In most instances your first residence away from your family home will be an apartment. You take on new responsibilities as a tenant that you need to understand so you don’t have your rights abused by the landlord. This portion of the website will give you a good understanding of some of the crucial things you need to understand as a tenant. There are a few terms that you need to be familiar with in landlord tenant situations.

Landlord: The landlord is the person who is agreeing to allow another person to use the rental property. Usually it is the owner of the property but in many situations it might be a property manager or some individual appointed by the owner.

Lease: The contract between the landlord and the tenant is called the lease. If you are about to become a tenant you will want to read the lease very carefully because the lease will describe all of the rights and duties the tenant and landlord have under the lease.

Tenant: This is the person who is taking possession of the property from the landlord. Rent Control: There are some areas of the country where the amount that can be charged for rent is controlled by law. You will want to check the local laws where you are living or moving. Remember to look for the local tenants’ association. Tenants’ associations are usually present in most well populated areas where people are renting and can give you information about laws and ordinances unique to that area.

Tenancy Types –

Tenancy is the word used to describe the tenant’s right to live in and possess the property that they have leased from the landlord. There are four primary types of tenancy; a fixed term tenancy, a periodic (month to month) tenancy, a tenancy at will, and a tenancy at sufferance that you might encounter.

Fixed Term Tenancy: In a fixed term tenancy there is a specific beginning and ending point to the tenancy. It might be a 6 month lease, 1 year, or 2 year lease. The important thing to look for in this type of lease is what happens if you stay in the apartment after the lease has ended. In some situations if you stay after the end, you might be a month to month tenant and in some others you might be held to an additional term whatever the term might have been. For example, if it was a 6 month lease you would be responsible for another 6 months.

Periodic Tenancy (month to month): In a periodic tenancy, the length of the lease is indefinite in length. Usually, they are month to month and the rent is due at the beginning of each period. In a periodic tenancy, there is usually a specified amount of time that must be given before the lease can be terminated. For example, if it is a month to month period the tenant will need to give one month’s notice. Check with your state landlord tenant laws to see if your state has enacted any specific laws about terminating a periodic tenancy.

Tenancy at Will: In a tenancy at will, the tenant and landlord agree that the tenancy will continue until either the landlord or tenant decide to terminate the tenancy. The process and notification that is needed to terminate the tenancy is usually included in the lease agreement.

Tenancy at Sufferance: This type of tenancy is usually created by law and occurs when the tenant stays beyond when their lease ended. In this type of tenancy the landlord might take legal action to evict the tenant or hold the tenant responsible for an additional fixed term, or period depending on the terms of the original lease.

Lease Terms- There are some things that you definitely want to make sure are included in any lease agreement.

1. Name and signature of the landlord

2. Name and signature of the tenant

3. Rent amount, how frequently, and when and where it is to be paid

4. Address of the rental property

5. Starting and ending dates if it is a fixed term tenancy

6. Landlord’s mailing address

7. Amount of the security deposit

8. The name and address of the bank where the security deposit will be deposited

9. Who is responsible for paying the utilities

10. Who is responsible for the maintenance and repair

11. Any other terms or conditions that might be important to either party

12. Eviction procedures

Your state might have additional mandatory provisions that need to be included in lease agreements so check with your state’s website or local tenant’s rights organization. Many states have laws that specify conditions that shouldn’t be included in a lease.

It is always best to have the lease in writing. There may be the temptation if you know the owner/landlord not to have a written lease, but it would be very risky. WRITE IT DOWN!!

Rental Discrimination –

Federal law prohibits discrimination against tenants and in rental decisions. Most states also have laws that forbid discrimination. The most frequent types of discrimination are racial and disability discrimination. There are other protected areas like religion, national origin, family status, or gender. If you suspect that you have been the victim of rental discrimination, you should contact your local tenant organization, or you can go the United States government website and type in “fair housing” and it should bring up the contact phone numbers and e-mail addresses that you need.

Security Deposits –

The security deposit is an amount of money that the tenant must give to the landlord at the beginning of the tenancy. This security deposit is still technically the property of the tenant and it will be returned to the tenant at the end of the lease. Security deposits enable landlords to get back some of the lost money if a tenant leaves before the end of the tenancy or if the tenant damages something in the rental property. Most states have established formulas that indicate what amount a landlord can charge for a security deposit. In many states it is one and a half months rent. Many times there will be other fees that the landlord asks the tenant to pay at the beginning of the tenancy. Check with your state to see whether your state places any limitations on these fees. In most states the landlord must deposit the security deposit in a bank or other financial institution and provide the tenant with the name of the institution. At the end of the tenancy the landlord will return the security deposit to the tenant.

Move In Checklist (Move Out) –

One thing that you will definitely want at the beginning of the tenancy is a check list. You and the landlord should go through the rental property and write down the condition of all the major pieces of the rental property like the furniture, carpets, walls, doors, appliances, etc. and write down any problems or damage to anything. You and the landlord should both have copies of the checklist and when the tenancy is over it will help you prove that you haven’t damaged the rental property or any of the property’s fixtures or furnishings. Many times landlords will try to withhold the security deposit and/or sue the tenant for damage to the property for which the tenant wasn’t responsible. The checklist will become your evidence of the property’s condition when you took possession. It is also a good idea to take pictures of the rental property when you move in and move out so you can document the condition or any problems that might exist.

Roommate Problems –

Multiple Tenants- It is quite common that when you rent an apartment or home for the first time you will have roommates. You need to discuss the nature of the relationship that you have with the individuals. You need to make sure that your lifestyles are compatible. For example, if you like lots of time by your self, don’t rent an apartment with an outgoing friendly person who likes to host lots of parties. Prior to moving in together, it is a good idea to discuss and make up some ground rules.

Roommates and Rent- Your lease will determine how your rent is paid to the landlord, but usually the landlord will only want one check. Therefore, you must make sure that all of the roommates have the money to pay their share of the rent. If one individual doesn’t pay their share of the rent, it will usually be used to void the lease.

Breaching the Lease- If one tenant somehow breaches a term of the lease, the landlord may use that breach to terminate the lease. It doesn’t matter that it was just one of the roommates who didn’t close the lid on the dumpster after putting the trash in the dumpster. Make sure that you and all of your roommates know the rules that are in your lease agreement.

Subleasing –

Subleasing occurs when the tenant allows another person to lease the property that the tenant has leased from the landlord. For example, Bob leases an apartment on campus from Acme Student Housing. In May, when Bob leaves campus for the summer, he decides to sublease the apartment to his friend, Jessica, who is staying on campus all summer. Bob or any other tenant must check their lease to see if they are allowed to sublease the rental property. Usually the landlord must approve subtenants. If the landlord approves of the subtenant, you want to clearly establish how the rent will be handled. Will the subtenant pay the tenant? Will the original tenant then pay the landlord? Or will the subtenant pay the rent directly to the landlord? The subtenant usually will only have the same type of tenancy that the original tenant possessed. If you are the original tenant and enter into a sublease, you will want to make sure you understand how and if the subleasing impacts your duties as the original tenant. Read the lease and any documents very carefully. If you have questions or aren’t sure, seek help from your local tenant’s rights association or see if your state or local government has resources for tenants. In many situations the original tenant will become the “landlord” in relation to the new subtenant and will have all the responsibilities of a landlord.

Insurance for Renters –

In most situations, the landlord’s insurance on the rental property will not cover the loss of your possessions if your things are damaged or destroyed by something like a fire. In addition, if you were to somehow cause someone’s injury while they are visiting at your home, it won’t be covered by the landlord’s policy. Some landlord’s will require that you get a renters’ insurance policy. If you contact a reputable insurance agent, they will be able to give you information on the cost of a policy. If you can afford it, it is well worth the peace of mind and will save you the problems that may come if you are forced to sue the landlord for your damaged or stolen possessions.

Landlord Access –

There will be times when the landlord may need or want access to the property. There may be times when a landlord or someone representing them like a maintenance supervisor may need to repair or check something in the rental property. You have a right to privacy and should check your lease and your state and local laws to determine if there is a law or ordinance that applies. If there isn’t, make sure that something is included in the lease.

Rules of Tenants –

Your landlord may have rules that you must follow while you are living in the rental property. The rules might involve pets, parking, pool rules, storage of bikes, use of balconies, and excessive noise. There may be many more so don’t be surprised if you see some rules in the leases. Landlords will also usually build in penalties ranging from warnings, fines, or eviction depending on the rule violation.

Duties of the Landlord –

Possession: Traditionally the landlord has the duty to put the tenant in actual possession of the property. In the law there were two rules that dealt with this; the American Rule and the English Rule. Under the American Rule the landlord does not have to actually put the tenant in actual possession of the property. Under the English Rule, it is implied that the landlord will make sure the tenant is able to move into the premises. Different states have enacted different laws that deal with leasing apartments and dwellings vs. land so check your state laws. However, with apartments and other dwellings most states have passed laws that place responsibility on the landlord to make sure the tenant can move in when the tenant’s lease begins.

Habitable Premises: This means that the apartment or home that you are renting will be fit for living. In most situations where you are leasing a furnished apartment or home and expecting to move in and begin living there immediately, there is a duty on the part of the landlord to provide you with a property that you can safely inhabit. However, shop carefully when you are getting ready to rent. If you see something that is suspicious like water damage, mold, or evidence of a pest problem like mouse/rat droppings or roaches/roach traps, you will probably want to get it placed in the lease that these problems will be fixed prior to the beginning of the lease or play it safe and find another place to live that doesn’t have those problems. Make sure that you take pictures and document the condition of the rental property when you move in.

Latent Defects: Latent defects are problems with or at the property that you would probably not discover that could hurt or injure you. The landlord has a duty to tell you about these latent defects that you wouldn’t discover. Check to see how your state treats landlords and latent defects. Some states hold landlords responsible if they don’t disclose and repair latent defects while other states protect landlords and make it harder for tenants to sue the landlord for latent defects in the property.

Repairs: You will definitely want to read your lease agreement carefully to identify who is responsible for repairs to the property. In some places the tenant will be responsible for repairs to the apartment/house. However, in many situations, the landlord will be responsible for repairs. CHECK YOUR LEASE! In most multi-unit apartment buildings the landlord will always be responsible for the common areas like hallways, stairways, and parking lots.

Eviction- If a landlord decides that they don’t want a tenant anymore, a landlord can use the eviction process. Most states have established specific procedures and timelines that must be followed to evict a tenant. Most states have enacted laws that specify why a tenant can be evicted. Some of the reasons are: 1. Nonpayment of rent, 2.Continuing and extensive damage to the property, 3.Serious health hazard, 4.Illegal activities, 5.Violation of some term or provision of the lease, and 6. Holding over after the end of the lease.

Most leases include provisions that allow the landlord to hold all the tenants “jointly and severally liable”. This means that if one of the tenants in a house or apartment violates one of the terms the landlord can choose to use it as the reason to evict all of the tenants from the rental property. For example, if one of your housemates is growing marijuana and selling it from their room in the house, the landlord could use this illegal activity to evict all of the tenants from the house.

Escrow- Escrow accounts are a type of bank account that a tenant can utilize if they are having some type of problem with the landlord and don’t want to pay a portion of or all of their rent. A tenant might use an escrow account if a landlord fails to make a repair so the tenant is forced to make the repair. The tenant may deduct the cost of the repairs from the monthly rent. The money that the tenant doesn’t send to the landlord should be deposited in an escrow account. This will demonstrate to the court or a mediator if the landlord tries to evict the tenant that the tenant was ready, willing, and able to pay the rent and did pay the rent into the escrow account on time. The tenant should send a registered letter to the landlord stating why the money was withheld and that the money will be released to the landlord when the repair or problem is fixed. Not paying rent and using an escrow account is a very extreme measure so make sure that the situation calls for that type of action.

Suing Your Landlord – If a situation arises where you feel your only recourse is to sue your landlord, suing is an option. Small Claims Court is the usual court that has jurisdiction. Your state may call it a different name, but look for the court that handles landlord tenant issues or civil cases where the amount being sued over is less than a specific amount. Usually small claims courts will hear cases where the amount is an amount between $3,000.00 – $8,000.00. To increase your chance of success in small claims court, make sure you prepare and have as much evidence as possible to prove your case. The evidence might be pictures, receipts, letters or e-mails sent between you and the landlord, or anything else. Just make sure you are able to clearly explain your position to the judge and back up your position.