Whether starting a life on your own or renting an apartment just until college is done, most people rent for at least some portion of their lives. However, many people don’t know their rights as tenants. There are three basics you need to know before signing a Lease Agreement. First, landlords are responsible for normal wear and tear on the premises, but if the landlord fails to keep up the premises, you as the tenant have a few options. Second, pay attention to the length of the rental term; it could be important when it comes time to terminate the Lease. Third, there are only a few times when a landlord can evict you or force you to pay more than the agreed-upon price. Read more about these tenant rights basics below.

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1. Landlords Are Responsible, but You Are Too

One of the most important tenant rights is to have the landlord keep the premises in “habitable” conditions. This doesn’t mean that everything has to be perfectly clean or luxurious. However, it also doesn’t mean that you have to live in a room that’s falling apart. Uninhabitable conditions can include dangerous ones, such as holes in the floor, unsafe or exposed wiring, or non-working air conditioning in dangerously hot summer months. Gross infestations of roaches, fleas or other pests are also uninhabitable conditions. Non-working cable or out-of-date appliances typically don’t make an apartment uninhabitable, unless there is a dangerous condition associated with them, such as a gas leak.

If you, the tenant, damage the property beyond normal wear and tear, the landlord can charge you for the cost of repairs. To protect your security deposit, you should make a careful inspection of the premises as soon as (or before) you agree to the Lease. By taking careful note of existing imperfections, you can avoid being held liable for them when you leave the premises.

If the landlord has been notified about a problem with the property and fails to make repairs, you have a number of options. You can withhold a portion of rent, make the repairs and then deduct the cost of the repair from your rent, or break the Lease and find somewhere else to live. You must tell your landlord about the necessary repairs as soon as possible. If you end up suing your landlord for uninhabitable conditions, you could be in a better legal position if you have a record of promptly notifying the landlord about the maintenance problem. The promptness of your compliant shows the court that it’s a serious problem that affects the habitability of the unit.

2. Watch the Term of the Agreement

Pay attention to the length of the rental agreement and how long you need to make payments. Many jurisdictions require adequate notice of terminating the Lease. Let's say that your state requires you to give two months’ notice before the end of the lease term. If you do not give your landlord enough notice, you may be forced to pay additional rent until the proper notice term has been met.

3. Protect Against Unlawful Eviction

There are only a few times when a landlord can evict a tenant. If you know the situations, you can help protect yourself from an unlawful eviction. For example:
  • A landlord can only evict a tenant after going through proceedings designed to repay the landlord for any rent lost. A landlord must follow all of the state's eviction procedures.
  • A landlord must also have adequate cause to evict the tenant, and being late for a payment alone isn’t enough cause.
  • A landlord must also ask the local sheriff's office for help in evicting the tenant if authorized. If a landlord tries to take matters upon him or herself or fails to follow procedure, the tenant can sue the landlord for wrongful eviction.

Additional Tenants Rights

Just in case you get into a dispute with your landlord, here are a few more things to keep in mind as a tenant:
  • You have a right to due notice of any action against you.
  • You have the right to correct any breach against the landlord, including back rent, repairs, or to fulfill any remaining obligations under the lease.
  • You also have the right to appeal any decision made regarding your lease dispute if a court decides against you. Consult your local attorney for state-specific procedures and variations on these rights.

Get started Visit our Tenant Center Get tenant documents and ask a lawyer your questions.

Get started Visit our Tenant Center Get tenant documents and ask a lawyer your questions.