This means that your randomly matched roommate may end up being a non-student, an individual of a different gender, a smoker or non-smoker, etc. If you request a specific person by name, it is also possible you are not placed with that individual because the form typically states the roommate request is not guaranteed. Therefore the landlord is not legally bound.
    • Private apartment complexes, even those marketed as "student housing," are not obligated to rent only to students. They are free to rent to whomever they determine to meet their criteria.
    • For Joint/ Traditional lease agreements, all roommates are on one contract, so the private apartment complex is contractually obligated to place all roommates in the same apartment. We highly encourage students to discuss and sign a roommate agreement, to discuss details about everything from responsibility for nonpayment of rent or fees, to usage and sharing of personal belongings, to expectations for guests and noise in the apartment unit.
  • Maybe.


    Pets

    • Each apartment complex is different, and you should contact the complex with pet questions BEFORE you sign the lease. The landlord is allowed to have weight/size restrictions, require a substantial pet deposit fee, may charge "pet rent", and charge you for any damages caused by your pet after you leave.
    • Please remember, having a pet is a big, time-consuming, and often expensive responsibility. Before bringing a pet to college, ask yourself if it is the best choice for the pet. 

    Service and Emotional Support Animals

    • Even if the landlord does not ordinarily allow pets, Federal Fair Housing laws require landlords to make exceptions for service and emotional support animals (ESA's). These animals are not considered pets but assistance animals. Because they offer assistance or emotional support to their owners, they can live with you. Unlike with regular pets, you don't have to pay any extra deposit, pet rent, or fee for housing. However, you will still be responsible for any damages caused by the animal.
    • Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA,) a service animal is a dog (or, in some cases, a miniature horse.) To have a service animal, you must have a disability, and you must have a disability-related need for the animal. In other words, the animal must work, perform tasks or services, or alleviate the effects of your disability to qualify.
    • ESAs, according to the Americans with Disabilities Act, don't need to go through special training like service animals, nor are they required to be registered. However, a landlord may require the student to get an ESA letter from a Texas licensed therapist. 
    • An ESA must be domesticated (dog, cat, rabbit, ferret, pig, a miniature horse, etc.) and well-behaved. This means that you can not bring a wild or aggressive animal into an apartment.
    • You must file a request for accommodation in advance and submit your ESA letter. You can't just show up with an ESA and expect everyone to go along with it. 
  • YES!

    • Students are highly encouraged to pay a security deposit if at all possible. Paying a security deposit, no matter the amount obligates the landlord to provide the tenant with either a refund of the deposit or a statement of damages within 30 days of the lease's end (assuming all other requirements have been met). Not paying a security deposit gives a landlord the right to charge and/or sue for damages to a rented unit up to 4 years after the contract's termination.
    • Also, if a landlord wrongfully deducts from a security deposit "in bad faith," additional penalties and fines can be awarded to tenants by the court system. This serves to incentivize landlords to keep accurate records and proper documentation of any damages deducted from a security deposit. However, suppose tenants have not paid a security deposit for a rented unit. In that case, corrections to the amount billed for damages to the unit can be made at any time without consequence to the landlord.
    • Apartments often promote zero security deposits as cost savings to students. While it is an expense a student does not have to pay upfront when leasing, keep in mind the landlord is not legally obligated to send any statements for charges such as damages or cleaning fees for many months or years (up to 4) later.
  • YES!

    • Students are highly encouraged to purchase their own renter's insurance from a third-party insurance company that protects both damages to the premises / the landlord's property and the tenant's personal property in the event of an accident or break-in. Either check with your existing insurance company or do an online search for renter's insurance to try to find the best rates and coverage for your needs.
    • Typically, the insurance fee you pay to your apartment complex is liability insurance that does not cover damage to a tenant's personal property. Liability insurance typically only covers damages to the landlord's property due to a tenant's negligence or otherwise the fault of the tenant. Tenants should have their own personal renters' insurance to cover damages to personal property.
  • Probably.

    • The majority of apartment complexes require you to have a guarantor or co-signor when you have no previous rental history or personal income.
    • Students should obtain a guarantor or co-signer and ensure that the apartment approves the individual BEFORE the student signs the lease agreement.
      • Suppose the guarantor or co-signor is denied and a student has already signed the lease agreement. In that case, the apartment could prevent the student from moving in and still continue to hold the student financially responsible for the contracted rent amount or require the student to pay additional money prior to moving in.
  • Research. Walk, bike, or drive around town. Use websites like Yelp, apartments.com, findapartmentsandmore.com, and others. Ask friends, classmates, teachers, resident assistants, and teaching assistants about their living arrangements. Take a tour of places you are interested in. You can also ask an apartment locator to help you narrow down your options. The service is free!

After signing ...

Move-In Conditions Form

  • Before moving in, fill out and timely turn in a Move-In Conditions form and keep a copy. Note EVERYTHING wrong, scratched, stained, dirty, or damaged in the apartment, including damages to appliances and furniture. 

Take Pictures!!

  • Landlords are allowed to charge tenants for damages exceeding ordinary wear and tear in their rented units. While filling out an inventory and conditions form before move-in is beneficial, the best way to try to prevent suspect charges is to take thorough pictures/video recordings of the entire unit. Be sure to take pictures both 1) at the beginning of your lease before you move in any boxes, suitcases, furniture, etc.; and 2) after you have removed your belongings and thoroughly cleaned the apartment at the end of the lease term.

Repairs and Maintenance Request

  • Under state law in Texas and the terms of most housing contracts, tenants are required to submit any and all repair requests for issues that materially affect the physical health or safety of the residents to the landlord via written notice. State law in Texas defines written notice as stamped and mailed, ideally via certified mail return receipt requested. Any repair requests not submitted to the landlord in this manner (for example, via email, phone, text, maintenance portal request, in-person conversations, etc.) are not legally binding on the landlord – either to obligate them to make repairs or hold them responsible for consequential damages that might result from conditions that are not repaired in a timely manner. While we encourage students to make a repair request via email, phone, portal request, etc., they must still complete the repair request by written notice. 
  • The written notice should include the date, tenant's name and address, and ink signature. The body of the letter should consist of (1) a description of the repair problem, (2) a statement if the problem is a threat to health or safety, (3) a request that the repairs begin in a reasonable amount of time (seven days usually), (4) a request for a written explanation if the work cannot be completed within seven days and (5) a written response within five business days. The tenant should keep a copy of the signed letter and the confirmation of delivery for their records.
  • If living in a private residence with no corporate management, the written notice should be mailed to the landlord's or property owner's address. If living in an apartment, we recommend you send the same written notice to three places (all via Certified Mail Return Receipt Requested:

  1. The apartment address (ATTN: Property Manager).
  2. The owner (can be found on the county appraisal district website).
  3. The corporate management company.
Health & Safety Repair Template Letter (DOCX, 23 KB)
A template letter for repairs that are a risk to a tenant's health and safety. The template should be modified to only include the only repair issues needed.

FAQs

  • Research. Ask friends, classmates, dorm roommates, Resident Assistants, Teaching Assistants, and others. 


    Renting Together Contract

    To avoid problems, ask any potential roommate a series of questions to determine if your lifestyles are compatible and develop a renting-together agreement. This agreement is a great way to memorialize basic rules and prevent future disagreements. It can specify things like what days bills must be paid, who will pay for what, how long friends can stay over, if the food will be shared and who cleans what when.

    Here are questions to ask yourself before choosing roommates:

    • Do I trust this person? 
      • Only live with that person if your answer is an emphatic YES.
    • Am I willing to put up with this person's habits?
      • You may be willing to accept a friend's bad habits from afar, like not cleaning dishes or playing loud music late at night, but do you really want to live with them? You can prevent problems by setting out expectations before moving in together and using a renting together agreement. 
    • Is my schedule compatible with this person?
      • A morning person who works standard hours may not live comfortably with a night owl who prefers to stay up late and cook dinner at 3 a.m. Again, create and use a renting together agreement.

     

    Living with roommates can be a good experience if you plan ahead and make mature decisions. Even great friends will have disagreements over lifestyles, cleaning methods, paying bills, and food sharing. Above all—good communication is the key!

  • Illegal drugs are illegal. There is no safe zone in an apartment or house. If you wish to use illegal drugs in your bedroom, your roommates have the right and responsibility to notify the landlord and the police. You can be evicted and arrested for using or possessing illegal drugs in your apartment. Also, roommates who were not the ones that brought drugs into the apartment could still be charged criminally or fined by the apartment when it is not initially determined which roommate is responsible for the drugs.

    • Generally, it is not recommended to sign a lease when an apartment is still being built or a new construction before understanding the risks and legal consequences. Delays in construction, city inspections, fire and safety inspections can cause the location not to open in time or receive the proper occupancy or safety permits.
    • Please review the contract with AFS before signing, as frequently, there are no contract provisions that allow the student to be released from the lease if the apartment does not open in time. Even "move-in-guarantees" do not necessarily give the student the right to terminate the contract. In addition, the lease agreement may require you to continue to pay monthly rent, ake the alternative housing options offered, and does not entitle you to any credit or refund of monthly rent amounts.
    • If you already signed a lease and the apartment complex is not ready on time, do not sign any additional agreements or "Addendums " without reviewing it with AFS first! Often these agreements/ Addendums to the contract are also asking you to give up your only potential right to be released from the lease agreement, if any, after a certain amount of time.
    • Provide a written notice by the deadline set in the contract, usually 60 days, that you will be moving out and provide a new address in the letter. If you do not provide the required written notice, you could be liable for a month-to-month contract and rent. If you do not give a new address, then the landlord can not send you a final statement for any money owed and send the amounts due to a collection agency.
    • Clean the apartment or home thoroughly!
    • Please fill out a move-out inventory conditions form, take pictures and video of the apartment after you have cleaned it, and removed all your personal belongings.
  • In the City of San Marcos, homes zoned as "single-family" use limit the number of unrelated individuals who can live together. Only family members who are related by blood, legal adoption, marriage, or conservatorship can live together with one other unrelated individual. In other words, family members plus only ONE unrelated individual can live in a home designated as "single-family" use. No more than two unrelated students can live together in a "single-family" home within the city limits of San Marcos, TX.

    • Example 1: Jane and June are biological sisters going to school at Texas State, and their friend Rose wants to live with them in a home zoned as single-family use. Jane, June, and Rose can legally live together because Jane and June are sisters, and there is only one unrelated individual, Rose, living with them.
    • Example 2: John, Jack, and Bud are friends who are not related family members. The three of them can not live together in a home zoned as "single-family." Only two of the friends can legally live in the house together, but not all three of them.

     

    Students can use the City of San Marcos Zoning Map to help you look up, by address, whether the home is zoned as "single-family" use only.

Templates, Forms and Resources

Health & Safety Repair Template Letter (DOCX, 23 KB)
A template letter for repairs that are a risk to a tenant's health and safety. The template should be modified to only include the only repair issues needed.
Must Ask Questions : Must Ask Questions (PDF, 227 KB)
List of important questions to ask the landlord/apartment complex BEFORE you sign the lease.
Move In-Out Inventory Form : Move In Move Out Contract (PDF, 156 KB)
A downloadable form that may be used (if such forms are not provided by your management) within 48 hours of move-in and upon move-out.
-This form should be completed while the apartment is empty.
-After you have completed this form, each resident and the manager/leasing agent should sign it.
-Keep a copy for your records.
Tenant's Rights Pamphlet : Tenants Rights Pamphlet (PDF, 563 KB)
The Tenant's Rights Handbook was prepared as a public service by the Texas Young Lawyers Association.
Landlord Tenant Guide : Landlord/Tenant Guide (PDF, 848 KB)
Landlord-tenant guide prepared by an attorney on behalf of the Real Estate Center at Texas A&M University.
Renting Together Contract : Renting Together Contract (PDF, 54 KB)
A contract for roommates who are sharing an apartment.
Austin Tenant's Council
Read More about Austin Tenant's Council
Texas State Law Library
Read More about Texas State Law Library
Lawyer Referral Service of Central Texas
Read More about Lawyer Referral Service of Central Texas
Texas RioGrande Legal Aid
Read More about Texas RioGrande Legal Aid