How to Deal with an Uncooperative Landlord

When I moved into my first apartment after college, I was thrilled about finally having my own place. What I didn’t count on was the family of mice that would also make a home in my cozy space. Despite living with rodent roommates for more than six months, my landlord didn’t seem to care much about helping me resolve the situation. Needless to say, the second my lease was up, I bid those furry ‘friends’ adieu.

Now, I have a great landlord and a solid living situation, but I sure learned a few lessons along the way. If you’re looking to protect your rights and your property from the pitfalls of a ‘bad’ landlord, here are some things to consider:

Lease signing and security deposits

Once you sign a lease, your landlord may request a security deposit to cover any damages made when you’re renting. While this amount can be costly—often equal to your first month’s rent—your state may have legal limits to what you can be charged. If your deposit amount seems outrageous, read through your state’s tenant laws to prevent yourself from being scammed. Also, take care to document all minor scratches, scuffs and stains present on move-in day. The last thing you want is to be charged for damage that wasn’t your fault.

Asking for repairs

It can be annoying when your landlord ignores requests for small repairs or is slow to recognize there’s a problem. As a renter you shouldn’t have to deal with a leaky faucet that keeps you up at night or a torn screen that invites creepy crawlers inside, but in most cases, you can’t withhold rent when minor details like these aren’t fixed. If initial attempts to get your landlord’s attention don’t succeed, try these steps to address the issue:

  • Write it down: A written request given to your landlord can be a great reminder and provides an opportunity for you to give a detailed description of the problem(s) you’re having.
  • Emphasize that the issue might get worse: Explain to your landlord that a leaky faucet could turn the sink into a full-on waterfall, or that the hole in your wooden steps could be the culprit if someone takes a spill. Be explicit about how problems like broken locks or burned-out lights could put you and other tenants at risk.
  • Take action if written attempts are ignored: According to legal website, there are different ways to proceed when your landlord just won’t listen. Consider mediation, where a trained mediator will meet with you and your landlord to discuss the situation and help you come to a compromise about fixing the issue.
  • Take it to court: If worse comes to worst, suing your landlord in small claims court can lead to a settlement. If you can prove that unaddressed problems decreased the value of your unit, a judge may award you the difference between what you’ve been paying in rent and the amount the unit’s actually worth.

Preparing for the worst

Most state and local laws require landlords to maintain a safe living environment for their tenants, including taking care of certain repairs. Still, it’s better to prepare for the unexpected when your landlord-tenant relationship is a little shaky. Check out renters insurance to find out how your personal items can be covered if you’re suddenly displaced due to theft, fire, vandalism or water damage. And best of all, these policies often start at a small rate, so you can stay protected—and still afford your student loan payments.

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