When you rent a home, its business, and you and your landlord should treat it that way. As a tenant you have rights, and your landlord has an obligation to meet and honor them. If your landlord starts giving you hassle or excuses, you don’t have to take it.
First and foremost learn the tenants’ rights and rental laws in your state so you know what you can expect. Check the contract for errors; you can’t be held to an illegal clause, even if you already signed. Each state is different and some tend to favor either tenants or landlords. Every state but Arkansas has an “implied warranty of habitability.” This means that health and safety issues must be addressed, even if the problem was there when you moved in or the apartment was rented ‘as is.” Always start by sending your landlord a certified letter requesting repairs. If your landlord tries to put it off or refuses to make repairs altogether, you have options. Some states let you deduct repair costs from rent or withhold partial (not all!) rent until the repairs are completed. You may have basis for a lawsuit or the right to break you lease. Before you take any option, consult a tenant advocate or your local tenant’s association for advice or assistance.
Tenants have a right for the property to be maintained in the condition it was first contracted out as. This means that if something “unnecessary” breaks (like a garage door opener), it should still be fixed or the rent adjusted to balance the loss of utility. If the garage door opener isn’t working, you shouldn’t have to keep paying like it is. In an extreme case, a tenant could record the time and effort spent on manually opening and shutting the garage door or the loss of use related to the malfunction for a court claim.
Some landlords play the promises game and delay or forget promised repairs. Don’t be fooled. Stand firm on repairs, continue to send certified requests, and be prepared to not sign the lease until the repair is complete. If you are mid-lease, see above. Contact an advocate and get help. Don’t be guilted or emotionally manipulated, and don’t be brushed off. It doesn’t matter if other people put up with it or never noticed the problem, it should still be taken seriously and handled professionally. This is business. If the landlord can’t or won’t handle it, they shouldn’t be your landlord.
Your landlord’s financial problems aren’t your problem. Not having money does not excuse them from making repairs. If a repair needs to be made, they are legally obligated to make it. Remember, you pay rent, and you are buying a safe and functional residence. A landlord also cannot evict you because of their financial circumstances. They are bound by the same lease agreement that you are. As long as you hold up your end and pay your rent properly, the home is yours for the term of the contract.
When it is time for you to move on, protect your deposit. A landlord cannot charge you for normal wear and tear associated with (of all things!) living in a home. Minor scuffs and stains, nail holes, faded paint, hard water marks in tubs and sinks: these are all normal. Any damage that was preexisting and never repaired cannot be deducted from the deposit either, so don’t be scammed! If you do damage something, get a detailed receipt of repair costs when the remaining deposit is returned.
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About Tom Davidson — Tom Davidson is Vice President of Express Schools, LLC. which operates online education providers Real Estate Express, Insurance License Express and License Tutor. Follow him on Twitter.