It’s that time of year again. As a college town of 95,000, Lawrence hosts a large number of renters, including many whose leases run from August to July.
U.S. Census Bureau figures show 45% of housing units in Lawrence from 2016 to 2020 were occupied by their owners, potentially leaving more than half the city’s housing units as rentals.
Gabi Sprague, human services program manager for Douglas County, said security deposits remain a hot topic among tenants. Renters who want a return of their security deposit after leaving should keep detailed records from the beginning of their lease and follow through with the move-in inspection.
“It’s important to get the initial inspection performed in order to hold your landlord accountable.”
Tenants also should ask for a signed copy of their lease and refer to it anytime they face a dispute with their landlord.
The tenant advocacy group Renters Together LFK has compiled a number of resources on its website, including ordinances specific to the city of Lawrence. It also provides information about fair housing.
Examples of housing discrimination cited by Renters Together include refusing to rent to or requiring a higher deposit for a family with children, and telling a potential renter a unit is not available when it is. “There is a one-year filing period for housing discrimination complaints, so it is important to file when the discrimination occurs.”
Using several resources, we’ve compiled a list of questions and answers to help address some of the common issues renters encounter near the beginning or end of a lease.
This list is intended to inform and is not a substitute for legal advice. Kansas Legal Services provides legal aid for the most vulnerable Kansans. Reach the organization by phone at 800-723-6953 or apply for legal assistance online here.
Finding a place and moving in
Q. I found a place I want to rent, but the landlord requires a nonrefundable application fee. Is that legal?
Yes, according to Kansas Housing and Credit Counseling, Inc.’s tenants handbook. “Many landlords charge a nonrefundable application fee when the application is turned in. You will not get this money back whether you move in or not.”
Q. Who should I contact if I experience housing discrimination?
Lawrence has an anti-discrimination ordinance. If a landlord has discriminated against you because of race, sex, religion, color, national origin, age, ancestry, sexual orientation, disability, gender identity or familial status in housing within the city of Lawrence, you can complete the online Housing Discrimination Intake Form or contact the Lawrence Human Relations Commission and Human Relations Division by phone at 785-832-3310.
For housing discrimination occurring anywhere within the state of Kansas, you can file a complaint online with the Kansas Human Rights Commission or by phone at 785-296-3206.
Violations of the Fair Housing Act in the United States can be reported to the Department of Housing and Urban Development at 800-669-9777 or online.
You do not need to live in public housing or receive housing assistance to file a complaint, and you can express your grievances at each of the three levels of government — local, state and federal.
Q. Do I need renters insurance?
Landlords pay for building insurance. They are not responsible for protecting a renter’s property. Renters insurance covers a tenant’s household contents and personal belongings. Although it is not mandatory for renters to purchase insurance in Kansas, landlords can require it as part of lease agreements.
Q. How much does renters insurance cost?
Rates vary according to the amount of coverage, the area where the dwelling is located, and the type of structure rented. Compare prices with several potential insurers and ask whether items in locked storage (on- and off-site) are covered, whether they will pay replacement value for items stolen or destroyed by fire, and how much deductible would be charged in case of a claim. Check with the Kansas Insurance Commissioner for more information about comparable insurance rates and insurers operating in Kansas.
Q. Do I need to do an inspection when I sign my lease?
Kansas statute requires a tenant and landlord to jointly inventory the rental premises within five days of moving in. To help document the process, Sprague recommends using this online inventory checklist, which can be printed and signed.
In this video, Kansas Legal Services advises potential renters to complete the inspection themselves even if their landlord won’t comply.
Q. What should I do if the initial inspection finds broken or missing items?
Document them. It may be helpful to take your own photos and/or video during the inspection, and to take a photo of your completed inspection form before you turn it in.
If the landlord promises to fix any of the problems uncovered during the inspection, get that in writing, advises Kansas Legal Services, and keep a copy of your inspection checklist with your lease.
If you are concerned that your rental unit in Lawrence may have safety issues that are in violation of city codes, you can request an inspection from city staff. Your landlord has a right to be present while the city performs the inspection.
Q. How much can landlords charge for a security deposit?
It depends on the type of place you rent. Kansas law says a security deposit can’t surpass the monthly rent amount for unfurnished dwellings and up to 1 1/2 times rent for furnished.
If pets are allowed, your landlord can ask for an additional amount up to one-half of a month’s rent.
Q. Can my landlord charge a security deposit for my service animal?
Federal law prohibits landlords from requiring an additional deposit for certified service or assistance animals; however, you remain responsible for any damage caused by your animal, even though your landlord can’t charge an additional security deposit.
Q. For what reasons can my landlord keep the security deposit?
Kansas law allows a landlord to keep all or a portion of a security deposit for three reasons: Physical damage caused by tenants, guests and pets; past-due rent; and other expenses the landlord incurred because of a tenant’s noncompliance with their rental agreement or the law.
For example, if a tenant renting month to month fails to give a proper 30-day notice and the landlord is unable to move another tenant in immediately, the renter could be responsible for all or part of the next month’s rent.
Q. How do I get my security deposit back?
According to this video by Kansas Legal Services, you must move out entirely, notify your landlord you have left, return the keys and make a written demand for the deposit’s return.
Q. When should I expect the return of my security deposit?
Your landlord has no more than 30 days from the date of your written request to return all or a portion of the security deposit you’re owed with an accounting of all expenses, damages and other charges. Kansas Legal Services recommends using this form to make your request.
Q. What if my landlord doesn’t return my security deposit?
If you followed the necessary steps, you might be able to sue your landlord.
Q. What if my roommates leave before our lease expires?
Although multiple tenants might be listed on the lease, if the co-tenants leave, you’ll still be responsible for the whole rent amount.
Q. I’ve decided to move out at the end of my lease. What should I do?
Notify your landlord in writing, demand return of any remaining security deposit, and provide your new address, according to Kansas Legal Services. Additional procedures for moving out should be detailed in your lease agreement.
“Leases can require less than the normal 30-day notice; they can also require more, some require 60, 90, and even 120 days or longer for written notice from either party or the lease automatically renews for another full term,” according to The Kansas Tenant Handbook.
If you’re already renting on a month-to-month basis, you must give at least a 30-day notice. Members of the military can terminate their lease agreement as long as certain conditions are met.
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Tricia Masenthin (she/her), equity reporter, can be reached at tmasenthin (at) lawrencekstimes (dot) com. Read more of her work for the Times here. Check out her staff bio here.