Jun 9, 2016

5 Things You Need to Know About Rentals

When renting an apartment is on the horizon, you need to understand that moving into a rental involves more than just signing a lease and paying rent. Beyond these issues, there are five things you need to know about rentals:

Security Deposit Issues

Disputes surrounding a security deposit represents one of the more common issues that arise between a landlord and tenant. As a tenant, you have some specific rights, but also obligations, as far as a security deposit is concerned.

The laws in every state set a maximum that a landlord can require in the way of a security deposit. Because this varies from one jurisdiction to another, you need to some homework to find out what the maximum amount a security deposit can be where you intend to rent.

A landlord can increase a security deposit if a pet will be present on the premises. However, there are legal parameters regarding what can be added to a security deposit for a pet on the premises.

The typical legal scheme regarding a security deposit is for it to be calculated based upon the base rent being charged for an apartment. For example, the permissible security deposit may be equal to one and a half times the monthly rental charge.

States also have laws governing returning or keeping the security deposit at the end of a lease term. A landlord can retain some or all of security deposit if you cause damage to the premises beyond what typically is defined as normal wear and tear.

As a general rule, if a landlord intends to keep all or part of a security deposit, he or she must advise you in writing within a specified period of time. The written notification must itemize the reasons why the landlord is withholding funds.

If a landlord fails to return a security deposit within the timeframe established law, or fails to provide a written notification regarding withholding those funds, a tenant typically can seek financial sanctions from a landlord. As with other landlord and tenant statutes and regulations, this process varies from one state to another.

As a tenant, you must keep in mind that you legally cannot use a security deposit for the last month’s rent due on a lease. That is not the purpose of a security deposit and can only be used in that manner if a landlord and tenant specifically agree to such an arrangement.

Renter’s Insurance

As a tenant, one of the provisions in an apartment lease agreement you need to be on the lookout for is a requirement to obtain renter’s insurance. A provision in a residential lease agreement requiring the tenant to maintain renter’s insurance is becoming more commonplace all the time.

The failure to maintain renter’s insurance is required in the lease agreement represents a violation of that contract. In theory, a landlord could seek to evict a tenant for failing to maintain renter’s insurance if required in the lease.

Even is a lease does not require the tenant to procure renter’s insurance, your best interests are serviced by obtaining this type of insurance. You need to keep in mind that any insurance maintained by the landlord will not cover your own property in your apartment. For example, if a fire occurs in an apartment building, the landlord’s insurance typically will not cover your own losses.

Renter’s insurance typically is affordable. You need to make certain you itemize more expensive property items, like high-end electronics and jewelry, to ensure that it is covered by a renter’s insurance policy.

Understanding Your Tenant’s Rights

The landlord and tenants in your state establish specific rights in your favor. As a tenant, it is important that you have a basic understand of your basic legal rights. These rights include:

  • notice before landlord enters premises
  • safe premises
  • adequate heat
  • water supply
  • peaceful enjoyment of premises
  • other property utilities
  • disclosures related to potential hazards

If a tenant’s right is established by law, the fact that it is not included in a lease agreement is not relevant. In addition, pursuant the landlord and tenants law in all states, a landlord cannot take these rights away, even if for some reason a tenant agrees with the landlord.

If a landlord violates one or another of these tenant’s rights, you may be able to take legal action against the landlord. In addition, a violation of a tenant’s rights may also constitute a breach of a lease agreement.

Dealing with Rent Increases

Landlord and tenant laws are uniform across the country when it comes to certain aspects associated with the timing of rent increases. The key area in which the laws are in sync involves an attempt to raise the rent in the midst of an existing lease agreement.

All states prohibit a landlord from raising the rent on residential property while a lease agreement is in force. At the end of a lease term, it is permissible for a landlord to raise the rent, in accordance with state law.

If no written lease agreement exists, rent cannot be raised during the present month. However, in accordance with notification requirements in landlord and tenant law, the rent can be increased for future time periods.

State laws also include notification requirements that a landlord must follow when it comes to rent increases. This provides the tenant a chance to consider whether or not a rent increase is acceptable and whether the cost of renting fits within a budget. It allows you the opportunity to find a new home, if you so desire.

Eviction Laws

Although you certainly do not intend to face eviction proceedings, you are best served understanding some basic elements of the law. There are two general types of eviction proceedings. First, evictions are filed for nonpayment of rent. Second, these lawsuits are filed for violation of other material lease provisions.

In each scenario, a tenant must receive a notice to cure from a landlord before eviction proceedings can start. For example, in the case of nonpayment of rent, state law requires a landlord to give a three-day notice to cure. In other words, a tenant has three days to pay past due rent, and other charges. If that is accomplished, the tenant is entitled to stay in the premises and no eviction can be started.

If an eviction case is filed against you, an opportunity is given to you to tell your side of the story in court. If the judge ultimately rules against you, you then have a specific period of time to vacate the property. If you fail to do that, the sheriff can be called upon to remove you from the property.

Keep in mind that a judgment can also be entered against you for the rent you failed to pay. In theory, a landlord can attempt to collect that from you by garnishing your wages and other collection procedures.

In the final analysis, by better educating yourself on rentals and living in an apartment, your experience will be more enjoyable and your rights will be better protected.

Ralf Kleemann/ Shutterstock.com

Ralf Kleemann/ Shutterstock.com

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