It helps to know your tenant rights, so here are ten things you should keep in mind when renting a house or apartment:
Do Your Paperwork: To help speed along the process and impress a potential landlord, it pays to have your paperwork in order. If possible, bring a completed rental application, written references (other landlords, employers, or friends) and an up-to-date version of your credit report. 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 certain provisions are unacceptable and offer to be flexible. If the landlord still won't budge, you'll have to decide whether you can live with the rental terms, or if you should walk away.
Get it in Writing: To protect your rights as a tenant, get everything in writing. Landlords tend to make all sorts of promises while they're talking you into a lease, but unless there's a written record, those promises are difficult, if not impossible, to enforce. Even if you trust your current landlord, make sure you have a written record of your arrangement. Landlords often change, so don't expect the next landlord to automatically honor any oral arrangement you made with a previous landlord.
Guard Your Privacy: Be especially aware of any provisions in the lease that deal with privacy issues. Typical provisions may include the amount of notice the landlord must give before entering the rental unit, and the conditions upon which your landlord can enter your rental without notice at all, such as in the event of a gas leak or some other emergency situation.
Insist on Timely Repairs: Don't hesitate to ask your landlord to fix problems that affect the quality of life in your unit (heat, water, electricity, general cleanliness, waterproofing, structural safety, etc). If your landlord is not making repairs to keep your rental habitable, there are several possible options, depending on where you live. Typical options include withholding a portion of rent until the problem is fixed, paying for the repair yourself and deducting the amount from your rent, and abandoning the property altogether without liability. Check the laws in your local area.
Communicate With Your Landlord: 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 ugly 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 repairs and 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.
Get Renters' Insurance: Renters' insurance is relatively cheap and will protect you where your landlord's insurance won't. If you suffer losses due to theft or damage or are sued by someone who alleges they were injured in your rental because of your negligence, renters' insurance can cover you and save you from a large financial loss.
Preserve Your Security Deposit: Security deposits are one of the most disputed items between landlord and tenants, so make sure that your lease clearly spells out the exact manner in which your deposit will be used or withheld. 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.
Protect Yourself: Always check out the surrounding area before you decide to rent. Ask other tenants or local businesses whether the area has much crime, and make sure that your rental has appropriate safety mechanisms as required by law (in most areas, this includes things like dead bolts and window locks). If the area has considerable crime, your landlord may be required to take additional steps to protect you.
Handling an 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. Sometimes, however, it's just not worth the time and hassle to fight an unpleasant landlord so always 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 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 an unscrupulous landlord, you'll need more help. Talking to a local landlord-tenant attorney can help you understand your options and what you need to do next to protect your rights.