In any dealings with a landlord, it is important for a tenant to protect their tenant rights. If a problem arises, it is best to make sure you have done everything you can to protect what rights you do have. Some rights have to be exercised by the tenant to receive their benefits, and some rights can even be waived or terminated if the tenant fails to properly protect them. This article will discuss everything you need to know about protecting your tenant rights.
1. Know what your rights are.
The first step to protecting tenant rights is to know what they are and where they came from. Tenants have rights under federal, state, and local laws. It's important to consider what jurisdiction you are in and what rights are afforded to you by each jurisdiction. For instance, on the federal level, there is the Fair Housing Act that protects tenants from discrimination by landlords based on race or color, national origin, religions, disabilities, sex, and familial status (people with minor children and pregnant women).
2. Read and understand your rental application.
If your landlord has you fill out an application, read and review it carefully to make sure it does not ask you anything it shouldn't like:
- how many children you have
- your religion
- your national origin
- whether you are disabled
In most states, a landlord can charge a potential tenant to run a credit check. Some states, like California, have a maximum amount set my statute of what a landlord can charge for an application fee. It is illegal for a landlord to charge a fee for a credit check if the money is not used for that stated purpose. If a landlord decides not to rent to someone based on their credit report, the landlord must provide the prospective tenant the name and address of the credit agency pursuant to the Fair Credit Reporting Act.
3. Get a written lease and read and understand the lease agreement.
Some landlords prefer an oral agreement. However, it is important to have this important legal arrangement in writing. It helps protect the landlord and the tenant in the event of a dispute. A lease should clearly lay out issues like payments, how a security deposit will be handled, who is responsible for maintenance such as yard work, how the property can be used, whether pets are permitted, and preferred means of contact for the landlord and the tenant.
4. Take pictures before moving in.
It is important for a tenant to document the condition of the apartment before to moving in. This way you will have proof of the condition of the property. This can come in handy if the landlord makes a claim against your security deposit. Some landlords are proactive and will give tenants a pre-move in check list. If that happens, be thorough. Many times, tenants are in such a hurry to move in that they don't carefully inspect the property. Look for holes in the walls, scuff marks on the floor, stains on the carpet, and loose bathroom tiles. A new tenant should also check to ensure all electrical outlets work, all doors lock, and all appliances are in clean, working condition.
5. Pay rent promptly and as required.
A tenant is in the best position to protect their rights when their rent is paid on time and in accordance with the written lease. The lease should state how, when, and where rent it to be paid. If the lease is specific about the type of payment a tenant should always pay rent in that manner. If the lease is not specific, rent should be paid in a way that is documented. Paying rent in cash should be avoided if at all possible as there is no reliable paper trail created. If paying rent in cash is unavoidable, the tenant needs to request a written receipt that clearly states how much was paid, on what date it was paid, who received the payment, and for what month the payment is being applied.
6. Keep excellent records and back them up.
In a landlord-tenant relationship, the tenant should document everything. Makes written notes of things discussed and promises made. Communication should preferably be in writing, but if conversations take place orally, then the tenant should keep a log of conversation, dates, and topics. All lease payment information and requests for repairs should be documented.
Rights are only useful if they are protected. If you follow these six simple recommendations, you will be well on your way to protecting your tenant rights. Knowing your rights and how to properly exercise them will make any tenant feel more confident, secure, and safe.