One of the perks of renting an apartment is that you generally don’t have to deal with the hassles of repairs and regular maintenance. If something breaks or goes wrong, a simple email or call to your landlord usually gets the problem fixed.
However, as a renter, it may sometimes seem like the fate of your apartment is in your landlord’s hands. Everyone has heard a story about a landlord who fails to keep the building up to health and safety codes or the one who takes months to fix small problems.
While having renters insurance may help protect your belongings against certain potential causes of loss, such as theft or fire, you should also be proactive in learning about your rights as a tenant and voicing your concerns to your landlord when necessary. While tenants’ rights vary by state, the Department of Housing and Urban Development provides some common apartment renters’ rights that may be addressed in your state’s landlord-tenant law:
As a renter, you have the right to an apartment with adequate water, electricity and heat, as well as it being structurally safe. This means if you find mold, cockroaches or broken smoke detectors, you should contact your landlord immediately. If your landlord won’t take the necessary actions for your apartment, you might be able to break your lease without legal or financial ramifications.
Before you sign your lease, make sure you have discussed the turnaround time for any repairs or maintenance tasks and put the agreed upon time in writing. You should also check to see if you can have a professional make the repairs and deduct that cost from your rent.
While you’ve probably seen movies where an unsuspecting renter comes home to find his couch and other belongings along the sidewalk, most states prohibit landlords from evicting you without a court-ordered eviction notice.
Some states not only limit the amount your landlord can charge for security deposits, most also require that your security deposit be returned within 14 to 30 days after you have moved out. Your landlord cannot deduct from your security deposit for normal wear and tear, and a few states, like Illinois, require an itemized report of deductions.
Being proactive and knowing your rights before signing a lease may help you down the road in case the unexpected happens.
Originally published November 3, 2010.