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The Daily Tar Heel

SLS on leases, students’ rights

Fix off-campus issues promptly

A leaky faucet has been neglected for months. A security deposit was paid but never returned. A sub-leasing agreement fell apart and requires litigation.

All of these and more are problems that Student Legal Services deals with on a regular basis.
Dorothy Bernholz, Legal Services attorney, said that property repairs, security deposits and zoning laws are the most frequently addressed issues.

“The zoning laws in Chapel Hill do not permit more than four unrelated individuals to be in a house, even though the landlords are letting seven people move in,” said Bernholz.

“The town of Chapel Hill is enforcing that ordinance and just last week there was an order in which some students had to move out.”

This zoning law was created because families and adults who live in close proximity to UNC students recently began complaining about trash in yards, noise violations and unsightly parking, Bernholz said.

When dealing with repairs, Bernholz emphasized the importance of submitting a written request.

“You need to give written notice to the landlord about the need for repairs so you can prove later that you told them that the water was leaking or that you didn’t have heat,” she said.

Security deposits —precautionary fees paid to the landlord at the beginning of a lease — can also prove problematic.

“This is your money, and the landlord has to give it back to you at the end of the lease, absent normal wear and tear,” Bernholz said.

Debates often arise when tenants and landlords disagree over the definition of normal wear and tear, she said. In these cases, Legal Services can represent students in court.

To avoid the issue altogether, Bernholz advised all students to perform a move-in inspection and have it initialed by the landlord. That way, there will be no ambiguity regarding damages that existed before move-in.

Another common housing issue is sub-leasing agreements. Many students who go abroad find other students to sub-lease their rooms in their absence.

“What happens is — even though you’ve gone to Madrid — you are still obligated under the lease, so you are still responsible for the person you are putting in there. So if they default on the rent, you still owe it to the landlord,” Bernholz warned.

Junior Emily Hopper experienced the consequences that can result from failing to sign a sub-lease agreement.

When she decided to stay abroad for an extra semester — and then changed her mind and returned to UNC — she was left responsible for two different rooms after a verbal sub-lease agreement between herself and a friend fell through.

Hopper’s parents ended up having to pay for one-third of the lease for a room she was not even living in.

“Make sure you sign sub-leases because people will not always follow through just on verbal agreements or moral obligations,” Hopper said.

Bernholz urged students to come to Legal Services — which is free for all full-time UNC students who are up-to-date on their tuition payments — if they have any other questions about their leases.

Legal Services can only assist students who live in off-campus housing, so students with on-campus housing issues should talk to an RA or direct their problems to the housing department.

These students should keep in mind that UNC has a responsibility to provide safe and decent housing, just as any landlord would.

“The state law has ruled that the University is a landlord just like anyone else and is bound by the same standards,” Bernholz said.

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The Daily Tar Heel Victory Paper for November 20, 2023