Just like landlords, tenants have rights when they rent out a property. Unbeknownst to many, there are ways tenants can protect themselves by knowing their rights and being proactive in upholding their freedoms.
While you often hear of landlords having tenant problems, there is no shortage of tenants who face similar troubles during their time as renters.
Here are some words of advice on how to protect yourself as a tenant and assert yourself during different aspects of the tenancy.
1. Know Your Landlord-Tenant Act
First and foremost, tenant law was enacted to protect those renting property and to keep both parties in check. While laws vary with region, there are some consistencies across the board.
- The landlord must provide access to the property at the agreed possession date. Failure to do so can result in violation of landlord-tenant law.
- In addition, it is the landlord’s duty to ensure you have quiet enjoyment of the property. By popular understanding, that means the landlord cannot enter the premises without notice, unless it’s an emergency.
- Above all, the landlord is required to lease a safe property that complies with housing laws, as well as maintain the property while you are a tenant.
Check with your local landlord-tenant laws in your state to fully understand your rights and responsibilities as a tenant.
Beyond the Landlord-Tenant Act, there’s also the right to fair housing. A landlord cannot discriminate or turn down your request to rent on the basis of religion, gender, race, or anything else that is deemed prejudice.
Learn more about the screening process here.
2. Be Aware of Scams
Before signing a lease or even contacting a landlord about an available tenancy, put on your cynical cap and evaluate the listing carefully. With the frequency of property management scams out there, you can never be too careful.
Warning signs may include:
- The landlord/property manager asks for money upfront before you sign a lease agreement or view the property
- The property is advertised at an extremely low price (A deal too good to be true)
- There is no thorough screening process required of you (ie. Credit checks, reference checks etc.)
- Oppositely, the “property manager” asks for invasive personal details upfront before meeting
- The home is in terrible shape or abandoned, hinting that it might be foreclosed, decrepit etc.
- The property manager exhibits shady behavior (an intense eagerness or desperation to have you move in) or avoidance of questions about the property or his or her identity
- He or she possesses phony documents; this one is hard when a document looks authentic. Read everything over thoroughly before signing.
3. Get Tenant/Renters Insurance
Renter’s insurance generally offers similar coverage as house insurance. It protects a tenant’s belongings in the case of a fire, theft, and flood. The coverage you receive depends on your policy.
A lot of tenants avoid purchasing insurance for reasons such as cost, or the assumption that the landlord will cover the cost of damaged possessions. This is not always the case.
Like any other insurance policies, you can choose one that fits your needs. It’s certainly better to plan for the worst, than have to deal with the repercussions of not being prepared.
4. Ask For a Walk-Through Inspection
Doing a walk through inspection with the landlord/property manager before you move in is the easiest and most proactive way to protect yourself as a tenant.
The purpose of a walk-through is to document the condition of the property prior to your possession.
That way at the end of your tenancy, you and the landlord can go through the place again and cross reference your initial inspection report to see if any damage occurred during your stay and if it was your fault or due to normal wear and tear. Getting back your damage deposit is dependent on these walk-through inspections.
If your landlord/property manager does not conduct an inspection, ask for one. It’s in both of your best interests.
5. Read the Lease Agreement
Every, and I repeat, every rental arrangement should have a lease agreement.
With that said, having one does not necessarily mean it’s in your best interest as a tenant. For this reason, read through it and make sure you understand every clause and term.
While this may seem tedious, it can save you from landing in hot water, such as penalties, violations or causes for termination you may not be aware of.
While reading over the entire document is important, here are some particular things to pay attention to:
- Lease terms and notice periods
- Rent price and payment details (such as late fees and if utilities are included)
- Permissions (such as making improvements or having pets)
- Tenant responsibilities (if there are any duties required of you, such as tending to the lawn)
- Landlord responsibilities (repairs)
After you’ve read the lease, you should have an understanding of what is expected from you as a tenant, and what is required from the landlord or property manager.
If you are unsure about anything in the lease—ask for clarification!
6. Understand Notices and Eviction Terms
Understanding your rights as a tenant also means comprehending your state’s laws for eviction periods and other types of notices. This is to ensure you give adequate notice before terminating the lease yourself (one rental period in most states) and that if the landlord evicts you, they have good reason, which must consist of the following:
- Tenant has conducted illegal activities on the property
- Tenant has violated the lease terms without remedy (such as missed rent payments)
- Tenant caused severe damage without remedy
- Landlord has gave adequate notice and adhered to the lease terms before providing notice to terminate for reasons such as renovations or resale.
7. Look Out For Your Safety
As mentioned above, the landlord must provide a safe and secure rental unit for you to lease.
Safety includes, but is not limited to:
- Sound foundation and living quarters (the space is compliant with building codes)
- Proper fire, electrical and plumbing, including smoke detectors, carbon monoxide detectors and accessible exits.
- Environmental disclosures (if the property was built before 1978, the landlord must disclose if there is any lead based paint used on the property or any asbestos hazards. Asbestos also applies to property built in 1979 or 1980).
- Legal basement suite, including proper zoning permits and compliance.
- Indoor and outdoor maintenance (repairs are fixed promptly and outside facilities are maintained to avoid injury).
8. Leave a Paper Trail
From your initial tenant applications, to your lease and all notices—keep documentation of your tenancy in the event something goes disarray and you need to provide evidence of your tenancy.
A paper trail can be used to clear up misunderstandings or prove events have transpired (you paid your rent, as shown through a receipt, email deposit confirmation, or bank statement).
What other pointers would you add to the list? Please share your tips below!