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THE SAFETY ZONE

Help for College's Life Tests

September 11, 2000

Here are some tips compiled by the California Department of Consumer Affairs for students about to start college. Teens get their first true taste of independence when they leave home and go to school, but they can also become victims of crooks and others who try to take advantage of them.

Renting Apartments

Students should remember that tenants have basic legal rights no matter what the rental agreement or lease states. These include limits on the amount of the security deposit the landlord can require you to pay and on the landlord's rights to enter; the right to a refund of your security deposit or a written accounting of how it was used at the end of the tenancy; the right to sue the landlord to enforce your rights as a tenant if the dispute cannot be resolved informally; the right to repair serious defects in the unit, to deduct certain repair costs from the rent, and to withhold rent under appropriate circumstances; various rights under the warranty of habitability; and protection against retaliatory eviction.

Purchasing Futons

Futons are excellent dual purpose seating and bedding favored by students. Remember that futons are not fireproof, but by law must be smolder-resistant. Futon mattresses carry a flammability label to show that state standards have been met, so be sure the futon you buy has one. Make sure the futon retailer has a valid license issued by the department's Bureau of Home Furnishings & Thermal Insulation. And if you have a concern about the product you purchased and can't resolve it with the store, consider filing a complaint with the bureau.

Managing Credit

Students on their own often struggle with managing their finances. Often students have access to a credit card for the first time. Developing a budget and controlling spending are key to creating and maintaining healthy credit. If students find themselves in debt and unable to pay bills, there are two basic steps to take: Set up a payment plan, and/or seek the advice of a credit counselor.

Dorm Crime

Students living in dorms and other large, shared living areas must be careful to guard their personal and credit information. This means avoiding carrying more than one or two credit cards, and keeping Social Security cards, birth certificates and other personal documents in a safe place. Don't release your Social Security number unless it is truly necessary. Don't leave bill payment envelopes at your mailbox for the postal carrier to pick up. Tear up or shred unused pre-approved credit card solicitations. Some dorms use common mailboxes, where your mail is accessible by many people.

Fixing a Computer

Students whose computers need repair should ensure that their appliance repair company is registered with the Bureau of Electronic and Appliance Repair. The law requires that service dealers inform the consumer in writing when a diagnosis fee will be charged and the amount of the charge; provide a written estimate of the total repair cost; furnish an itemized repair invoice of all labor performed and the parts installed when the repair is complete; return all replaced parts; and perform all repairs competently. Call the department for assistance with filing a complaint.

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More information is available by clicking www.dca.ca.gov, or calling the department at (800) 952-5210.

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