Protect Yourself from a Rental Disaster

Real estate, Money

Renting an apartment or home can be a hassle. Who replaces faulty smoke detectors? Who calls a plumber when the toilets back up? What can you expect to pay in utilities? What if you want to stay a couple of months past your lease? Can your rent increase without notice? Will you get your security deposit back? Here are a few tips for being a savvy renter by knowing your rights, and some precautions to take when moving in, occupying a space, and moving out.

Before You Move In

Carefully review your lease agreement, and make sure you have a copy (signed by your landlord) to keep for yourself. Make sure you understand the length of the lease, payments, late fees or other penalties. If you think you may have to move before a one-year lease is up, talk to the owner about a six-month lease and the possibility of renting on a month-to-month basis until you move. Be especially careful to make sure you know what will happen if a roommate doesn’t pay rent; will other tenants be liable for the flaky roommate’s share?

Make sure everything in the apartment works. Test out the toilets, showers, kitchen appliances, and make sure the smoke detectors are in working order. You may even want to give the heating and cooling system a test, along with the washer and dryer or any other included appliances. This will not only ensure that you live in a functional home, but can keep you from being charged for damaged appliances that you did not break. If anything is not working, alert your landlord immediately, preferably in a written letter so that you can document the notification.

During Your Lease

Document any complaints to management in letters. Record phone calls made about maintenance issues, if possible. Be polite but detailed in your descriptions of maintenance issues. If you want to fix or alter anything in the apartment, give your landlord notice in writing and obtain permission to do so before busting out a jackhammer or a paint can.

Your landlord must give you a 30-day notice before an increase in rent, unless the required notice is otherwise specified in your lease agreement. Most likely, your agreement  guarantees a set rent amount for the duration of the lease. If  you are renting on a month-to-month basis, however, your rent could go up.

When You Move Out

If you have to move out early, you can talk to your landlord about subleasing (whether or not this is permissible will most likely be stated in your lease agreement). Realize that if you do sublease, you will be responsible for any damages or problems the new tenants cause.

Typically, terminating a month-to-month lease requires tenants to give landlords a 30-day written notice of termination and to pay rent for the remaining 30-day period; however, the required notice period can vary from state to state. Tenant lawyer Christopher Deguzman Bernabe assures renters that, with proper 30-day notice, tenants need only pay a prorated rent price for the days the apartment is occupied, should the 30-day period end before the last day of the month.

When you do move out, take pictures (hopefully with proof of the date) so that you can’t be charged for damages you didn’t cause. Make sure your landlords have written notice of where to send your security deposit.