Tips for Protecting Your Tenant Rights
It helps to know your rights as a tenant. These laws protect you when you rent a place to live and can save you money. They can also get you out of a bad living situation, help keep you in a safe place, and resolve tenancy disputes.
This area of law is known as landlord-tenant law, and this article focuses explicitly on tenants' rights for rental properties. These tips may come in handy to help you avoid common legal issues and know your rights.
- Get paperwork in order
- Examine your lease
- Get terms in writing
- Guard your privacy
- Insist on timely repairs
- Communicate with your landlord
- Get renters' insurance
- Preserve your security deposit
- Research the neighborhood
Do Your Paperwork
To help speed along the rental process and impress a potential landlord, it pays to have your paperwork in order. Before you start your application, you usually need:
- Your basic information
- Photo ID
- Social Security number
- References (other landlords, employers, or friends)
- Up-to-date credit report
- Rental history
- Job information
- At least two pay stubs
- Information on your pet's breed and vet
- Credit card or check for the background check
- Proof of housing aid eligibility, financial aid, or low-cost housing needs
- References or explanations if you have a past eviction case
Most of this can be entered online. Some online applications let you skip sections or save and come back later. Don't forget to add everything as soon as possible if you really want to get into a specific apartment.
If you go in unprepared, someone else could rent the unit while you're busy getting your paperwork in order.
Examine the Lease Carefully
Don't just sign the agreement. Read it carefully, and you'll likely find unacceptable provisions. Discuss the terms of the lease with your landlord and suggest alternatives.
If the landlord objects, explain why you think specific provisions are unacceptable and offer to be flexible. If the landlord still doesn't budge, you'll have to decide whether you can live with the rental terms, or if you should walk away.
Some large rental companies or mega complexes are not flexible on their terms, such as:
- Quiet hours starting as early as 9 p.m. or as late as midnight
- No pets, two pets max, pets only on particular floors, or cats only
- No glasses or alcohol on the pool deck or in community rooms
- No parties in community rooms
- No large groups in the business center or shared spaces
- No guests in the parking area
- Limited guest parking, such as from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. only
- The actions that result in eviction, such as drug use or smoking on your patio
Consider terms like this carefully to know if the building is right for you.
Get the Terms in Writing
To protect your rights as a tenant, get everything about the lease in writing. Landlords tend to make all sorts of promises while they're talking you into a lease. They might say things like:
- "I'm sure you will find an easy garage/ramp parking spot each day"
- "Buying a set parking spot is usually easy"
- "We have lots of guest parking"
- "This is a really quiet floor"
- "The gym being right above your unit isn't loud"
- "You can't hear the community room nearby"
- "That dog breed is probably fine"
- "Our facilities team responds quickly"
Unless there's a written record, these promises are difficult, if not impossible, to enforce. Taking an apartment based on spoken promises from a landlord can lead to regret. Terms can also change at any time. For example, you might rent a place in the city that has free garage parking. You estimate that this saves you $100 a month. But one day, the landlord may sell the garage, and you may have to pay an increased fee to the new owner to keep using the same garage.
Even if you trust your current landlord, make sure you have a written record of your arrangement (like being assigned a specific parking spot). Landlords and property managers may change, so don't expect the next landlord or manager to automatically honor any oral arrangement you made with their previous counterpart.
Guard Your Privacy
Be especially aware of any provisions in the lease that deal with privacy issues. Typical rules may include:
- The amount of notice the landlord must give before entering the rental unit
- When your landlord can enter your rental without notice at all. (A good example is in the event of a gas leak or some other emergency situation.)
These are pretty standard terms. If these lease agreement terms are not okay with you, you should seek other properties to find different terms.
Insist on Timely Necessary Repairs
Don't hesitate to ask your landlord to fix problems that affect the quality of life in your unit. Common issues involve:
- Heat or air conditioning
- Air quality
- Appliances like the washer, dryer, dishwasher, or refrigerator
- Plumbing such as the bathroom drain, kitchen sink, toilet, or shower
- Light bulbs or light switches
- General cleanliness of hallways or shared areas
- Structural safety
If your landlord is not making repairs to keep your rental space habitable, there are several possible options, depending on where you live. Typical options include:
- Withholding a portion of the rent until the problem is fixed
- Paying for the repair yourself and deducting the amount from your rent
- Abandoning the property altogether without liability
Check the local laws in your area. You can also talk to an attorney to learn what you can do to protect your rights and safety.
Communicate Clearly With Your Landlord
At first, avoid being confrontational with your landlord and always try to talk it out first. After all, you can catch more flies with honey than you can with vinegar.
Try to solve problems with a simple conversation before issues escalate into disputes. If a simple face-to-face doesn't take care of things, be sure to keep a record of your correspondence with your landlord.
For example, if your landlord is being slow with repairs, firmly remind your landlord (in writing) that you have already asked for the repair. Say that you feel that it is taking unnecessarily long. That written record makes a huge difference if communication breaks down and you have to take legal action. Remember: you always have the right to reasonable accommodation, so repairs cannot go ignored for long. Some exceptions may exist as to nonessential items, such as luxury appliances, for which the landlord has waived repairs in the lease.
Get Renters' Insurance
Renters' insurance is relatively cheap. It will protect you when your residential landlord's insurance won't. Renters' insurance can cover you and save you from large financial losses when you face:
- Theft from your apartment or car (if the garage is owned by the apartment)
- Losing items to smoke, water, or fire damage
- Being sued by someone who alleges they were injured in your rental because of your negligence
Preserve Your Security Deposit
Security deposits are one of the most disputed items between landlords and tenants. Make sure that your lease clearly spells out the exact manner in which your deposit will be used or kept.
When you first move in, do an extensive walk-through to record existing damage and keep a copy of whatever report you give to the landlord.
Research the Neighborhood
Always check out the surrounding area before you decide to rent. Ask other tenants or local businesses if the city has much crime. Make sure that your rental has appropriate safety mechanisms as required by law (in most areas, this includes things like deadbolts and window locks).
If the area has considerable crime, your landlord may be required to take additional steps to protect you.
Fighting an Eviction
Are you facing eviction? If the landlord is clearly in the wrong (and you can prove it), then you may want to fight against an eviction notice to protect your rights as a tenant. Evictions are normally fought in unlawful detainer court with the aid of attorneys.
Sometimes, however, it's just not worth the time and hassle to fight an unpleasant landlord. You may want to consider simply moving on. You'll have to deal with the same landlord even if you're successful, so a long fight may not be worth the effort. Plus, if you lose a lawsuit, you will have to leave anyway and could wind up with a significant amount of debt and negative hit to your credit as a result.
Get Legal Help to Protect Your Tenant Rights
Knowing your rights as a tenant is a great place to start. But when those rights are trampled on by a landlord, you'll need more help. Talking to a local landlord-tenant attorney can help you understand your options. They will give you sound legal advice and what you need to do next to protect your rights.
You Don’t Have To Solve This on Your Own – Get a Lawyer’s Help
Meeting with a lawyer can help you understand your options and how to best protect your rights. Visit our attorney directory to find a lawyer near you who can help.
Contact a qualified real estate attorney to help you navigate any landlord-tenant issues.