April 3, 2004
Charles Insler, <i>Hullabaloo</i> staff writer
With a large percentage of Tulane students living off campus each year, the Tulane University Legal Assistance Program helps address landlord problems that have historically risen. Most tenants who come in to the clinic are seeking to recover their security deposit. By law, property owners are obligated to inform a tenant of their reasons for withholding a deposit.
"A lot of the landlords ' are keeping the deposits for no reason," Jennifer Ferrara, a first year law student and clerk with the Tulane University Legal Assistance Program, said. Some tenants face worse situations.
In several instances, first-year transplants to the city have unwittingly found themselves in run-down properties in run-down neighborhoods. But given the law, the tenant is usually left with the terms of the lease and will be liable for any breach of those terms.
"By the time [the tenant] comes to us with their lease," Gregg Nicholls, the civil attorney for TULAP, said, "it's usually too late."
The TULAP clerks spend most of their efforts writing letters to the landlords on behalf of their clients. In some cases, the property owners are receptive to the letters. In other cases, the landlords ignore the letters, and the tenant must decide whether to pursue the suit in small claims court. Sometimes these landlord-tenant problems are easily avoidable.
Before signing a lease, a tenant can change or even cross out unfavorable terms. However, any changes must be in writing, within the lease and initialed by the landlord before they have legal effect. In addition, TULAP compiles a list of those landlords who continually pose problems. That way, students can discover if they should be avoiding a certain company or property owner before even getting started.
"We seem to deal with the same couple of landlords on a regular basis," LaCorte said. The earlier students start their housing search, the easier it is to avoid potential problems. "The more time you have, the more bargaining power you have," Nicholls said. "You never want to feel pressured. You always want to be able to walk away."
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