lesson to learn: Read that contract before you sign
By Holly Adams
October 23, 2006 | This summer my husband attended
an Army school for 10 weeks at Camp Williams. We went
hunting for apartments a month before we needed to move
in, and found a nice apartment complex in Draper. It
was one of the cheaper ones at $688 a month.
Of course, that doesn't include the $100 a month fee
for a short-term contract -- we would only be staying
there for three months. So every month we were paying
$788 for a one bedroom apartment with windows that didn't
open, cigarette smoke seeping in from next door, and
a maintenance man with a golden elephant head glued
to the front of his golf cart.
Three months went by and we were glad to move back
to Logan. My parents came up with their trailer to pack
up our stuff. This was the first time we realized we
were dealing with idiots.
We pulled away from the apartment complex and were
headed down the road when we got a phone call.
"Hi Shane. You hit a carport with your trailer. You'll
need to come back and file a police report," the lady
on the phone said. It was the secretary at the apartment
Completely oblivious to what she was talking about,
we told her we hadn't hit anything and basically, that
she was full of it. She said she would call back when
she knew more about the situation.
A few minutes later she calls back to tell us that
it was a mistake and the carport had been hit on the
other side of the complex -- too far away from our apartment
to be us.
"Oh, and you didn't give us 60 days notice that you
were moving out," she said.
We didn't think much of her last comment then. Who
cares, they weren't going to charge us for their stupid
carport that we didn't hit and we were finally moving
out. No more smoke and no more golden elephant head.
A few weeks later we get a closing statement in the
mail. It said,"Rent due through 60-day notice. Balance
due from resident: $1,620.74.
When we signed the three-month lease to live in the
apartment we told them the exact day we would be leaving
-- August 30. We gave them 90 days notice, but that
wasn't good enough. They needed us to write it on a
Post-it note so they could remember. So my husband called
them and talked to them. Then I called them and yelled
at them. But it was no use. They had a contract with
our signature at the bottom that said we would give
them 60 days notice.
To some, $1,620.74 is a drop in the bucket, but we
are college students.
So we set the bill aside and forgot about it for a
while. If you let anything simmer for a while, it usually
won't feel quite so bad. Then, it came to the point
that we had to face it. My husband called the office
and to our surprise they were now charging us $333.67.
Someone had moved into our apartment 13 days after we
moved out and would be paying rent -- therefore, we
did not have to.
We should all be happy right? Well, I'm hard headed,
as my dad would say. Why didn't they send us a second
bill and why were we not informed of this as soon as
the apartment was rented? Probably because nothing in
that contract we signed said they couldn't keep our
check for the full 60 days rent, even if someone else
was paying that rent as well. That was just a nice gesture.
The lady on the phone told me we should have read
our contract better and that it wasn't their fault.
She's exactly right. Never sign your name to anything
-- especially something involving your money -- without
reading it. We learned this the hard way. It all worked
out for us, but you may not have the same luck.
Here are a few tips to help you navigate a contract.
-- Many people, like me, think they've been ripped
off. But their contracts show that the company hasn't
done anything wrong because you signed on the dotted
line without reading the contract. (Read the contract.)
-- You should not only read the contract, you should
read it until you understand it. If you can't figure
out what it's saying, get a friend to help.
-- If you are having a really hard time understanding
it, make a copy and underline only the important parts
-- like "you must give 60 days notice before moving
out" -- it should make it a little more clear and you
won't pass over those things that are going to hurt
you in the future.
-- Don't sign any contract that contains blanks. Cross
them out, and then sign.
-- Contracts normally cannot be canceled. The seller
-- or lessor in this case -- can legally refuse to let
you out of the contract. Your signature on a contract
says you have read and understood it, even if you haven't.
-- And finally, never, ever leave without a signed
copy of your contract.
When it comes to your money you need to be a little
more careful than most people are. We didn't think twice
when we signed in 25 different places on their seven-page
contract. It was just one of those hoops you have to
jump through. It's definitely a lesson learned the hard