The battle of off-campus housing
Returning to my off-campus house after Christmas break was something that I was greatly looking forward to this year because I knew that the pile of bills that would be waiting for my roommate and I would be minimal, since we hadn’t been at school for five weeks.
Imagine my surprise when I opened up the bill from the electric company and come to find out that it is almost $100 more than it normally is! We had been paying no more than $35.00 since August when we moved in and the last billing cycle had us owing $131.06. I immediately called United Illuminating to see if there had been a mistake when our meter was read that month. They said no, there was no mistake, and that there had been electric activity in our apartment over the month of January. They suggested that I call our landlord to see if they had any explanations for us.
To make a long winded and very back and forth story short, our landlord had been doing work in the basement of our three apartment home for a few days toward the end of January before we returned from Christmas break. The work included the use of several of the lights in the basement, power tools and a space heater which had been left on for almost two weeks, unnoticed.
Still, the situation did not add up, because according to the Connecticut State Law, in any home with two or more apartments, landlords are legally responsible for any common area lights and should have them on a separate meter. “Common area” lights are considered to be anything in the basement, hallways and outside porches. Unfortunately for us, after a little investigation through the electric company and many lies told by our landlord, including the fact that there was definitely a fourth meter, they just weren’t sure where it was located.
The electric company came and investigated the situation and found that the basement electric, as well as other hallway lights, were being split between the first and second floors, seemingly with the intention to spread it out evenly so that no one would catch on to the scheme. They had a washing machine and three lights on our circuit, and the dryer and three more lights on the second floor’s circuit. The space heater that was left on had been plugged into the first floor’s circuit and it was indeed the reason that our bill was so elevated that month, in addition to being a very dangerous fire hazard.
The electric company proceeded to serve our landlord with papers stating that according to Connecticut State Law, what they were doing was illegal, and they had 21 days to get an electrician to the house and rewire the situation. Of course, they waited until the 21st day to rewire it and our house was without electricity from 7:30 a.m. until 5:30 p.m. that day.
Mixed wiring in off campus houses is not the only problem that seniors should be aware of when moving off campus. It seems that some landlords think that we are unintelligent college students who don’t know any better and won’t question if things seem a little off. As a tenant, it is your right to know what you are and aren’t responsible for in a landlord/tenant relationship.
There are other common problems that can be avoided. When signing the lease, clarify any and all questions with your landlord, even if they seem minor or insignificant, because once you sign the lease and move in, you are cemented to the terms of the lease, no matter what they are.
Before you move in, take note of any damages done to the house or apartment prior to your arrival and make a list of even the smallest scratches or dents or missing screens and have your landlord sign it so when it comes time to move out, you aren’t stuck being blamed for things that you didn’t do. You want to make sure you get back every cent of that security deposit!
For more about landlord/tenant laws and rights in the state of Connecticut, check out the Connecticut Judicial Branch Law Library Web site at http://www.jud.state.ct.us/LawLib/Law/landlord.htm and be wary of scheming landlords trying to take advantage of you during your senior year.