What to know about rental contracts (revised)

Gianna Camorani

What to know about rental contracts

Renting a house or apartment for the first time is an important milestone in some people’s lives, and no longer living under the supervision of parents or CA’s can be both exciting and overwhelming for students.

“Approximately 20 to 25 percent of the issues we see students about, deal with some aspect of housing,” said Michael Levine, co-director and attorney at ISU’s Student Legal Services (SLS). “A lease is a legally binding document, so if you haven’t read it and don’t know what’s in it, you just bound yourself to terms and conditions that you aren’t familiar with and don’t know what your obligations are. Obviously, that’s not a good position to be in.”

Here are important elements of your contract to take note of.

Security Deposit

According to Section 562A.12 of the Iowa Code, a security deposit can be no more than two months’ rent. The deposit is returned to the tenant in full when the lease expires unless there has been damage done to the property. If damage has taken place, the cost of it is deducted from the initial deposit.

“When it gets to the point at the end of the year where we’re going through and they move out and we do a walkthrough at the end, we take steps to make sure we’re only charging people for what we need to do to get the property ready for the next person,” said Andy Hunziker, manager of Hunziker property management.


“The number one thing my landlord emphasizes is getting rent in on time,” said Melissa Bryant, senior in linguistics and a renter for a year and a half.

Hunziker said that the rent section of your lease typically includes the date your lease begins and expires, the amount due each month, when rent is due, and acceptable payment methods.


Common utilities renters must take into account include electricity, gas, water, cable, internet and sanitation services. There may be additional utilities depending on the property manager. Hunziker said that it’s important to know which ones the landlord is responsible for and which ones the tenant is responsible for.


Matt Fuqua, senior in mechanical engineering and renter for two years, says that his current property manager is “pretty lazy about getting stuff done and they put things off for a while, which has been pretty frustrating when we’ve really need something to be fixed.”

Fuqua recommends asking about how maintenance works beforehand, and to make sure that the property manager seems trustworthy enough to do an effective job in a timely manner.

Hunziker said some property managers’ maintenance lines are open 24/7 while others have their own business hours. He also said that property managers and maintenance workers will usually give advanced notice of when they’re coming in unless it’s an emergency.


Every rental contract has a section covering various rules set in place by the property manager. Hunziker and Levine said that some common things included in that section are noise regulations, rules about parties, parking, pet policies, alcohol policies, smoking policies, alterations you can and cannot make, how to go about subleasing and whether or not you’ll need renters insurance.

If there’s a rule that a tenant doesn’t understand, Levine recommends either clarifying with SLS or the property manager.


Hunziker says that there are a number of potential consequences to violating a lease.

“For the most part, if something’s going on, whatever it is, we try to work it out with the tenant before we get to the eviction process,” Hunziker said.

He said that before eviction, tenants may receive verbal warnings, noise complaints and fines.

Levine says that quite often, student renters are uninterested in what their lease says until something bad happens. He said that because of this, two of his top “renter’s rules” are to read the whole lease and to seek legal advice before signing.