How to Protect Yourself as a Tenant

When you hear about property rental complaints, it often involves landlords dissatisfied with tenants. But renter complaints are just as big of an issue. For the best leasing experience possible as a renter, it's a good idea to know your tenant rights and ensure they're upheld. 

Know Your Rights As a Tenant

Rental laws were devised to protect tenants and vary by state. It's a good idea to familiarize yourself with your state's rental laws. Though there are regional differences in rental laws, some rules remain the same no matter where you live.

One of the most important rights you have as a tenant is the right to fair housing. The Fair Housing Act prohibits landlords from discriminating against renters based on gender, nationality, marital status, age, religion, disability, sexual orientation, ethnicity, or nationality.

The following steps will help you protect yourself and your rights as a tenant.

Sign a Lease Agreement

A lease agreement is a legally binding contract that documents and spells out your rights and those of your landlord. For example, your landlord is required to provide you initial access to the property on the date agreed upon in the rental agreement.

Request Walk-Through Inspections

To protect yourself as a tenant, complete walk-through inspections, with the landlord present, before moving in and again before moving out. Take photos as proof when you move in and out. If your camera or phone has the function, use a timestamp feature.

When you move out, it will be easy to determine any damages that occurred during your tenancy, if any. Following these steps will ensure the landlord can't try to take money from your security deposit for damages that already existed when you moved in.

Expect Privacy

Your landlord is required to allow you what is known as quiet enjoyment of your property. That means the landlord can't come onto the property without notice unless an emergency is currently occurring. You have the right to be notified 24 hours in advance of your landlord entering your residence.

Record and Report Uninhabitable Circumstances

The landlord is responsible for providing tenants with a habitable home. They must give you safe and sanitary living conditions. This means a house with no bad wiring, lack of running water, or major pest infestations. You have the right to terminate your lease should the home remain uninhabitable.

To protect your right to vacate should conditions remain uninhabitable, make sure to describe in specific detail, in writing, the conditions in need of repair. This can be done on paper and dated or via electronic communication, such as email. Doing this will protect you should the landlord claim ignorance regarding the condition of the property. Take color photos of the areas needing repair or with pest infestations.

If the landlord fails to improve conditions, you might be eligible for a rent abatement. This reduces the amount of rent you're required to pay. Keeping thorough records of the inhabitable circumstances and your requests can help you obtain an abatement.

Require a Safe Place to Live

Your landlord is required to make your home habitable, but it should also be safe and secure. Here are some safety requirements your home must meet for your wellbeing. If the property is missing any of these, you have the right to request that the features are put in place promptly.

  • Sound foundation and secure walls and flooring
  • Safe, up-to-code electrical and plumbing
  • Smoke and carbon monoxide detectors in good working order
  • Easily accessible exits
  • Environmental disclosures as required by law (For example, if the building was built before 1978, the landlord must disclose if there is lead-based paint on the premises. If the property was built between 1979 and 1980, the landlord needs to let you know if there is asbestos in the home.)
  • Basement, if present, must be built to code and comply with local zoning ordinances

Keep All Records and Receipts

It's always prudent to keep good records of your tenancy. Save all receipts of any maintenance you do, which you can use for reimbursement. Additionally, make sure to get a rent receipt for each rent payment. That way, you can prove, if necessary, that you've been paying your rent on time and as agreed.

Buy Renter's Insurance

While your landlord will have insurance on the building, that doesn't generally cover the contents of your rental home. It's essential to protect your belongings with renter's insurance. Such coverage will allow for reimbursement should your belongings get damaged, destroyed, or stolen due to burglary, water leaks, fire, or another natural disaster.

Renters insurance will also cover you if a guest hurts themself in your home or if your pet bites someone. Some renter's insurance policies also cover you if you run a business from home. Renter's insurance is relatively inexpensive compared to the peace of mind it offers you.

Understand Reasons for Potential Eviction

If you conduct yourself in a way that is seen as unacceptable while a tenant, you may be evicted. To prevent this from occurring, it's important to familiarize yourself with eviction terms. These will be listed in your lease agreement.

Here are some common reasons for eviction that should be easy to avoid:

  • Illegal activities on the premises
  • Missed rent payments
  • Severe damage to the property that can't be easily remedied
  • Landlord has given adequate notice to vacate the premises for reasons such as sale of the building or renovations, but you haven't responded

Your home should be your sanctuary, even if it's just a tiny efficiency apartment. Knowing your rights will help keep you, your family, and your home safe, secure, and sustainable. Renter rights are worth protecting and preserving.

If you'd like to protect yourself as a tenant and want the right forms to help ensure that, check out the 360 Legal Forms free trial.

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