Since a reported 67% of UM students live off campus, according to U.S. News and World report, the ASUM Renter Center is working to combat tenant-landlord conflicts among students.
Ema Marie and Sarah Carbis, roommates at the Lewis and Clark Village apartments, said they were having trouble with their apartment manager’s lack of communication. Just before winter break, their apartment required maintenance due to water damage. When maintenance workers came to fix the damage, Marie and Carbis said the workers would come in with only a knock on the door and without previous warning. The maintenance continued into second semester, and the lack of communication made the two roommates feel uncomfortable.
“They would knock first on the door, and if you didn’t answer right away, they would just use a master key and come in,” Marie said. “Several times, we would be in the shower when they came in or would come back home while they were there.”
Both agreed that better communication, such as an email or phone call before workers were sent, would have helped the situation.
“I think that it would've been nice if there was more communication about when there will be essential strangers in our apartment, simply for safety,” Carbis said.
The UM Housing Department, which oversees the Lewis and Clark Village apartments, said that its procedure for emergency repairs are addressed directly and is the only situation in which they enter an apartment without previous notification.
When it is not an emergency, the Associate Director of Facilities and Maintenance Brad Hall said that prior communication, either through email or phone, notifies the tenant of a time range to expect workers. However, workers do not come in before 9 a.m. or after 5 p.m. and do repairs only on weekdays, according to Hall. More information on this can be found online or in the UM Housing student handbook.
Dylan Bohbot, a UM student living off-campus, said he experienced several conflicts with his former landlord. He said his landlord gave him a seven day notice to leave his housing premises the week before Thanksgiving. However, Montana law requires landlords to give a tenant at least a 30 day eviction notice.
Bohbot also said his landlord was not professional and would not listen to Bohbot’s complaints about the state of the house or his roommates questionable activities. When asked for comment, Bohbot’s landlord declined to respond.
Bohbot went to the ASUM Renter Center for help with his situation. There, he talked to Jordan Lyons, the ASUM Renter Center Director, who helped him with his tenant problems.
The ASUM Renter Center provides students and community members with advice and support when confronting landlords. The Renter Center helps 30 to 50 people a month and is comprised of approximately 10 people, according to staff member Michael Brown. Lyons is the main advisor and provides advice, depending on the situation, about how to deal with landlords and improve communication. He will also connect students with legal affairs if needed.
“Anyone who is experiencing a tenant-landlord issue can come talk to me and a lot of time I can help them resolve it. Or I refer them to legal services where they can get help for really low cost…. And that is a great thing to do sooner rather than later,” Lyons said.
The Renter Center is a branch of ASUM and provides multiple resources to students, including the Neighborhood Ambassador Program that has students ambassadors “serve as liaisons between student renters and homeowners” throughout neighborhoods surrounding campus, according to the ASUM Renter Center’s website. They also have online resources that allow a student to find housing and rate their landlord.
Prevention of future problems is also very important for tenants to be aware of before signing a lease, according to Lyons. Many problems arise from lack of documentation of the initial state of the living space and miscommunication about what is expected of the renter and the landlord.
The ASUM Renter Center has a blog that includes several articles about how to deal with landlords and understanding tenant rights. Lyons said documenting damages is a good thing to do when first moving into a new place.
“It’s really easy when you go to a new place, and it's got a little fresh paint on it. Everything looks perfect,” Lyons said. “But, it’s really important to take a look through and really see all the little scratches, dents and dings and take a picture of them and report that back to the landlord.”
Lyons and Bohbot also emphasized that tenants should know their rights. Looking at the contract and knowing what it should include is important. The contract should include areas such as how the landlord will address maintenance problems, unauthorized pets or guests and the conditions in which the property should be left after the tenant has moved out, according to the Montana Residential Landlord and Tenant Act.
The ASUM Renter Center is located in the ASUM Office on the first floor of the University Commons (UC). It is open 9 a.m.- 4 p.m. Monday through Friday.