a renter’s guide to tenant rights
Your home is your sanctuary — at least, until you have a disagreement with your landlord. Whether you have an unfair super or just want to know your rights as a renter, read this guide to tenant's rights.
Your renters rights before you move in
There are laws intended to make sure you get a fair deal while you're searching for the perfect apartment.
No unlawful discrimination
When searching for your dream abode, you can't be turned away by a landlord solely because of race, sex, religion, family status, nationality, or disability. Some states also ban discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.
Adequate physical state
Your prospective pad should be kept up to structural and sanitary code by the landlord. That means electricity, running water, and heat. It's not your job to get a place live-in ready — it should be ready before you get there.
Before you sign the lease, you might be asked to note any damage. Don't take this lightly. Snap photos and make a detailed list of any damage or other problems. Then have the landlord sign it. This could save you lots of hassle and money in the form of a lost security deposit when you move out.
You have the right to basic protection in your own rental space. This means your rental should have locks on the doors and windows, an emergency exit such as a fire escape, and smoke detectors. Landlords are also required to maintain the building's air quality, and you have the right to request radon testing.
Basic tenant rights
Once you move, more basic rights kick in.
If your place needs maintenance, it's typically the landlord's job to see to it. Your lease may also allow you to handle repairs and deduct the cost from your rent. Either way, you shouldn't pour money into property you don't own. So if your landlord tells you to handle a broken lock or leaky pipe without reimbursement, look into the wording of your lease and renters rights in your state before you drop extra cash.
The landlord pays for the actual building, but you pay for the living space, which entitles you to your privacy. Landlords generally must give prior notice (often at least 24 hours) before coming inside your unit. They can't simply barge in unannounced.
Rent control or rent stabilization
In some cities (but not all), landlords are prohibited from raising the rent more than a certain amount and tenants are allowed to renew their leases indefinitely.
You know you have rights before you move in and while you live there. Renters also have rights when it comes to ending the lease agreement.
Intimidation and wrongful eviction
As long as you are fulfilling your part of the lease, generally you have the right to stay put. Landlords aren't allowed to boot you (or harass you into leaving) just because they don't like you as a person or want to punish you for complaining, requesting repairs, or anything else they disapprove of.
Pay your rent
Keep in mind that upholding the lease goes both ways. You can't move out and stop paying rent just because you don't get along with the landlord.
If the landlord doesn't live up to his or her end of the agreement, that's a different story. When repairs are neglected or health and safety standards aren't met, for example, it's often within the tenant's rights to break the lease and skedaddle.
Right to first refusal
Like rent control, this is often location-dependent. If it's part of your lease, the right to first refusal will give you first crack at buying your apartment if your landlord decides to sell the whole building.
Reclaiming your security deposit
Despite what a landlord might tell you, your security deposit should be forfeited only for above-and-beyond damage you caused, not unavoidable wear and tear. For instance, repairing the wall that absorbed all your errant dartboard shots would be a legit use for your deposit. Replacing the doorknob because you turned it too many times likely would not be.
Know your state's tenant laws
The above rights will apply in most cases, but remember that states and cities may have their own unique and specific lease laws. To get the complete lowdown on your area, check out your state and city government websites and look for their guides to tenant and landlord rights.
A quick word on the importance of renters insurance
The owner bears responsibility for the building, but not your property. Protecting possessions is up to the tenant. And the best way to do that is through a reliable and affordable renters insurance policy.
Renters insurance can help you replace items lost or damaged in mishaps like theft or fire. It can also help insulate you from legal trouble if someone is hurt in your apartment or house. And the super-duper good news: it's very affordable. Grab a free renters quote online or call 1-866-439-5633 to see just how inexpensive and important renters protection is.
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