Thinking about signing a lease? Before you sign the dotted line, you should know your rights as a tenant. Unfortunately, a lot of landlords take advantage of their tenants, or they jumped into renting a room or home without being aware of the laws themselves. Always read your lease before you sign it! Every state is going to have different rules and regulations that vary slightly, so it’s important to check with your local tenant-landlord laws. However, there is still going to be consistency no matter where you live in the United States. Here are 10 very important tips to know before you agree to sign on the dotted line.
10. Make Sure There is a Written Agreement
If you are renting an apartment or a room from a friend or family member, you may not feel the need to get anything in writing. It may feel more informal to give cash “under the table” so that there is no bad blood between the two of you. However, you and your landlord both need to protect yourselves in case anything goes wrong. Always make sure there is a written agreement. Without that agreement in hand, you’re more likely to be kicked of of your home without any proof that you could take to court. We don’t want to assume the worst of people, but you need to at least protect yourself.
9. The Rent Price Cannot Be Changed During the Lease For Any Reason
Once you sign a lease agreement, you are locked in to the rental price for as long as the contract states. If you have an entire year, that means you are guaranteed 12 months of rent that are locked in to that price. It doesn’t matter if your landlord made a mistake by under-charging you for rent, or there are suddenly a lot of repairs to be done on the property. As the tenant, you are only responsible for the price you both agreed upon. However, once that year is over and the contract is no longer valid, the landlord has the right to raise the rent.
There are some people out there who were lucky enough to score a rent controlled apartment in New York City. This is incredibly rare to find a deal like this, and it is virtually nonexistent now. Most people are going to be subject to rent increases once a year. This is why some people prefer to sign multi-year leases, because it guarantees the price will stay the same.
8. Your Landlord Should Never Enter Your Home Without Notifying You
While you are living in your apartment or house, your landlord has no right to randomly show up whenever they feel like it. This is your home, and you have a right to privacy. Many people have horror stories of landlords showing up unannounced, or even opening the doors and talking through the property while the tenants are gone.
Even though the property belongs to them, you still have a right to privacy. They must have a very good reason for entering the home. These reasons could be an emergency, to make repairs, to bring in an inspector to make sure the building is up to code, or to give new tenants a tour when your lease is about to end. In all of these cases, they need to notify you that they are coming. Carefully read the entry provision on your lease contract to be sure they are following protocol for your state.
7. Know the Rules of Your Security Deposit
A security deposit is a lump sum of money you pay up-front before you move in to an apartment or house. Typically, it is between one to two months of rent. Every state has different maximum limits, so check out this chart for your particular location. This money is supposed to be kept in its own bank account, saved for future potential repairs. Your landlord cannot use that money for any other reason.
Before you go through the process of signing a lease, you should walk through the property with your landlord or property manager to make notes of any damage that was there before you move in. Also take photos on your phone, and save them in a folder for later. This way, you will not be blamed for it later. After you move out, the landlord will inspect the property, and replace whatever gets worn down or broken. Then, they will return the remainder back to you. There should always be a list of reasons why the landlord deducted funds from your security deposit.
6. You Have The Right to Basic Necessities
Every tenant has the right to basic necessities like electricity, running water, and heat. If your apartment or house does not have one of these things, it is completely unacceptable. Even if the landlord promises to get it fixed before you move in, you should not trust that is true.
If one of these necessities becomes broken, the landlord is supposed to get it fixed as quickly as possible, within a “reasonable” amount of time. The amount of time that is considered “reasonable” changes on a case-by-base basis. If you want to know more about what landlords are responsible for, check out this list.
5. Both Parties Are Responsible For Household Maintenance
Some people avoid buying a house, because they’re afraid of all of the issues that could go wrong as a homeowner. A lot of tenants make the mistake of believing that they are not responsible for fixing anything at all in their rental. There are certain things that tenants need to take care of on their own, like switching light bulbs, cleaning, waste management, pests, smoke detectors, mold, mowing the lawn, and more. Check out this full list of tenant responsibilities.
4. The Security Deposit Must Be Returned to the Tenant (In Most Situations)
At the end of your lease, your landlord cannot decide that they will keep your security deposit. There needs to be an itemized list of issues that the security deposit paid for, and you receive the difference. In most cases, there should be no reason to lose your entire security deposit, unless you decide to bail out of your lease early, or you have completely trashed the property.
3. Your Landlord Cannot Force You To Renew Your Lease
Your lease is only good for as long as the time stated on the legal document. Once the time is over, it is up to you to decide if you stay or go. Your landlord cannot force you into signing a lease to stay for additional time. Sometimes, they would prefer that you stay, because it means that they do not have to do any repairs or look for a new tenant. So you may experience them trying to guilt trip you, gaslight, or avoid the process of ending your lease. But there is nothing keeping you there, if you want to go.
2. You Cannot Be Kicked Out Without a Good Reason
Your landlord cannot choose to kick you out or end your lease just because they feel like it. There needs to be a very good reason, like criminal activity, in order for them to end your lease. Even if they made a mistake by renting to you at a lower rate, that mistake is on them. Once you enter the lease, you are entitled to stay until the time period is complete.
If you are reading this during the Covid-19 pandemic, there is an eviction ban in place. Please check with the newest updates from the CDC on eviction bans.
1. Damage to the Structure is The Landlord’s Responsibility
Earlier in this list, we mentioned that the tenant is responsible for certain repairs to the property. However, the landlord always needs to fix things that are considered structural. This could be plumbing, the roof, foundation, and more. When you are signing a lease, make sure you go over all of the different areas of the house that they claim you are responsible for. If you see something structural, double-check with your state laws to clarify if you’re supposed to be responsible for that as a renter.