Most landlords are pretty cool, or so neutral you hardly ever notice them. But some landlords are the source of the internet horror stories you occasionally see floating around the online rental communities. Landlords who turn off the utilities, landlords to invade your privacy like a sitcom "wacky neighbor", landlords who refuse to perform repairs, or landlords that take your entire security deposit for spurious reasons; These are the landlords of our nightmares. And unfortunately, you never know when someone who's nice on the phone or through email will suddenly become a Landlord from Hell the moment you move in.
The only practical approach for a savvy renter is to protect yourself and your renter's rights with every home you lease. So today, we're here to offer a quick comprehensive guide on how to protect your rights as a renter. Join us today as we dive into the procedural necessities of defending your tenant rights against the nosy, irresponsible, and downright mean landlords of the world.
Protecting Your Rights as an Applicant
The first step is to protect your rights as an applicant. Believe it or not, there are still landlords out there who make biased decisions about who to allow to rent their residences. And not just sorting the reliably employed from the unreliable. Steps must be taken to ensure landlords aren't crossing you off their list due to illegal biases like race, gender, religion, family structure, or because of incorrect or misleading information in your background check. Here's how it's done:
Get the Name of Your Landlord Immediately
Right off the bat, get the full legal name of your potential landlord. This keeps things on the level and makes things a little fairer when you give them all your info in the application.
Read The Application Carefully
Never fill out paperwork you do not read. For each rental application you fill out, read the details carefully. If it's a paper form, scan and keep a copy. If it's online, PrintScreen or email yourself a copy.
Do Not Answer Personal Questions
Landlords are allowed to ask you about your income, your smoking habits, and your pets. They are allowed to ask how many adults are moving in with you to include them on the lease. But they are not allowed to ask any "demographic" questions (other than income) that would identify your race, gender, ethnicity, religion, family structure, etc.
If these questions are asked, don't answer them. If the landlord insists, politely inform them that they are breaking the law by asking.
Request a Copy of Your Background Check
You have a right to a FREE copy of any background check run on you. When you sign the authorization form, check the box that requests a copy. When you get the copy, read it carefully and confirm that all details are accurate.
Clarify Negative Marks on Credit, Rental, or Criminal History
If there are any false, misleading, or negative remarks on your background check, contact your landlord to offer clarification. If you had medical debt that lowered your credit score, had to punch your sister's abusive boyfriend, or dealt with a vindictive landlord in the past, make sure your new landlord understands why your report isn't spotless.
Call Back If the Landlord Doesn't Call
If a landlord doesn't call you back, don't let them "ghost" you. Call them back instead. Once or twice a week is reasonable if you're eager to sign the lease.
Protecting Your Rights as a Tenant
Next, you'll want to defend your rights throughout your tenancy. Tenants have a defined set of rights under the law. The right to privacy, the right to working amenities and utilities, and the right to notice if the landlord is going to level fees or take legal action. Here's how to defend your rights both before and after signing the lease and moving in:
Before Move-In Tips
Read the Lease Before Signing
Again, read your paperwork. The lease is a legally binding document and you will be obligated to obey it for the duration after signing. So make sure you understand exactly what you are agreeing to. Read every rental clause, ever pet fee, every repair request protocol before signing.
Red-Flag Lease Terms
If you see anything that makes you uncomfortable in the lease, red-flag it to discuss with your landlord. If there's a chance of at-will fees, a hefty penalty for late rent, behavior terms, or pet clauses that seem abusive, beware. You might not want to rent here after all.
Negotiate Any Objectionable Terms
Anything you don't like in the lease, especially if it defies your rights, try to negotiate. Ask your landlord if changes can be made to the lease before signing.
Keep a Signed Copy of the Lease
Any paperwork you sign, keep a copy of for your own records. Just in case it comes up later and you need proof of the exact document you signed.
Take Photos Before Move-In
There are many things a landlord can claim about your conduct after move-in. One of the best ways to defend yourself is with photography. Take details photos before your furniture and boxes arrive to prove the home's starting condition.
After Move-in Tips
Pay Rent On Time, Every Time
If you pay your rent on time, you are legally safe from the majority of landlord-related abuses.
Ask for Repairs When You Need Them
If something breaks that is your landlord's job to fix (large appliances and infrastructure), report it immediately and request prompt repairs. You have a legal right to prompt repairs.
Require 24 Hours Notice Before Landlord Visits
Landlords are not allowed to drop in any time or spy on you. They must give you at least 24 hours notice (48 in some states) before expecting to be received by you as a guest in your home.
Do Not Pay Fees Not Mentioned in the Lease
If your landlord demands fees for noise, pets, or anything else but the fees aren't defined in the lease: don't pay. This is a scam and only the lease holds you legally obligated to pay your landlord anything. Splitting the cost of some repairs is different.
Keep Written Records of Everything
Any agreements, conversations, emails, or repairs done with your landlord should be recorded in writing and kept for your records. Just in case.
Know How to Make a Formal Complaint
If your landlord does something that crosses the line, your first step is to send them a formal complaint via email or certified mail with a receipt. Look up how to send a properly worded formal complaint in your state defining the tenant rights violation and how to resolve it.
Know How to Report Landlord Abuses
If problems go on after a complaint is made, know how to report your landlord for abuses in your state. Each state will have a slightly different process, so be sure to look it up before acting.
Be Fully Moved Out When Your Final Lease Ends
Another slew of landlord abuses can happen if some of your stuff remains in the house after the lease ends. Simply don't let this happen and you won't have to worry about having your possessions tossed or stolen
Protecting Your Rights Against Eviction
If your landlord has given you a notice to vacate or an eviction notice, there are steps you can take to protect your rights and, often, to save your lease.
First, don't let the notice scare you. These are often meant to scare tenants into clearing out, paying rent, or paying fees. Your first step is not to panic and actually assess the situation,
Pay Your Rent & Obey Lease Terms
If your rent is up to date and you haven't violated any lease terms, someone is trying to scam you. It may be time to take legal action. Check your lease to be certain you are not in violation (ex: unauthorized pet, car in the wrong parking spot)
Know Your Lease Terms Regarding Eviction and Warnings
Read your lease terms regarding eviction and violation warnings. Make sure your landlord is following their half of the process to a T.
Know Eviction Warning Durations in Your State
Your state will also have laws defining a lawful eviction process that your landlord must follow and your lease must mirror.
Call About Eviction Notices Immediately
If you get a notice, call your landlord or building office or go in person. Often, these notices are used just to 'spur tenants along' on late rent payments and aren't really that serious. It's a mean trick, but you may be able to sort things out very quickly if you call first.
Negotiate for Late Rent Payment
If your rent is late, let your landlord know and negotiate late rent -before- they have a chance to send you a notice or charge a fee. Being honest and up-front means that your landlord isn't worried you're about to skip out on the lease.
Consult With an Eviction Lawyer Immediately After Notice
And if your landlord is in the wrong (or is too quick on the 'eviction notice' button), consult with a lawyer. Consultations are often free and you could use some guidance on whether you're being unlawfully jerked around. And what your options are to defend your rights in court if necessary.
Protecting Your Right to Your Security Deposit
Finally, there's the question of your security deposit. Landlords often try to get one final cash-grab by failing to send your deposit along or using spurious or over-charged deductions to take your money. Here's how to defend your move-out cash:
Do the Move-In Checklist
When you arrive, do the move-in checklist. This is the list where you note everything already wrong with the house so you're not blamed for it. Ask to see the last move-out checklist which will have all damages (fixed and still there) that were mentioned when the last person moved out.
Take Pre-Move-In Photos of Everything
Take those photos. We mentioned the photos earlier. Take them before all your stuff is moved in and pair them to your kept-copy of the completed move-in checklist.
Give Early Notice of Moving Plans
When you plan to move away, let your landlord know early that you're not renewing the lease. Turnover (finding a new tenant) can be tough for landlords, and it's polite to give them plenty of notice to prepare.
Perform Minor Repairs & Touch-Ups Before Move-Out
If there are nail holes, paint scuffs, or loose handles in the house, mend and repair them. Touch-up the paint scuffs, tighten the screws, and fill any holes. It can make a real difference.
Landlords can legitimately charge for cleaning if you leave the place dirty or grungy, and they can hire an expensive cleaning service on your dime legally. To prevent that, do a complete and thorough cleaning (including a rented steam cleaner on the carpets) before you go.
Take Photos After Your Stuff is Gone
Take move-out photos and do your own personal move-out checklist to prove the state of the home as you leave it. Preferably, after all your stuff is out. This will prevent your landlord from claiming and deducting fake damage.
Give a Forwarding Address
To get your security deposit (and/or the deductions list) you need a forwarding address. Make sure your landlord can reach you (and keep records of giving this information) so they don't have an excuse not to send your money along.
Dispute Security Deposit Deductions Fast
If you do face deductions, you will receive an itemized list of the problems and how much it cost to solve them. If these deductions are bogus, you must dispute them within 90 days of receiving the list.
Be Prepared to "Lawyer Up"
Finally, if your landlord tries to cause problems, have a lawyer on call and don't be shy to mention it. Many scam-landlords will back down rather than risk being taken to court.
Renting a home puts you in an interesting legal position as a protected home resident but not actually the homeowner. Fortunately, modern laws are well-equipped to help you defend your tenant rights against careless, intrusive, or abusive landlords. For more top tips on how to be a master-renter, contact us today!
VerticalRent® is not a law firm, and the employees of VerticalRent® are not acting as your attorney. Our educational blog or landlord forms engine is not a substitute for the sound advice of a local attorney, whom is familiar with your local laws and regulations. VerticalRent® cannot provide you with legal advice, nor are we permitted to engage in the practice of law.
We are prohibited from providing you with any sort of advice, opinion, explanation, or recommendation about your possible legal rights – which may include remedies, options, defenses, or the selection of landlord forms available on the VerticalRent platform. Our platform is designed to provide landlords and property managers with powerful online tools to screen applicants, collect rent online, advertise vacancies, and generate free landlord forms. To that extent, our blog often publishes general information on issues commonly encountered by landlords – such as evicting tenants.
Although VerticalRent takes every reasonable effort possible to ensure the accuracy of its consumer reports and landlord forms, we do not guarantee or warrant the information to be correct, complete, or up-to-date. The law changes rapidly across the United States, from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. We will not be held responsible for any loss, injury, claim, damage, or liability related to the use of our blog, landlord forms or consumer reports generated from this platform.
About the author
Matt Angerer is the Founder and President of VerticalRent. He enjoys writing on a variety of topics that help Landlords, Property Managers, and Renters across America. He is particularly interested in helping renters understand their local marketplace, pick the best places to live, and find an awesome roommate. Since 2011, VerticalRent has grown to service over 100,000 landlords and renters across America.