I once actually signed a lease that included the rule “no popcorn after 9:30.” It’s true. I’m not proud of the fact I did it, but I did. I should have known better. That seems obvious now, but at the time, not so much. That lease for a college apartment caused me all kinds of trouble and eventually I ended up in small claims court with my landlord. In my defense, I was young and inexperienced in reading leases. It was August and the college semester was only a few weeks away. I was anxious to find a place to live and in my panic I didn’t think clearly.

How can you make good decisions regarding apartments and college housing? Here are a few suggestions:

1. Don’t panic. Mistakes are often made when you are in a hurry. You will find a place to live!
2. A lease is a legal document. Because it is created by the landlord, it is likely to favor the landlord. Don’t sign it until you are sure you want to live in that particular apartment and you are sure you understand what you are signing.
3. Landlord/Tenant laws vary from state to state. Check out the rules where you live. For Ohio, the Ohio Bar Association has a good summary of the Ohio law.
4. If you don’t understand everything in the lease, have someone else look it over for you. Don’t sign it until you are sure you understand it.
5. If the deal seems too good to be true, it probably is!
6. If you are at college, check with the student housing office. They often can give you information about reputable landlords. They also might know if students have had trouble with a particular landlord in the past.
7. If you possibly can, check out a neighborhood at different times of the day. What appears to be a quiet, safe location on a Thursday afternoon might look a whole lot different at 11 p.m. on a Friday night.

As for my lease mistake, the rule about popcorn was just the beginning. It should have warned me about a landlord that was very picky and liked to interfere in the lives of her tenants. (The apartment was a second floor apartment with the landlord living on the first floor. She said the smell of popcorn would travel through the house and make her hungry.) Of course, the lease said nothing about how early in the morning I could pop my popcorn. That was probably added for the poor students who rented the place the year after I left!