Before you move: Tips for tenants

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SPRINGFIELD, Mo. (KSPR) - It’s already back-to-school season, and that means you may be moving your college student into their first rental house or apartment. But if you’re not careful, you could end up signing a lease that leaves you miserable for twelve months with no way to escape.

Oftentimes, the first step in house hunting for most people is an online search. Online photos can be helpful, but before you sign anything, experts say you’re going to want to take a good look at the unit you want to rent, and the company you’re about to sign a lease with.

“It was kind of upsetting, because we had actually gotten into a big enough house,” said Jean Jellison.

She and her husband, Dennis, say they signed a lease with 417 Rentals and moved into a house in west Springfield because it was all they could afford.

“The third month when we paid the rent, we got served an eviction notice right after we paid the rent,” said Jean.

She says that’s when they got a lawyer and took it to court.

“Then he tried to say that we owed $800 back rent, which we didn’t owe… We had all of our rent receipts to prove,” said Jean.

We also talked to a lawyer, who says issues like that are all too common. .

“You almost have to practice defensive renting,” said Attorney Doug Fredrick.

He specializes in landlord-tenant law. He says it’s important to read the entire lease, and ask questions if you don’t understand something.

“Keep a copy of your lease agreement,” he said, “Make sure both parties sign the lease agreement. Keep track of your rent payments. Don’t pay in cash. If you do pay in cash, get a receipt. So these are all things you can do to protect yourself.”

He says you’ll need to inspect the unit carefully before you move in. Take pictures, and write down any problems.

“Maybe the air conditioning stops working, or maybe there’s a leak in one of the windows and there’s some water coming in. Let the your landlord know as soon as possible. Because if you don’t, the landlord may try to come back on you and blame you for that damage,” said Fredrick.

The Jellisons say their careful record-keeping helped them get out of their lease.

“We didn’t have to pay any money, but we didn’t get refunded anything,” said Jean.

They say they’re happy in their current rental.

“Our landlord is nice,” Dennis said.

“And it’s helping us get our credit built back up again,” added Jean.

Now, they say they’re saving up to buy a house.

The couple’s advice is to research the company before you sign a lease. Sites like the Better Business Bureau and Google reviews can help.

We reached out to 417 Rentals to hear their side of the story, we left them a voicemail, but we could not get a hold of anyone.