Game of homes: A song of room and board

Brenden Williams

Thousands of students come to Washburn University’s campus every day, but only a fraction live on campus.

Those who live off campus generally rent or lease apartments or houses from landlords; some of whom are good, some not so much. So how do students avoid being used by their landlords?

Professor Curtis Waugh of the Washburn University School of Law weighed in on the subject, giving many helpful tips to students, as well as referencing others who would be good advisors for students having trouble with greedy landlords.

Waugh’s advice was abundant as he told of all the cases he has seen or heard, giving insight into the world of the courtroom.

“Leases have what they call ‘evergreen clauses,’ and what those are, are clauses that say ‘you need to notify us 60 days before the lease term ends,’ and if you don’t, it renews automatically,” Waugh said.

His first piece of advice is to make sure students didn’t renew their lease on accident by not checking for the “evergreen clause,” which requires those leasing a residence to notify their landlord before they move out.

Waugh’s next piece of advice dealt with habitability and dealing with a written notice. Under Kansas law, a tenant must give a written notice of something needing to be fixed before the landlord is required to fix it, and once the written notice is given, the landlord has 14 days to do it.

“Say I’m having trouble with the plumbing, the heating, the security of my apartment … Landlord won’t do anything,” Waugh gave as an example. “He keeps saying ‘Yes I’ll do it,’ – he doesn’t do it. The landlords know it has to be in writing, so they’ll go ‘okay, okay,’ but until you hand them it in writing, they have nothing they have to do under the law.”

His other most important piece of advice is to watch for damage deposits, which should not be over a single month’s rent if the residence is unfurnished, and if furnished can be up to 1 ½ months’ rent.

“There is a provision in the Kansas Landlord/Tenant Act that said there must be an inspection when you start a lease, you lease a place, you walk through and there’s a checklist,” Waugh said. “Sometimes landlords do that. Often they don’t. So there’s some dispute at the end of the term, and the tenant goes ‘Ah ha! We didn’t do that, therefore you can’t make a claim against me.’ Well that’s not so. That was litigated up to the Kansas Supreme Court, and even though it says you must do this, they don’t make people do it. It doesn’t provide evidence in a dispute that the landlord isn’t entitled to anything.”

Waugh’s last piece of advice was to find more advice specific to the tenants’ problems. He referenced Housing and Credit Counseling, Inc., a legal counsel service in Topeka that gives out tenant handbooks and helps with legal matters for the tenants themselves.

“They’re a good resource,” Waugh said. “They started out as a tenant’s right’s organization 40 years ago, and then over the years it morphed into credit counseling.”