Solving Problems With Your Landlord
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Disputes between tenants and landlords are by no means uncommon. While many can be resolved through communication between the two parties and resulting in mutual agreement about the issue, tens of thousands of court cases are filed each year in the U.S. by renters and the person(s) they rent from.
When you rent the space, you live in, you enter into a legal agreement with the landlord, property manager, or property owner. To keep it simple, we’ll use the term ‘landlord’ in this article.
It all begins with the lease.
What Should Be Included in a Lease Agreement?
Your lease should include the amount of rent due each month and the due date for this payment. It should also include the duration of the rent agreement or how long your lease will last. Landlords will also include in the lease detailed information regarding evictions. Most evictions require a notice sent to the tenant 3-30 days prior to the scheduled eviction. Read over the lease to learn what actions lead to evictions.
As a tenant, you and your landlord must realize the legal rights and responsibilities you are each entitled to. These items are stipulated in the lease, and as you and your landlord enter into a new lease together, it is imperative that you, the tenant, know exactly what terms, conditions, and provisions are contained in the lease.
If there are things in the lease you need help understanding, ask the landlord to explain them to you until they are clear. Ambiguity and leasing don’t mix, so read your lease from beginning to end until you fully understand the stipulations of the agreement. Doing so will help prevent disagreements down the road.
As a tenant, you have certain rights, and while they vary from state to state, there is a list of standard requirements virtually every landlord in the U.S. must provide:
- Heat (but not air conditioning)
- Running hot and cold water
- Locks and keys
- Smoke detector
- Clean and safe common areas
Although the landlord is not required to pay for utilities, water, gas, or trash pickup, some do. The landlord’s discretion dictates these provisions and must be included in the lease.
As a tenant, you are expected to:
- Follow all housing and health codes.
- Clean and sanitize the living space.
- Take out garbage as scheduled.
- Inform your landlord of pets if they have a pet policy.
- Keep plumbing fixtures clean and sanitary; report any in disrepair.
- Keep the premises free of defacement and damage.
- Maintain occupancy without disturbing other tenants or neighbors.
- Treat appliances and other items provided by the landlord with respect.
Are Landlords Responsible If a Tenant Injures Themselves?
It is the landlord’s responsibility to maintain the property’s safety for tenants and their guests. Landlords can be held responsible for injuries caused by hazardous or defective circumstances on the rental property, criminal activity, and environmental risks (i.e., asbestos).
However, landlords are not obligated to cover any medical expenses that result from a tenant’s negligence or recklessness. For example, if a tenant jumps off their roof into a pool and is injured in the process, it is unlikely the landlord will be held accountable for any damages.
Tenant and Roommate Obligations
Tenants who share rental responsibility for the same property are obligated to each other and the landlord. You must be aware of further legal issues when living with others regarding when they want to bring someone else into the rental picture, when that person moves in, and when they decide to leave. Also, most landlords require that everyone living in the property (except children under 18) must sign a lease, so if you bring in a roommate during your tenure, you should let your landlord know to avoid future trouble.
Tenant Eviction Rights
A landlord reserves the right to terminate a lease if the tenant fails to pay rent, violates the pet policy, or continually disturbs other tenants or neighbors. However, most landlords take a variety of circumstances into account before deciding to evict a tenant. Often, the dispute can be resolved through communication and respect, eliminating the need to complete the eviction process.
Tenant eviction rights vary by jurisdiction, but they typically require landlords to follow a specific legal process before evicting a tenant.
This process often involves:
- Providing proper notice,
- Citing valid reasons for eviction
- Allowing the tenant the opportunity to contest the eviction in court if necessary
Tenant eviction rights are essential for safeguarding tenants’ security and preventing abusive practices by landlords. These rights ensure individuals and families can maintain stable and secure housing.
Here are some scenarios that could lead to eviction:
- Non-payment of Rent: The most common reason for eviction is when a tenant fails to pay rent on time as per the rental agreement. Landlords may start eviction proceedings if tenants consistently fall behind on rent payments.
- Violation of Lease Terms: If a tenant violates the terms of the lease or rental agreement, such as having unauthorized pets, subletting without permission, or causing damage to the property, it can lead to eviction.
- Nuisance or Disruption: Tenants can be evicted if they engage in disruptive or illegal activities on the property, such as excessive noise, drug use, or other actions that harm the peaceful enjoyment of other tenants or neighbors.
- Illegal Activities: Engaging in criminal activities on the rental property, such as drug manufacturing or distribution, can lead to eviction.
- Health and Safety Violations: Landlords may initiate eviction proceedings if tenants fail to maintain the property in a safe and sanitary condition or pose a health hazard.
- End of Lease or Rental Agreement: When a lease or rental agreement expires, landlords may choose not to renew it and ask the tenant to vacate the property. This is not technically an eviction, but it can result in the tenant having to move out.
» More: Lean How to Stop an Eviction
Rent and Security Deposits
Landlords can set rent at whatever fee they decide so long as they do not fall under specific areas covered by rent control. However, many states have parameters that dictate how rent must be paid and how it can be raised.
State law strictly governs security deposits and determines how much money a landlord can demand up front and how the funds can be allocated (i.e., covering unpaid rent). Make sure you notify your landlord long before you leave and do so within 30 days. This way, your security deposit should be available and ready to return to you.
Can a Landlord Keep a Tenant’s Deposit?
It all depends on what the landlord is claiming the funds for. It can range from the damage they are claiming you left behind, claims that you failed to leave the property in a clean and satisfactory condition, or for back rent or late fees the landlord claims you owe.
Communication between tenants and landlords is imperative in these situations and can often solve the issue. However, if neither you nor your landlord will budge on your position, legal action may have to be taken, as there are certain things landlords can – and can’t – keep deposit money for.
These rules vary by state, and the lease you signed plays a considerable role in determining who is right; another reason you’ve got to read and understand everything in your lease before you sign it.
Here are some common reasons a landlord can retain a security deposit:
- Unpaid Rent: If the tenant owes due rent when they move out, the landlord can deduct this amount from the security deposit to cover the arrears.
- Damage to the Property: Landlords can use the security deposit to cover the cost of repairing any damage to the rental property that goes beyond normal wear and tear. This can include broken windows, holes in walls, or excessive filth.
- Cleaning Costs: If the tenant leaves the property excessively dirty or unclean, the landlord may deduct cleaning costs from the security deposit. This typically applies when the property is left in a condition significantly worse than at the start of the tenancy.
- Unpaid Utilities or Bills: If the tenant is responsible for paying utilities or other bills associated with the property and fails to do so, the landlord can use the security deposit to cover these unpaid expenses.
- Breach of Lease Terms: If the tenant violates the lease or rental agreement terms, resulting in financial losses for the landlord, the security deposit may be used to compensate for those losses. For example, if the tenant breaks the lease early without proper notice, the landlord can deduct the cost of finding a new tenant.
- Abandoned Property: If the tenant leaves personal property or belongings in the rental unit, and local laws permit it, the landlord may use the security deposit to cover the cost of removing, storing, or disposing of abandoned items.
- Repairs Due to Tenant Negligence: If the tenant’s negligence or misuse of the property causes damage, the landlord can withhold the cost of necessary repairs from the security deposit.
It’s important to note that landlords are generally required to provide tenants with an itemized list of deductions and the remaining security deposit balance within a specific timeframe, as mandated by local laws. Tenants also have the right to dispute deductions they believe are unjustified.
What If a Landlord Won’t Make Repairs?
If your landlord refuses to make necessary repairs to your rental property, it’s essential to take appropriate steps to protect your rights as a tenant and ensure that the property is safe and habitable. Here’s a recommended course of action:
- Review Your Lease or Rental Agreement: First, carefully review your lease or rental agreement to understand your rights and responsibilities regarding repairs and maintenance. It should outline the landlord’s obligations regarding repairs and the procedure for reporting and addressing maintenance issues.
- Document the Problem: Create a written record of the repair issue, including the date you first reported it, any communications with the landlord (such as emails or text messages), and photographs or videos of the problem. Documentation will be crucial if the issue escalates.
- Notify Your Landlord in Writing: Send a written request to your landlord describing the issue and the necessary repairs. Be sure to keep a copy of this written notice for your records. Send it via certified mail or another method that provides proof of delivery.
- Contact Local Housing Authorities: Research your local housing or building department’s rules and regulations regarding repairs and maintenance. In some areas, landlords may have specific requirements to address certain issues within a certain timeframe. Contact your local housing authority for guidance and to report the issue if necessary.
- Repair and Deduct: Some jurisdictions allow tenants to make necessary repairs themselves and deduct the cost from their rent if the landlord fails to do so after a reasonable period. However, this option is subject to specific legal requirements, so check your local laws before proceeding.
- Mediation or Legal Action: If the issue persists and your landlord is unresponsive, you may consider mediation services or taking legal action. Consult with an attorney specializing in landlord-tenant law to understand your options and rights in your jurisdiction.
- Protect Your Rent: In many cases, it’s advisable to continue paying your rent on time, even if your landlord is not addressing repair issues. Failure to pay rent can result in eviction proceedings. However, you may be able to place your rent in escrow if your local laws permit it, but this should be done under the guidance of an attorney.
Remember that tenant rights and landlord obligations can vary significantly by location, so it’s essential to be familiar with your area’s specific laws and regulations. Consulting with a local attorney specializing in landlord-tenant matters can provide personalized advice and guidance tailored to your situation.
More Helpful Tips for Renters
Renting property can be a smooth and positive experience when you know how to navigate the rental market and protect your rights as a tenant. Before embarking on your rental journey, you must understand how much rent you can afford to pay. Also, determine how much you can spend on related expenses like utilities, insurance, and maintenance. Stick to your budget to ensure financial stability. Do not let your finances discourage you from pursuing safe and affordable housing. There are many ways to save on rent each month and even options for renters with bad credit.
About The Author
Bents Dulcio graduated from Florida State University in 2016 with a degree in Political Science, and knows a thing or two about Millennial student loan debt. While in school, he developed a passion for classic literature, reading books by authors from Homer to Adam Smith and developed a penchant for dealing with tight financial circumstances. Bents used the student loan money to pursue a semester of language study in France that helped convince him to become a writer. Bents still hits the books – he read 70 in the past year – and still knows how to cut corners financially. You will see examples of both in his writing for InCharge.org.
- NA. (ND) Tenant Rights. Retrieved from: https://www.hud.gov/topics/rental_assistance/tenantrights
- NA. (2023 January) The White House Blueprint for a Renter’s Bill of Rights. Retrieved from: https://www.whitehouse.gov/wp-content/uploads/2023/01/White-House-Blueprint-for-a-Renters-Bill-of-Rights.pdf
- NA. (ND) The Fair Housing Act. Retrieved from: https://www.justice.gov/crt/fair-housing-act-1
- Ramos, J. (2023 August 19) I Accidentally Violated My Lease. How Do I Tell the Landlord - if at all? Retrieved from: https://www.nytimes.com/2023/08/19/realestate/apartment-lease-violation.html