Model Lease Site Launches To Help Students Navigate Landlords And Off-Campus Housing

Lions Lease, a collaboration between Penn State and the State College Borough, launched Tuesday morning and includes everything you need if you plan on living off-campus. The site offers resources like advice on how to find housing in State College, tips for dealing with roommates and neighbors, and, most importantly, a model lease including an annotated version that explains what each line is and why it’s on the lease.

Student Legal Services spearheaded the effort of creating a model lease, which is a pre-drafted contract for students to use with landlords when signing a lease so that both parties are on the same page. It’s easy for students to get lost in the small print or not understand what’s considered common and fair on a housing lease, especially in a market like State College.

The contract is presented on the website in two ways. The first is ready to print out and take to a landlord and was prepared by a landlord-tenant attorney and Ron Friedman, who frequently works in landlord-tenant law. Most landlords in State College use a lease very similar to the one provided by Lions Lease so the terms and jargon are likely very similar to the one you may be signing.

There is also an annotated, interactive version of the model lease that allows you to scroll over different terms on the lease and provides not only a description of what that section is related to and why it’s important but also offers tips for dealing with that aspect of the lease. Better yet, everything is relayed in layman’s terms, so what would likely be confusing for students on a lease is described in a way that makes sense.

“[The thought to create an educational tool] was where the idea for the model lease website came from,” Director of Student Legal Services Kelly Mroz said. “We wanted to put together a robust, multimedia, educational tool that is specific to our unique rental community.”

The project provides a resource for students that was previously in some ways sorely absent and in others all over the place. Now almost entirely comprehensive, the website suggests a three-part process when planning to move off campus: plan, research, and avoid scams. There’s an area of the site dedicated to tips for each of these steps. Here’s a rundown of each:

Plan

The site breaks the planning phase into two sub-topics: priorities and budgeting. Within priorities, Lions Lease recommends that students consider everything from proximity to campus and the grocery store to what neighborhood the apartment or house is in (not like there’s really a “bad” neighborhood in State College, but students sometimes forget to consider location compared to bars and stores or if they want something a little more quiet) to what kind of upkeep the property will require (keeping in mind that the Borough holds property owners responsible for clearing the walk in front of their residence in the event of snow).

The other important aspect of planning highlighted on Lions Lease is budgeting. The first thing the site points out is that the cost of living in State College is 15 percent higher than the national average, so setting financial parameters when apartment hunting is important. In addition to tips, the site will provide a sample budget in the future (the link is currently broken, but when it’s up, you should be able to find that here).

Research

Lions Lease suggests researching not only your potential future landlord but also you future roommates. For the former, the site points out there are hundreds of landlords in State College that range from single-unit owners to national corporations. Lions Lease links to resources students can use to research their landlord as a property owner and manager. The site also offers advice for what kind of lease you may want to consider signing based on the roommates you will have. You should probably take different precautions with somebody you met on Craigslist versus the kid you went to kindergarten with.

Avoiding Scams

With everyone in State College looking for cheap, convenient, well-kept living arrangements, it’s easy to get caught up in what might be a too-good-to-be-true offer. One tab on the Lions Lease site warns students of common scams that can occur in the housing market, how to avoid them, and where to report a scam if you do fall victim.

There’s even a tab dedicated to resources that a house or apartment-hunting student should take advantage of. The list is pretty much exhaustive, including both university and borough resources as well as links to resources regarding safety, legal, and more. There are also some how-to videos that provide more tips when selecting, living in, and moving into and out of an apartment or house.

Of course, the model lease site didn’t just come together overnight. Student Legal Services has been working in conjunction with the State College Borough, students, landlords, attorneys, and the university for a year. When the project was starting to come together, UPUA was brought in to offer a student perspective and to make sure students would be able to understand Lions Lease.

“We offered comments to make some more things clear and to try to make it more user-friendly. And I think they definitely have done that,” said UPUA Borough Rep Morgon Goranson. UPUA’s 10th assembly also passed legislation in March supporting a model lease, even then with the understanding that the project was ever-changing.

The final version of the model lease and Lions Lease was reviewed by attorneys, landlords, and tenants in the hope of providing fair tools for each party involved. With all of the laws and ordinances in State College that students often don’t realize pertain to them, the site will also serve as an informative resource to get more of that information disseminated before students run into problems with the Borough.

“It’s important for students to understand what’s in their lease, specifically regarding borough ordinances and regulations that would apply within our community,” said Health and Neighborhood Services Supervisor Kevin Kassab. “It helps students be better neighbors, to be safe, and for their housing experience to be a good one.”

Ultimately, Lions Lease will serve as an invaluable resource for students as they go through the daunting off-campus housing search. As if deciding who you want to live with two months into the school year and keeping up with deadlines isn’t enough, the model lease site combines a million things you probably didn’t think of when signing for an apartment and puts them all in one easy to use place.

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Lexi Shimkonis

Lexi is an editor-turned-staff writer who can often be found at either Irving's or the Phyrst (with the chances she'll have her backpack being the same). Lexi is a senior hailing from Spring City, PA (kind of) and studying Civil Engineering. Please email questions and/or pleas for an Instagram caption to [email protected], or for a more intimate bond, follow her on Twitter @lexshimko.

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