If you're looking for a new place, or just renewing your current lease, find out what, exactly, you're entitled to.
Just as landlords have rights, you have rights as a tenant, too. Many aspects of landlord-tenant law—like the consequences for late rent payments—are spelled out in your lease. And while each state has differing laws regarding the rights and responsibilities of each party (often found online by visiting the attorney general’s website), there are a handful of universal rights tenants have. Before you sign your next lease or get into a sticky situation with your landlord, get informed. After all, knowledge is power.
Peace and quiet.
Tenants have the right to live in a peaceful environment, at least during certain times of day—and to advance notice if the building or home they rent is subject to major disruptions (like elevator repairs or building-wide systems fixes which could impact electrical or gas or hot water). As such, tenants have the right to approach the landlord if neighbors are making noise partying, fighting, or playing music too loudly.
A healthy environment.
If the rental unit has potentially illness-inducing factors like malfunctioning heating or cooling systems, faulty electrical or plumbing, gas leaks, broken windows, mold, or lead paint (though in some cases, this is permissible if disclosed in advance), the tenant has the right to request they be addressed within a reasonable period of time. Note: what’s reasonable varies by state, so check for specifics where you live.
A written lease.
Spelling out the rent price and the lease’s time period is required in most states, but may depend on lease length (i.e. a verbal agreement may suffice for a short-term rental, but longer leases need to be prepared in writing). Be sure to get documentation from your potential landlord before you move in. Then print out a hard copy (with signatures!) for safekeeping, just in case.
Locks and smoke detectors.
States almost always require that rentals have smoke detectors—and that they’re well maintained—as well as written fire safety information. Most also require carbon monoxide detectors and locks on both doors and windows as safety precautions. If you think your new place isn’t up to code, or if that smoke alarm in the hall just won’t stop beeping, don’t hesitate to ask your landlord for a walk-through.
An orderly eviction process.
Tenants have the right to remain in their rental units during any eviction process up until a certain point in the eviction’s legal proceedings (which varies by state). Leases should spell out under what circumstances an eviction can occur, whether or not landlords must provide written notice, how many days notice the tenant shall receive, and what the procedure is should it ever happen.
A reasonable deposit.
Most states spell out a maximum required deposit that landlords can charge (usually not more than a few months’ rent). Knowing this amount in advance will help you save so you can be prepared when it’s time to apply for an apartment—and it’ll keep you from potentially being overcharged. And if your contract doesn’t detail how your deposit refund will be determined during move-out, ask that it be included as well.
A clear contract.
Landlords should never change the terms of a lease arbitrarily or without notice. If yours tries to increase rent as retaliation for tenant behavior, take property as compensation for unpaid rent or other renter debt, lock the unit during an eviction prior to securing a court order, or anything else seemingly illegal, be sure to read the fine print in your contract.