Off Campus Leasing Tips

“Open Leasing” may sound (and feel) a little like the running of the bulls in Champaign-Urbana! Here are some insider tips to help find your perfect apartment home.

Sample Lease

First things first, we’ll start with the legalese involved in renting an apartment. In its most basic form, a lease is “a contract by which one party conveys land, property, services, etc to another for a specified time, usually in return for a periodic payment.” Thus, signing a lease is signing a legal contract which typically details the parties involved, a start and end date, total and/or monthly rent amount, and other rules and regulations of the agreement. The tenant, or individual renting the apartment, is called the Lessee; the landlord, or property manager, is referred to as the Lessor.  This is important when reviewing the lease to make sure you understand who is responsible for what (ex: utilities).

Pro Tip: Ask to review a sample lease (often published on the company’s website) before signing your lease for a specific apartment. If you have questions, ask before signing! It is much better to clarify before entering a binding document than have a misunderstanding months into your stay.

Ask for Leasing Options

More legal jargon… sublease, re-rent, lease transfer. Basically, what’s my get out of jail card here? I’m leaving town, got a new job, whatever the situation is and will no longer be living in the apartment I rented. Many companies offer subleasing for their tenants. As the original tenant, you are still legally (and most importantly, financially) responsible for the apartment. In many cases, you are also responsible for finding a replacement tenant, or sublessee. Most companies will require that your sublessee is approved by their qualifications (background check, for example) but the agreement then lies between you and the new occupant. Companies typically require that the replacement tenant be approved through the standard application process, or some portion thereof.

Pro Tip: Check your lease or ask the Leasing Agent for more information on options available to you if you need or want to move out of your apartment before the lease term is up. Be sure to clarify YOUR responsibility or what assistance, if any, the company provides in securing a new tenant.

Watch Utility Cap

Utilities are another important consideration when leasing an apartment. The obvious, most basic ones are electric and water. Some older buildings may have gas heat, which could be another monthly expense to check on. Cable and internet may also be offered through the building itself or through a partnership with a local provider. In some cases, you may still need to pick up your own equipment or pay for additional upgrades beyond basic cable, for example.

Pro Tip: Be mindful of a “utility cap.” This is the amount OVER which charges will be billed back to you. For example, if you have a $90 utility cap, but your February bills come in at $125 because there was a blizzard, you will be responsible for paying the $35 difference.

Check Your Lease Fee Terms

Late fees… leasing detention, a necessary evil. Most companies offer online scheduled payments monthly. This is a great way to avoid late fees! Schedule your payment for the 1st or 2nd of the month and you don’t even have to think about it each month. Some late fees are structured as a percentage of the outstanding balance, some are a flat fee, and others are a daily compounding fee.

Pro Tip: Check your lease clause on late fees to understand what you’ll be charged if your payment is late. Also look for the grace period or how late in the month you can pay before late fees are charged, then set up your auto pay accordingly.

Renter’s Policy Tip to Save You Money

Last but not least, insurance. You don’t need it til you need it. Most leases specify the amount of insurance required for minimum coverage. Some companies impose their own form of renter’s insurance to cover THEIR property if you don’t provide your own coverage. Renter’s insurance covers YOUR items in the unit in the event of theft, water damage, or other issues.

Pro Tip: Contact your car insurance agent to see about adding a renter’s policy at a reduced bundled rate. Make sure you consult your lease for coverage requirements and in most cases, provide a copy of your policy to your landlord.


Planning to lease an apartment in Champaign–Urbana this fall and have a question about an area not covered in this article?
Check out our FAQs or feel free to contact a Leasing Agent.

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