A little steep?

Twenty-eight, twenty-seven, twenty-six... I'm counting the days till graduation. Not because I'll be walking down the Lawn, mind you, but because that's when the students exit and Charlottesville gets a lot more livable.
    But the annual exodus can be a headache if you're a student hoping to sublet your apartment over the summer. Lytle Wurtzel, a Cavalier Daily columnist, recently wrote about how frustrating the process can be; unfortunately, her entertaining account ran under another columnist's byline. Ouch!
    Wurtzel, who rents from Woodard Properties, was chagrined to learn that even if she and her roommate found their own subtenants, Woodard would charge them $100 each to cover such administrative chores as processing the new tenants' applications, updating computer and paper files, and transferring parking decals. Wurtzel says a Woodard employee conceded that the fee was a "little steep."
    Wurtzel jabbed back in her column: "A little steep? Observatory Hill is a little steep. This was a 90-degree angle."
Wurtzel objected, and the Woodard employee said she'd bring it up at their next staff meeting and Wurtzel left, assuming nothing would change.
    She was wrong. The staff voted to halve the fee, to $50 per person. When I talked with property manager Joy Waring, she explained that the $50 fee applies no matter who finds the subtenants, the current residents or Woodard. However, if neither party is successful in filling the apartment, the fee is waived (but the lease, alas, continues in force).
    I called three of the other property-management companies that rent largely to students, and found a pretty wide spectrum of policies. Of the four— Woodard, Wade Apartments, CBS Rentals, and U Heights— Wade is the most expensive. They charge a $100-per-person fee if the tenant finds the subtenant; they charge a full month's rent if the tenant asks Wade to do the work (but, again, if either side is unsuccessful, the fee goes away).
    U Heights is next down on the price ladder; they simply charge a $25 application fee and require that the applicant meet U Heights' residents’ qualifications. CBS Rentals charges nothing, only asking that tenants notify them of the changeover.
    The moral, obviously, is to pin down the company's subletting policy before you sign a lease, and factor that in along with more obvious features, such as location and price. Or as Wetzel puts it: "While you may not have missed the part about 'free parking' and 'DSL included,' it's possible the sublet terms and fees remained hidden in the dense legal-ease of the rental contract."
    This subject, the lessor-lessee relationship, is one that's long been close to my heart: Last August, after 27 years as a renter, I turned into a homeowner— and a landlady to boot. That's because I bought the over-under duplex where I'd been the "under" tenant for seven years. It's been illuminating; I now understand why landlords foam at the mouth when tenants think they can use the security deposit as their last month's rent.
    But I also know that my tenants are my customers, and I want them to enjoy their time as much as possible. So far, so good; I can only hope that next year's tenants are as terrific as the current ones.
    How would it be, I wondered, to manage hundreds of apartments instead of just one? I asked Melinda Sites, property manager at Wade Apartments, what kinds of headaches they have when tenants move out, and she answered that the biggest is when tenants leave behind items they don't want: trash, clothing, furniture, you name it.
    Legally, the landlord has to store such items for 10 days; they also have to notify the former tenant that their property will be destroyed if not claimed. And, of course, labor and storage costs come out of the security deposit.
    If you're thinking of leaving stuff behind, save yourself money and your landlord a lot of exasperation and call the city or county for a large trash pick-up. There are a few strings attached, such as fitting yourself into their schedule instead of the reverse, but it's a small price to pay— and the right thing to do.

Do you have a consumer problem or question? Email the Fearless Consumer or write her at 100 Second Street NW, 22902.