Before signing any lease, Housing and Neighborhood Development Director Lisa Abbott recommends all students check out the rental property’s file.
Every rental property in Bloomington has a file with cycle and complaint reports that is open to the public.
The files will also include records of communications made between HAND, the landlord and the tenant.
“You can tell a lot about how well the property is maintained by looking at the file,” Abbott said. “With that said, a complaint doesn’t make it a bad place because everyone is going to have one, but if you have a lot or the reports are thick, that’s a red flag.”
To view records, students can go to the HAND department in City Hall and sign a public records form to obtain access.
Abbott also highly recommends students use IU Student Legal Services, which is paid for by all students’ student activity fee.
According to the IU Student Legal Services website, students can find advice and representation with IU Legal Services on security deposit refunds and disputes, habitability issues, evictions, subleases and lease analysis.
IU Student Legal Services will look over any lease and explain the provisions to students before they sign.
In addition to this, IU Student Legal Services gives 10 tips on their website about leasing.
They advise students to not rent apartments that do not yet exist because seeing the exact unit for rent is not an option.
They also recommend researching the apartment with HAND and asking about parking arrangements beforehand.
The website also tells students to pick roommates with care because most Bloomington leases are “jointly and severally liable,” meaning if one tenant doesn’t pay on time, the others are just as responsible.
“You have access to the best landlord attorneys in the state of Indiana,” Abbott said. “Make use of them.”
During the inspections HAND executes, the most common problem they find is lack of power to smoke detectors, Abbott said. Typically, this is because of tenants removing the batteries themselves.
Additionally, if tenants file a complaint with their landlord and then the landlord is unresponsive, tenants are allowed to file a complaint with HAND.
After doing this, HAND will send an inspector to investigate the complaint.
If the complaint is found to be valid, HAND will write a report and give the landlord time to make the repair. Time allowed to make repairs is based on the extent of the repair, Abbott said.
Also, HAND helps students orient to living off-campus by informing them of neighborhood rules and when trash and recycling days are.
Overall, HAND recommends using Student Legal Services.
“I cannot stress how great Student Legal Services is,” Abbott said. “They should absolutely take advantage of that and have leases reviewed before they sign. Not every school has that.”