Obtain Renter's Insurance
If you suffer property loss as a result of burglary, fire, tornado, water leaks, lightning, or a power surge, you will need your own insurance to cover your loss. Your landlord's insurance does not cover your personal property.
You can buy renter's insurance for as little as $10 per month.
Some students choose to be covered on their parents' homeowner's insurance. Often, that policy will NOT cover hotel stay if fire forces you from your home and may not provide other coverage such as liability if you accidentally started the fire. If you are considering coverage through a parent's policy, check with the insurance agent about the scope of coverage.
How much will it cost today to replace property stolen by a burglar or damaged by fire? The cash value or depreciated value of your property is much less than the replacement cost. It is wise to buy insurance that pays replacement cost instead of cash value.
Loss of Use
Some policies include a dollar limit of $2,000 or $3,000 for hotel bills if fire forces you from your home. Many policies will cover hotel stay for the shortest period of time necessary. Check your lease to see how long you have agreed to wait after a fire for your landlord to make your apartment livable again. Most leases say 30 days, but some have 45, 60, or even 90 days. Be sure your "loss of use" coverage is enough money to pay for replacement of all of your damaged property plus a hotel for the amount of time you've agreed to in your lease, plus a few additional days to shop for a new place, in the event that the landlord is unable to make the place habitable within the time specified in your lease.
This is the amount you pay before the insurance company will cover a claim after a burglary, fire or some other covered calamity. Most renter's insurance policies have a deductible of $250 or $500. A few also offer $100 deductible for a higher premium cost. Usually, your premium (the amount you pay for the policy) is higher if your deductible is lower.
Amount of Coverage
How much would it cost to replace everything you own: computer, television, VCR/DVD, CD-player, clothing, books, bicycle, etc.? Add the cost of hotel in case of a fire, and that would be the amount of coverage to buy. Most young tenants who rent furnished apartments and do not have a lot of property buy a $10,000 or $15,000 policy. If you own your own furniture or have more than one computer or own other expensive items (jewelry, big screen TV, many oil paintings) you may need a $20,000 or $25,000 policy. Remember to calculate the cost of hotel stay for the amount of time equal to the grace period in the fire clause of your lease. Add to that the cost of replacing everything you own and that is the amount of coverage you will need.
Be sure to ask your agent if damage to property from roof or pipe leaks or other water damage is covered. Other than fire and burglary, the most common complaints to Tenant Union about property damage involve water leaks.
Sewer Back-ups and Water Seepage
These are often exempt from a standard policy. If you are renting a basement apartment or house with a basement, you may need to purchase an additional rider to your policy to cover damage from water seepage or sewer back-ups. Ask your insurance agent about coverage for these problems.
Off-Campus Community Living does not recommend any specific insurance policy. Check with a few agents to see what policy options they offer and compare costs. You may be able to get a small discount on insurance premiums if you buy both auto and renter's insurance from the same company. Following are names (these are not recommendations) of several insurance agents in the Champaign-Urbana area who sell renter's insurance.
Keep a copy of your lease, and any written communication between you and the landlord.
If there are conflicts or disputes between you and your landlord, you will need this documentation especially if you plan to seek representation from an attorney.
Pay Rent & Utilities On Time
Not paying your rent on time can result in late fees and potentially eviction. If you think you are unable to pay your landlord on time, see if you can come to an agreement for repayment. If you do reach an agreement, get in writing to protect yourself. Depending on your lease, you will likely have to pay at least some of the utilities. Late payments can result in late fees, harm to your credit, and make it difficult for you to transfer service if you want to move.
- About one month before your lease starts, contact the public utility companies to arrange to start service on the day your lease starts. Call Ameren IP for gas and electricity at 800-755-5000. Call Illinois American Water Company for water service at 800-422-2782.
- Call the landlord in advance to arrange a time and location for picking up your keys. If the landlord had promised to do any work before your move-in date, such as painting or carpet cleaning, this would be a good time to remind her/him about the promise.
- Complete a condition report of everything that is not 100% perfect, when you move in (read information on Damage Deposits). You must keep your own copy of the condition report for your records. It's best to either have your signature on the report notarized, or get the landlord to sign your copy. If anything looks really bad (a stain in the carpet, a hole in the wall, broken furniture) photograph it. Many leases REQUIRE that the condition report be returned to the landlord within 2 or 3 days of your picking up the keys. Check your lease and comply with the time period required.
- If your apartment is not clean, take photographs to show exactly what was dirty. Don't make the mistake of destroying your evidence by cleaning and then asking for reimbursement. If you want to be paid to do the landlord's cleaning job, ask the landlord to sign a written agreement promising to pay you a certain amount of money for cleaning before you do any work. Then photograph everything before you clean it. Many tenants get into disputes with the landlord about how dirty the apartment was after they've done all the cleaning. If you do your own cleaning at move-in but expect that at the end of the lease you can give the place back in something less than sparkling clean condition, you must photograph all of the dirty items at the start of the lease and again at the end to show you gave them back in same or better condition than you received them.
- Conduct a security assessment of your unit, using the checklist in this publication under Security and Safety. If you find any problem with locks, peepholes, or other security devices, tell your landlord immediately and then follow up by sending the landlord written notice of the need for maintenance attention to these items. Keep a copy of your notice. Your landlord should repair or replace inoperable locks immediately. Insist on it.
- Check all drains (sinks and tub) to make sure they are not clogged. If you find any drains are draining slowly, report the problem to the landlord in writing (and keep a copy). Many leases hold tenants responsible for unclogging drains. If the drain already had a problem when you moved in, you would not want to be responsible for fixing it. Often a product like Drano or Liquid Plumber solves the problem; either try it yourself, or contact the landlord, but don't ignore the problem unless you want to pay for it later. It's also a good idea to buy a plastic drain cap for the shower/tub to catch hair before it goes down the drain. You can buy one at any drugstore or supermarket and it will help you prevent your drain from becoming clogged. Pouring grease from cooking pans into a container rather than washing it down the kitchen sink is another good idea to prevent a clogged kitchen drain.
- Check your smoke detector and carbon monoxide alarm to be sure each has a working battery. If a battery is missing, replace it. Push the test button on each detector to be sure the batteries work. If the alarm does not sound, you need to put in a new battery. Change the batteries every 6 months. Properly working smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors can save your life. State law requires landlords to provide smoke detectors and carbon monoxide alarms for each apartment.
- If for any reason the landlord cannot give you keys to the EXACT apartment that you have leased, you do not have to accept an alternative, unless your lease says so. Accepting the alternative could compromise your rights under the lease.
- If you will accept a different apartment temporarily, be sure the landlord signs a written statement that describes exactly what you and the landlord have decided. Will you stay in apartment B4 for 10 days and then move into the leased apartment C7? Did you accept a place of lesser quality as temporary housing in exchange for reduced rent? These are agreements you will be unable to prove unless they are in writing.
- Buy some roach traps and place them in the kitchen and bathroom as directed on the box. You can buy these at any supermarket or hardware store. You are not the only new tenant moving into the building. If even one of your neighbors moves from a place with roaches, you may start seeing roaches in your apartment. Take this preventative step to avoid infestation in your home.
- Do not use poster putty, tape or any other adhesive to hang posters on the wall. Check your lease to see what it says about using nails, tacks or push pins and do not use any method of hanging pictures that is prohibited in your lease.
- Take photographs to prove that you cleaned and have done no damage. Be sure to get pictures of the insides of oven, refrigerator, cabinets, toilet, tub and sink, as well as photographs of walls, carpets and floors. It's good to have a witness (not your roommate or a member of your family) watch you take your photographs. If you've rented a house, be sure to photograph the basement, attic and the outside to show you have left no trash and that the lawn is mowed and free of debris. If you are subletting, come back at the end of the lease to check the condition and take photographs again. Use a film camera to take photographs. If you use only a digital camera, the landlord might say you "photo-shopped" the damage out of the picture. Many tenants use a digital camera because it's easier to send the pictures to the landlord by email if there's a dispute, but they use a disposable camera as back up and don't even pay to have the film developed unless the landlord challenges the validity of the digital pictures.
- Contact the public utility companies to arrange for termination of service. If you move out before the day your lease ends, you might be responsible for keeping utilities on until the last day of the lease. Check the contract. If you move during winter months, you have to leave the heat and water on so that pipes don't freeze. When you terminate your utility service, even in the SUMMER, be sure to unplug the refrigerator and securely prop open the refrigerator door. This will prevent mildew growth inside.
- Complete a change of address form at the post office so that your mail will be forwarded. This protects your rights regarding deposit refund and prevents loss of other mail.
- If you have any special arrangement with the landlord for staying after the lease ends, even if just for a few days, write up the agreement and ask the landlord to sign it. Staying after the lease ends without proof of landlord's consent can cost you a lot of money.
- In preparing to move out, you need to clean thoroughly. This always means you must clean the oven — inside and out, clean and defrost the refrigerator (unplug it, don't use a sharp instrument), clean the bathroom, kitchen, all floors, etc. Read your lease to see if you have agreed to any special cleaning such as carpet shampoo or window washing. NOTE: If you have not been cleaning very often during your lease, you might not get the floors clean enough if you simply use a standard sponge mop. You'll probably have to get down on your hands and knees and scrub. The bath tub will also need some scrubbing if you have not been cleaning it frequently during the lease.
- Be certain that you have discarded all trash. Landlords usually charge tenants for removing trash that is left behind.
- Do not leave any furniture or other personal belongings unless you are willing to give them up forever and possibly pay the cost of having them removed.
- Return all keys directly to the landlord and obtain a receipt for the keys. If you write up the receipt and ask the landlord to sign it, you will protect yourself from an unjustified charge for lock change resulting from failure to return all keys.
Keep Apartment Clean/Undamaged
It does not necessarily have to be spotless, but you should clean and take out the trash regularly. This is important to avoid damage to the apartment and unwanted pests. Additionally you cannot alter the apartment without consent from the landlord.
Notify Landlord of Repairs
If something in your apartment needs to be fixed, notify your landlord right away. Some landlords use online maintenance requests systems or email. If not, provide a formal letter with a list of repairs needed and request that they be completed within a specific timeframe.
Notify Landlord of Pests
If there are pests in your apartment — ants, roaches, rats, mice, bed bugs — you need to report these to your landlord immediately. Some landlords use an online request system or email. If not, provide a formal letter. If you do not report, the landlord might refuse to exterminate or may charge you for extermination especially if you are responsible for the infestation.
Signs you have bed bugs:
- Waking up with red bites that are usually in a line or semi-circle
- Small red stains or smears on your sheets, mattress, or other furniture near your bed
- Black spots that look like mold (bed bug droppings)
- Seeing the actual bug (about the size and shape of an apple seed), eggs, or shed skin
What you can do RIGHT NOW:
- Pull your bed away from the wall
- Wrap duct tape, sticky side out, around the bed legs to keep bed bugs from climbing up
- Wash clothes and bedding and put in the dryer on high heat for at least 20 minutes (heat is very effective in eliminating bed bugs); do this for bed linens once a week.
- After removing items from the dryer, store them in plastic bags
- Vacuum on a regular basis
- Remove things from around the bed
Do not use bug bombs — they are not effective on bed bugs, and will encourage the bugs to spread to other apartments to get away from the fog.
What you should ask your landlord to do:
- Buy a bed bug cover for your mattress and box spring
- Caulk all cracks and crevices, such as along the baseboards and around windows
- Steam clean the carpets and upholstered furniture
- Exterminate using a licensed exterminator (generally, it will take more than 1 treatment AND all of the other suggestions here should be implemented)
- Explain to the landlord that it is much cheaper to eliminate bed bugs while they are contained in one apartment, than to wait until there is a problem in several (or all) apartments in the building. Bedbugs are excellent hitchhikers, and move around easily. Treatment can run anywhere between $400-1200 per apartment.
You can also let others know there is a bed bug problem at your building by registering at The Bedbug Registry.
In most cases, your landlord will be responsible for extermination to eliminate pests but there are some exceptions. If you are identified as the cause of the infestation, the landlord might refuse to exterminate or will charge you for extermination. If the building has roaches and you are a very bad housekeeper, the landlord might even try to charge you the cost of exterminating the entire building. With bed bugs, if you discover them soon after first moving in, it's hard for the landlord to blame you. But a few months after you move in, the landlord might say you brought the bed bugs into the apartment. Given that bed bugs can be dormant for several months AND they can travel on the pants of workers or people to whom the landlord shows the apartment for leasing, it's hard to establish who brought in the bed bugs. Tenant Union would encourage a landlord to exterminate for any pests, including bed bugs, to prevent the problem from spreading to other units. Including a pest control clause in your lease increases the likelihood that you will get the landlord to provide and pay for pest control when needed. In the cities of Champaign and Urbana, the property maintenance codes require a landlord to exterminate before leasing and to eliminate infestation if it is in more than one apartment.
Keep the noise and disturbances to a minimum.
Under the provisions of most leases, you will agree to keep noise levels to a minimum so as not to disturb your neighbors. If you violate this clause, you could face eviction. If police find you in violation of the city's noise ordinance, you might be fined $150.00 - $200.00 for each occurrence. Despite the risks, some tenants make a lot of noise. If you have trouble with one of your neighbors making too much noise, try these ideas.
- Ask them to be quiet: A direct approach is best. Too many tenants suffer through hours of disturbed sleep and then complain the next day to the landlord. Your neighbors may not realize how loud they are or how late it is, so talk to them first. Be polite and ask nicely. If you do not want to go to the door, check the mailbox for the tenants' names, look them up in the phonebook, and telephone them. Be persistent. If they quiet down after you ask, but then are noisy the next night, call again. This may seem like a hassle, but it's the best way to deal with the situation.
- Involve other neighbors: If the people next door won't be quiet after you've asked, talk to the other neighbors. Give them the phone number of the noise makers and see if everyone will agree to call and ask them to be quiet.
- Buy earplugs: If the noise problem is caused by a baby crying, or thin walls that make you feel like your neighbor's television is in your home, or the weight of people walking above you -- but the neighbors are not really disturbing the peace, the best solution would probably be to buy earplugs.
- Call the police: If the noise can be heard outside the neighbors' apartment, they are violating city code. Amplified music and loud parties are usually the type of noise about which it is appropriate to call the police. Call (217) 333-8911. This is the non-emergency dispatch number for METCAD who will dispatch an officer to either city.
If the people quiet down when the police arrive but start up again a half hour later, call the police again and tell the dispatcher that an officer responded to your earlier call but the noise-makers started up again after the police officer(s) left.
If the problem persists on subsequent nights, be persistent in calling the police. They seldom write a ticket for the first noise offense.
- Keep a list of your calls: Sometimes, a police officer who answers a call is not aware that the police have been called to the same apartment in the past. Write down the date and time when you call the police. If you have to call a second time about the same neighbor, ask the dispatcher to please inform the police officer that you had previously called and tell the date and time of the prior call. If you have to call a third or fourth time, tell the dispatcher each time about the previous calls, dates and times. In many cases, you will have to call the police more than twice but less than a dozen times before the message sinks in with your noisy neighbors. Don't give up. Be persistent.
If you have an ongoing problem that is not resolved by calling the police at the time of each incident, you may wish to call the police station and ask for the Shift Commander (Champaign: (217) 351-4545; Urbana: (217) 384-2320).
- Report the problem to your landlord: Your landlord should be informed about noise problems with neighbors. Don't call the landlord in the middle of the night; tell him/her about the problem the next day. Let the landlord know that you are involving the police and ask him/her to please give some type of written notice to the neighbors about the noise problem.
Your landlord is not a police officer. When you experience the type of problem for which a homeowner would call the police, you should call the police too. Particularly if you are being bothered by someone you are afraid to confront -- an intoxicated person in your hallway or a vandal damaging cars -- don't expect your landlord to replace a police officer. Call the police.
If you receiver an eviction notice from your landlord because the neighbors have complained about you making too much noise, don't move out! Call Student Legal Services to find out about your options and risks. Moving out will not necessarily excuse you from the obligation to pay future rent.
Be a Good Neighbor
It is important to have a good relationship with your neighbors. Be kind and respectful in all interactions. Follow the law and lease guidelines around behavior in common areas.
Be a Good Roommate
You and your roommate(s) are legally responsible for each other’s payment of rent and utilities. The circumstances of a conflict between you will not change this fact. Treat each other with respect especially when you are in conflict and find a solution that is mutually beneficial.
Provide Written Notice
Provide written notice when you intend to not renew your lease and move.
This is your legal responsibility. Please check your lease for the due date that this needs to be completed.