As a tenant, disputes with your landlord are the last thing you want. But, unfortunately, they can happen, so you must know your renters' rights in case anything goes awry. Problems that might come up between you and your landlord include disputes over the lease, the rental property, tenant rights, rent payments, possible eviction, repairs to the property, and more. Sometimes it can feel like your landlord wants to take advantage of you as the tenant, which is why you should understand your renters' rights and try to settle any disputes so you don't end up having to bring your issue to court. Below, we will discuss the basics of renters' rights, how to protect your rights, and how to handle disputes with your landlord.
Renters' Rights Basics
Tenants have rights including the right not to be discriminated against, the right to a habitable home, privacy, and the right not to be charged more than is allowed by state law for their security deposit.
A landlord is responsible for maintaining a safe and functional property and abiding by the terms listed in the lease agreement. They also hold the right to receive the total monthly rent payment by their outlined due date.
It's important to note that tenant rights are non-negotiable. Therefore, if you want to protect these rights, you first need to understand them to know if any violations occur.
Protecting Your Rights
Knowing your tenants' rights and the laws that go with them can help you quickly settle disputes and save money. They can also help you improve your living situation, help you stay in your rental property, and resolve tenant issues in general.
Assuming you've already submitted your paperwork, here are a few things that can help you protect your rights:
- Understanding the Lease. Read the lease carefully, and look for any unacceptable terms. If anything sticks out to you, you should speak with the landlord to discuss alternatives. If the landlord refuses, discuss what specific terms you'd like to change and why. If the landlord still objects, you will need to decide whether you feel comfortable living in the rental with these terms or better off walking away.
If your landlord is flexible with the lease terms and meets your concerns, then make sure to get those terms in writing. If a dispute were to arise, and you have these terms in writing, it will be much easier to enforce than verbal promises.
Also, it's important to note that terms can change at any time. For example, if you have a free parking spot on your property, make sure you have a written record that states you have the right to that free parking spot for the duration of the lease. If not, your landlord could rent or sell that parking spot whenever he'd like, forcing you to find or pay for parking elsewhere.
- Know Your Privacy Rights. Privacy terms are usually standard, like advanced notice before your landlord can enter your property or when your landlord can enter the property without any notice at all (usually just in the case of a potential emergency like a gas leak).
- Understand Your Repair Rights. Make sure to ask your landlord to fix any facilities that break in your rental property, especially ones that affect your quality of life. These include everything from broken AC or heating units to plumbing, lights, electricity, and structural safety. If your landlord is refusing to fix anything that affects the habitability of the property, there are a few measures you can take:
- Withhold a portion of the rent until they fix the problem.
- Fix it yourself and deduct the cost from next month's rent.
- Leave the property altogether without liability.
- Know Your Renters' Insurance Coverage. Renters' insurance is usually quite affordable and is worth it if your landlord's insurance doesn't cover you. Examples include theft, losing items due to water or fire damage, and being sued by someone who alleges they got injured in your apartment.
- Research the Neighborhood. Your rental unit may require specific safety measures like deadbolts or locks on the windows due to a high level of crime.
- Fight an Eviction. If you receive a notification for eviction, it may be worth it if you can prove you're in the right and your landlord is in the wrong. However, it may not be worth the effort, mainly because, if you are successful, you'll have to deal with the same landlord.
Get Legal Help if Necessary. If you believe you are being taken advantage of and can't effectively act for your rights alone, it may be worth hiring legal assistance.
Handling Landlord Disputes
The first step to take when any issues arise between you and your landlord should, of course, be a conversation. Make sure to be forward and honest if anything comes up so you can settle any disputes as quickly and efficiently as possible. Another thing that will help you, in the long run, is to keep written copies of all correspondence between you and your landlord. Landlord-tenant laws vary from state to state. You can check The United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) site online to understand what laws pertain to the state where you are renting your property.
Before going to court, one step you can take to handle a dispute between you and your landlord is hiring a third-party mediator to help you agree with your landlord. Mediation services are usually available at a low cost through a variety of programs.
If all else fails, you may need to go to court with your landlord to settle a dispute. Landlord-tenant disputes occur in a small claims court, and the fees are usually minimal or waived entirely due to the nature of the claims. You can also file a claim without the need for an attorney, so you don't have to worry about additional costs. However, if you'd like legal advice, you can always consult a landlord-tenant attorney to discuss your options.
When avoiding issues in the first place, it is best to read your lease carefully and speak with your landlord about any discrepancies in the lease. Make sure to ask the landlord to change the terms in writing if you feel any outlined terms are unfair. If any problems do arise, talk with your landlord, and always insist they fix any repairs. Sometimes landlords refuse to help or be flexible, so going to court should be considered a last resort, although occasionally necessary.