Renter's Rights

Many of us have had regrettable experiences with landlords and in our renting situations, but we renters have rights too. It’s important to get to know the rights you have in your area. Here’s a breakdown of some things you should know:

What to do Before You Sign a Lease

  • Get to know your landlord and find out information about him or her from neighbors and other tenants.
  • Get a copy of your credit report to make sure it is accurate, as your landlord may do a credit check.
  • If you suspect that you’re being denied housing from a particular landlord due to any form of discrimination, report it immediately. Fair Housing laws protect you against this type of discrimination.
  • Get all the information about your lease before signing, such as when it begins and ends, when and how much you will pay, if the amount you pay is subject to change, all rules and regulations, utility coverage, etc.
  • Do a thorough inspection with the landlord before moving in to avoid discrepancies arising from damages and other deductions from the security deposit.

Checklist Before Signing Your Lease

  1. Have you read everything before you sign? Read everything front and back very carefully and take all the time you need to do so. Once you sign a document, it is difficult to argue that you didn't read it.
  2. Have you written it all down? Even if the landlord doesn't use a written agreement, you should write everything down. Your written agreement should include all the terms you have agreed on at the time you sign it. Terms or promises not written into the agreement are unenforceable and often end up in court.
  3. Never leave blanks. Never sign anything with blanks to be filled in later. Either complete all blanks or draw a line through them.
  4. Have any promises to make repairs at a later date been noted in writing? Promises to make repairs when a landlord is trying to rent a unit may be forgotten after time has passed.
  5. Do you clearly understand what you are signing? If you don't understand, ask the landlord to explain. Write down the landlord's explanation on a separate piece of paper and have both parties initial it as your mutual understanding of the provision. It may be hard to argue that you didn't understand something after you have signed it.
  6. Don't be reluctant to cross out a word or even a whole paragraph. The provisions you and the landlord write into the agreement by hand indicate that you have reached a mutual agreement. In most cases, the handwritten modification will be more effective and will be enforced by a court of law in spite of what the printed form says. Be certain that both parties initial any modification.
  7. Have you carefully inspected the unit? This will avoid future disputes about breaks, damages, or cleanliness.
  8. Did you get a copy of the signed rental agreement? The landlord is required to give you a copy of the rental agreement, and it is best to get the copy in person at the time you sign it. If there is any later dispute, the first thing you need is the agreement. If you lose your copy of the lease, you may request that the landlord make you a copy.

Your Rights as a Tenant

Responsibility for maintaining a decent dwelling and a good rental relationship is shared by the landlord and tenant. Tenants must:

  • Use the unit only as a dwelling, and not as a business (unless the landlord agrees in writing), and not for illegal activities;
  • Use the parts of the unit (kitchen, bath, etc.) as they should be used;
  • Keep areas under their control clean, sanitary, and free from accumulation of debris, garbage and filth;
  • Use facilities such as electric, heat and plumbing in a reasonable manner;
  • Not deliberately or negligently damage or remove, or knowingly allow others to damage or remove any part of the premises;
  • Conduct themselves and visitors in a manner that will not disturb the neighbors (tenants are responsible for the actions of their guests and parents for the actions of minors).

You have a right to live in an environment free from harassment. If you are upholding your responsibilities, your landlord should do the same.

You have a right to be treated with respect and dignity, as does your landlord.

The landlord must keep the rental habitable at all times. Habitable generally means:

  • A weatherproof and waterproof exterior, roof, walls, doors, and windows;
  • Approved plumbing facilities in good working order;
  • Hot and cold running water from an approved water supply connected to an approved sewage system, and maintained in good working order;
  • Safe drinking water if the water is under the landlord's control;
  • Adequate and approved heating facilities in good working order;
  • Electric lighting, wiring, and equipment, approved and in good working order;
  • Clean and sanitary buildings and grounds, free from accumulation of debris, filth, rubbish, garbage, rodents and vermin, and safe for normal and reasonable uses (these obligations only apply to common areas after the tenant moves in);
  • Adequate garbage receptacles. It may be the tenant's responsibility to pay for garbage collection if specified in the rental agreement.
  • Floors, walls, ceilings, stairs and railings in good repair;
  • If provided, ventilation or air conditioning, elevators, or other facilities and appliances (washers, dryers, stoves, refrigerators, etc.), in good working order;
  • Safety from fire hazards;
  • Working locks for all outside doors except doors to common areas, and keys to locks that require keys;
  • Working latches for all windows that open (except common areas), unless fire or safety regulations prohibit them.

Be sure to notify your landlord of all needed repairs.

Unless you have specified a different agreement, your landlord must give you at least a 24 hour notice before entering your apartment. Entry is permitted for work/repairs, other agreed upon services and inspections. There are some extenuating circumstances for entry without consent such as emergencies, tenant’s prolonged absence, and certain legal situations.

What to do When Moving Out

  • Make sure to contact your utility company to shut off all services so that you are not billed for the next tenant’s services.
  • Everything must be returned to the same condition that it was in when you moved in. If things have been damaged or are left unclean, charges will be deducted from your security deposit.
  • If you leave your apartment early for any reason except in cases where your rights as a tenant have been violated and have not arranged it with your landlord, you will be expected to pay rent for the remaining months specified by your lease.
  • You should receive your security deposit (other than explained deductions) within a month of leaving the premises. This is contingent upon the fact that you paid all rent on time, gave suitable notice of termination, returned all keys, and left the unit clean and in good repair. In addition, the landlord must deliver within the same period a written statement of the amounts and reasons for all deductions taken from the security deposit.

Note: This information is subject to change by state. If you have a serious problem, make sure to check your state’s regulations.

Go to http://www.hud.gov/renting/tenantrights.cfm to find comprehensive information about the renting rights, laws and protections in your state.