Renting a new place can be really exciting – but its also an opportunity to educate yourself. The US Department of Housing and Urban Development wants you to know your rights when you rent a house or apartment.
Read on for HUD’s top ten tips for tenants to protect their rights, or visit their website at www.hud.gov.
Don’t forget your paperwork.
“The best way to win over a prospective landlord is to be prepared,” HUD says. When you’re trying to get a leg up on the competition, bring your paperwork with you whenever you view a property or meet a prospective landlord. Helpful paperwork includes:
- A completed rental application
- References from landlords, employees or colleagues
- Your social security numbers and contact information for employers and bank accounts
Read the lease carefully.
Even when you’re meeting with a trustworthy landlord, there can be provisions in your lease that you don’t expect. For example, many dog-owning tenants have been caught by restrictions on pets. HUD reminds you to, “carefully review all of the conditions of the tenancy before you sign on the dotted line.”
Get it in writing.
Just remember – a verbal agreement is much harder to prove than a written one. To avoid misunderstandings with your landlord, save all of your correspondence. That includes changes to the lease, requests for maintenance, and possible complaints. If you have an oral conversation with your landlord, make sure to follow it up with a letter.
Protect your privacy.
One of the most common problems between tenants and landlords revolves around a landlord’s right to enter a tenant’s apartment. “One of the most common and emotion-filled misunderstandings arises over the tension between a landlord’s right to enter a rental unit and a tenant’s right to be left alone,” says HUD. Check your lease for the amount of notice a landlord must provide before entering.
Know your rights to repairs.
You have a right to live in a habitable rental unit. In the vast majority of states, landlords are required by law to offer their tenants livable properties. These rights can include adequate weatherproofing, water, electricity and clean premises. Know your options, including withholding rent or moving out, if your landlord will not make repairs.
Note: It is your responsibility to preserve the unit in a good and safe condition. You are responsible for the actions of your family, guests and pets.
Meet with your landlord
Communicate consistently with your landlord. If you keep the lines of communication open, your landlord may be more likely to respond positively when you have a complaint or need. “Keep in mind, your first line of contact is the on-site manager. If an issue cannot be resolved at this level, it should be directed to the on-site manager’s supervisor,” says HUD.
Invest in renter’s insurance.
Most people know that you should buy homeowner’s insurance, but they often miss out on renter’s insurance. Your landlord’s insurance policy will not cover losses due to damage or theft. “Renter’s insurance typically costs $350 a year for a $50,000 policy that covers loss due to theft or damage; if you don’t need that much coverage, there are cheaper policies, said HUD.”
Protect the security deposit.
Make sure your lease or rental agreement is clear on the refund of security deposits, including possible exemptions. HUD says, “When you move in, do a walk-through with the landlord to record existing damage to the premises on a move-in statement or checklist.” And don’t forget to complete a move out inspection with the landlord.
Protect your safety.
If your building or neighborhood is unsafe, there may be steps your landlord can take. In fact, HUD says, “if a crime is highly likely, your landlord may be obligated to take some steps to protect you.” Check to see if your landlord participates in the “Crime Free” housing program, or ask what measures they have taken to increase the safety of the property.
Handle an eviction correctly.
Sometimes you have a right to fight an eviction. But sometimes you simply have to move. If you know your landlord is in the wrong (through stipulations stated clearly in the lease) you may want to fight the eviction. But you if you lose the eviction lawsuit, you could be in debt for hundreds or thousands of dollars. Not only that, but it could damage your rental record as well as your credit rating.
For more information, visit http://portal.hud.gov/hudportal/HUD?src=/states/shared/working/r8/mf/topten or search through our multifamily housing properties at sdhousingsearch.com.