By Dylan Bartlett
If you’re on the hunt for a new place, you likely have a checklist already in-hand. But a washer and dryer set isn’t the only must-have that should be at the top of your concerns.
Every tenant needs to know their rights before they sign a lease. No two landlords are the same — and if you’re not well informed beforehand, your situation can go downhill.
Here are a few tenant rights to keep in mind as you look for a new place.
1. Your Residence Must Be Habitable
Your property manager must maintain your house or apartment adequately. When your water shuts off even though you’ve paid the bill, your landlord needs to find a solution.
All rental properties have to meet a number of standards — it’s up to their owners to ensure that’s the case. Aside from utilities, these include trash receptacles and common repairs. Additionally, your home should align with local health and safety codes.
Of course, your lease can offer guidance, too. While it’s your landlord’s responsibility to create a clean environment, they may ask you to take care of the lawn. If your landlord refuses to fix issues that make the property uninhabitable, you can withhold rent. That said, it’s wise to continue to pay and pursue a reimbursement later.
2. Landlords Can’t Discriminate
No matter your gender, race, disability or age, you can’t be discriminated against in any scenario. The same sentiment applies to familial status and religious beliefs. The Fair Housing Act mandates that landlords can’t deny individuals based on these factors. Sometimes, state laws go even further. In Pennsylvania, it’s illegal to refuse a pregnant woman for that reason alone.
These days, it’s common for states to protect gender identity and sexual orientation, as well. Check to make sure that’s the case in your area. It’s also important to recognize what’s not discrimination. Quite often, landlords enforce occupancy limits.
That’s to prevent an overcrowded home and potential excessive damage.
If your property manager has taken discriminatory measures, file a complaint with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
3. There’s No Open-Door Policy
In almost all cases, your landlord can’t walk into your apartment unannounced. They need to provide a notice of entry. This is a note that tells you when and why this visit will occur. Reasons typically include repairs and inspections. If you’re about to move, property managers can also show your home to potential tenants. Your landlord can also send maintenance workers in their place.
If they start to enter your home randomly, you’re able to obtain a court order. Then, if anyone continues to drop by without notice, you’re able to break the lease without consequences. Lawyers typically consider this behavior to be harassment.
4. Background Checks Have Limitations
Property managers conduct background checks to see a potential tenant’s history. These checks help them determine whether or not you’re a proper fit. Most landlords won’t rent to someone who doesn’t meet specific requirements. This way, they sure that you’ll pay on time and won’t cause problems. But these investigations come with a few limitations.
You’re in no way required to undergo a background or credit check. You probably won’t be able to live in some homes, but this step isn’t necessary for every rental. If a property manager doesn’t let you apply because of your criminal record, that may be considered discrimination. All landlords must follow certain steps that keep you in the loop.
5. You’re Entitled to Your Security Deposit
Typically, landlords require a month’s rent and a security deposit upfront. You may have to pay other fees, as well. At the end of your lease, you’re entitled to the entire amount of that deposit.
That said, there’s a limitation or two. If you cause damage to your unit, your property manager will fix those issues with money from your deposit. If you ever fail to make rent, your landlord can use those funds instead. Once you vacate your home, your property manager must return that deposit. Usually, states have different rules for this process. But the standard timeline doesn’t exceed 21 days.
In other words, if your landlord holds your deposit for too long, it could generate interest. You’re entitled to that interest, as well.
Learn About Tenant Rights Before You Rent
Don’t sign that lease right away. Instead, take the time to learn about your rights. This way, you’ll know how to best prepare for every possible scenario that might come your way