Renting is a great option if you’re not able to buy a house. While tenant life can alleviate some of the pressures that come with home-owning (like having to pay someone to fix a leaky sink), it’s also important to know your rights. Even though you don’t own a place, you’re still entitled to certain rights while living there. Whether you’re about to rent, are currently renting, or even contemplating leaving your lease, read on to learn about the key rights you have as a renter.
Protection from Discrimination
Federal law states that no renters can be discriminated against on the basis of race, color, religion, age, sex, national origin, family status, or physical or mental disability. These discrimination laws may also apply to landlords who limit advertising based on any of the classes mentioned above. Also illegal: Stating an apartment isn’t available when it actually is.
The Right to a Safe and Livable Space
Tenants have the right to a safe and comfortable home. If you see exposed wires, a non-functioning heating and cooling unit, a leaking roof, broken pipes, or other issues that affect your ability to live there, ask your landlord for repairs. Be sure to mention any infestations of insects or mice, too (as if you could forget to mention them!). Place any requests or notifications like these in writing — this will be important in the event that you need to take legal action for your security deposit or otherwise.
Prorated Rent Rights
Legally, of course, you have to pay rent. But if the home you’re renting becomes unlivable for a period of time due to excessive maintenance issues, you can ask your landlord to prorate your payment term in accordance with the inconvenience. Unfortunately, they aren’t legally obligated to agree. If they do, however, you won’t have to pay for the days you had to couch surf at your friend’s house instead of staying at your own place. It’s worth asking, especially if you have a good relationship with your landlord.
The Right to Lifestyle
As long as you’re obeying the law, you have the general right to live your lifestyle. This doesn’t mean you can break the terms of your lease, though. Some landlords don’t allow smoking or pets, so make sure you’re clear on whether or not these things are permitted before you sign a lease.
Another item to take note of is the limit of overnight guests. Some leases state that guests can only stay for a certain amount of days. Typically, this is to make sure no one else is living there without being on the lease for liability reasons, but it’s good to be clear about the overnight guest policy before you commit to renting a place — or before you tell your entire extended family they can camp out in your living room for the summer.
Landlords have the right to enter the property you’re renting if they’re doing maintenance work. However, most tenant laws require a landlord to inform a tenant about maintenance work in advance, and the visit has to be limited to reasonable hours. So if your landlord is requesting to access your apartment at 10:00 p.m., you have the right to say no and work out a better time.
In the Event of an Eviction
If you fail to abide by the rules in your lease — like not paying rent, having animals when you shouldn’t, smoking when it’s prohibited, etc. — your landlord can evict you with proper notice. According to renters’ rights, you are also entitled to be given time to pay the rent or fix the damages you’ve done to the property, if that was the cause for eviction. Every state has different landlord and tenant laws, though, so make sure to do your research based on your location. Check out this great state-by-state guide from Landlordology for more information.
Remember to Speak Up
It’s important to know your rights and to speak up if you don’t think your landlord is treating you fairly. You should also keep in mind that due to the nature of renting, the time will likely come when you pack your bags and move on. To prevent potential disputes about property damage, make sure to take pictures of everything in your apartment, both when you move in and when you move out.
You can also ask your landlord for a move-in checklist, which lets you take detailed notes about the condition of the place you’re renting as soon as you sign a lease. If he or she doesn’t provide you with one, you can download your own from Zillow or Rent Prep. If any issues come up when you bid your rental home goodbye, you’ll be glad you took this extra step.