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Basic Tenant Rights: The Top Nine and How To Protect Them

MyApartmentMap - Sep 10, 2010

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We’ve had a few visitors write us asking about tenant rights and how to protect those rights, so we took a little time to write down a few suggestions. We share these suggestions down below. Keep in mind, tenant rights vary from state to state and the suggestions we share with you are very basic. For a complete list of your rights in your state, please visit the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development tenant rights page.

When you move into an apartment-whether for the first time or the twentieth-knowing your rights is crucial, before you sign the lease and during your lease at that location. Unfortunately, there are a lot of landlords out there looking to collect monthly income (your rent) without maintaining fundamental repairs and updates otherwise known as “slumlords”. Within the parameters of basic living standards and the rights outlined in your lease agreement, is where you will find your rights as a tenant, on such topics as: timely repair, snow removal, rent increases, and general welfare and safety. Below is our top nine of basic tenant rights, and what you can do to protect them.  

The most important thing you can do to protect your rights as a tenant from a possible slumlord, is to review your lease agreement thoroughly and possibly with the aid of an attorney, before signing. Whatever proves incongruous or seems confusing, ask your landlord to explain, and if necessary alter the contract details. A miniscule restriction in the contract could be something that could limit your living welfare or happiness in that apartment. Better to know and not rent, than to sign blindly and suffer later.  

Make sure you understand the parameters of the security deposit, and what keeps you from receiving the whole amount back when you move out. Though most landlords will find a way to give you less than the original security deposit; there are certain stipulations for why.  

Before you move any of your belongings in, do a walk-through with a checklist itemizing all the issues the apartment may have; for example: holes in the wall, rug stains, broken doors, etc. Writing these down and submitting to your landlord can save you from having to be responsible for them when you move out.  

Keep immaculate records on every interaction you have with the landlord on specific issues of repair and request. Though it may seem a bothersome waste of time, you’ll be happy to have proof of a landlord promise in the event he/she fails to meet their obligations. Moreover, this way the landlord knows that you are keeping track of his/her code of conduct, and this will hopefully ensure that they live up to their promises.  

Know your privacy rights as a tenant, meaning when your landlord can enter your apartment. Though it can vary state to state, there are typically only three instances when a landlord can enter your apartment: to make repairs, for emergencies, and to show the apartment to prospective renters. Beyond this, in states that require prior notice, landlords must give at least 24 hours notice before entering the tenant’s apartment.  

Expect repairs to be done. Your landlord is required by law to offer you a livable environment while renting from them, and this includes a clean, sanitary, dry, and structurally-sound environment. If your apartment is not up to livable standards after a number of failed attempts to have your landlord fix necessary repairs, you can: withhold part of rent until it is fixed, pay for the repairs out of your pocket and deduct the cost from your rent, or call the building inspector to have them deal with your slumlord’s irresponsibility. Whatever you choose, know what you deserve as a tenant.  

Purchase renter’s insurance. In the event of fire or building destruction, all of your belongings will be lost. So if your neighbor burns down the building, your landlord does not have to pay for your lost belongings. Getting your own renter’s insurance can be extremely affordable while also being priceless in the event of a disaster.  

Ask your landlord about the safety of the building, your apartment, and the neighborhood from crime. Moreover, find out what your state requires for crime prevention for individual apartments from landlords, such as locks, specialty cameras, etc. If the neighborhood or building has had a history of crime, find out what your landlord plans to do to protect his tenants more effectively.  

Lastly, know what your state’s laws are for eviction. If your landlord is unfairly trying to evict you, then you can fight the eviction due to negligence on his/her part (uninhabitable living conditions or without warning). Unless you have verifiable proof, witnesses, and truth on your side; do not fight an eviction as it could cost you thousands of dollars in the long run in court and lawyer’s fees.