Welcome back to the world of RentPost. Hopefully, you won’t mind an existential moment from the Rent Lobster, but our aim here is to simplify rent and all the issues surrounding rent. As we expand, the goal will become apparent to all those familiar with RentPost whether you are a landlord, property manager, or tenant. For these reasons (and many more!), a series of informational articles will follow this heartfelt moment intended to mutually benefit both landlords and tenants. As landlords learn to be better landlords and tenants learn to be better tenants, frustrations, costs, unnecessary complexity, and animosity wane from the historically bitter tenant/landlord relationship, breaking new ground in the way rent is approached. Let’s begin making this world a better place, one renter and one landlord at a time with the fundamentals – basic tenant rights.
The following review of rights will hopefully provide a basis on how to act in certain situations, be you a landlord or tenant. The goal today is to shed light on how to prevent mishaps and act appropriately when mishaps do occur without ever overstepping the legal parameters, designed to protect both landlords and tenants under the cloak of Tenant Rights. Let’s start with the tenant selection process – don’t discriminate!
No Discrimination – It is illegal to reject tenant applications based on discriminatory reasons, set forth by the Fair Housing Act. Discrimination based on the following is illegal, (so don’t get the Department of Justice on your back)
-familial status (children, pregnant)
-physical or mental disability
Obvious enough, right? Think again. How many times have you heard “I only want girls living here; boys are too messy.” Maybe, you even heard the sentence flipped around. Regardless, the gender stereotype is insufficient to circumvent discrimination laws, and it is illegal to operate in this fashion. In fact, it is even illegal to advertise in any discriminatory way. There is, however, an exception to the rule worth noting – Landlords with 4 or fewer rental units are exempt from such discriminatory laws, so spare yourself the litigious thoughts if you got rejected by Mrs. Smith who won’t rent you her basement (her only rental) because you are a 21-yr old, male, student/party connoisseur.
Other exceptions to the rule include housing specifically designed to meet certain needs of certain people. Example: retirement home, low income housing etc.
Next, the tenant has a right to “Habitable Premises.” Here’s another deceptively dicey one. As it may, again, seem straightforward and obvious that all living conditions must be safe and clean for tenant use, it is often mistaken by the tenant that a gross infestation, for example, of rats or cockroaches is justification for breaking the lease. This, however, is not always the case. If the infestation or poor living condition is a result of the the tenant’s lifestyle, than the tenant is financially responsible for the correction, and it provides no grounds to legally break the lease agreement. It is however, the landlord’s responsibility to respond to a tenant request regarding the treatment of the inhabitability issues, but the bill may be forwarded from landlord to tenant.
Let’s talk about Privacy. Most all landlords know these rules, but often choose to ignore them. Also, landlords typically forget that it’s not just you, the landlord, who is not allowed in, but it is everyone in anyway connected to you who is not allowed in. This means Bob from Landlord’s Plumbing Services is not allowed to just come in and check the water heater without warning. Anyhow, there are only three situations that landlords are legally permitted to enter tenant dwellings: 1.) for repairs after sufficient notification to the tenant. Federal law defaults to statutory law on what is considered “sufficient notification,” but use 24 hours as your rule-of-thumb. 2.) Emergency; this includes fire and flood. In these situations, forget the 24-hour notice. 3.) To show potential renters or purchasers the property; again, sufficient notification is required. Also, make sure the tenant is actually notified, missed phone calls don’t count (yea we all know you’ve done that).
It is also important to know the Maintenance Responsibilities of the Landlord and the Consequences if these responsibilities are ignored. Landlord must provide adequate:
-weather proofing (no leaks)
-clean, sanitary environment
Adequacy is typically defined according to the state, and any gray areas are often covered by common law precedent set in previous court rulings. These conditions a legally expected to exist on the day the tenant moves in, so it is recommended that the tenant take a detailed walkthrough of the unit, noting any conditions not in line with the aforementioned. Keeping track of dates is important, and proving the date is equally important, so make sure to do something like developing dated pictures – get it recorded somehow. Furthermore, submitting work orders or requests to landlords are always best done in a documentable fashion, not just by mouth. This allows the tenant to record the date of the request, and give the landlord an opportunity to think over the matter (not putting him/her on the spot). If the landlord ignores the request and does not tend to the matter within the given period of time, the tenant has the right to make repairs and deduct the cost from rent, withhold rent until problem is fixed, pay less rent, call local building inspector to approach the situation coercively, or move out without any responsibility of future rent and with the right to reclaim the entire security deposit. Cosmetic damages are not the responsibility of the landlord, nor are damages resulting directly and solely from tenant actions; however, the landlord may still be responsible to alleviate the problem without any financial responsibility (landlord will fix it, but won’t pay for it). So tenants, don’t take a baseball bat to your water heater and think the landlord is going to pay.
The final, highly common, issue in the world of rent is who is responsible to pay rent in certain situations. The Parties to a Lease are any persons who signs the lease agreement with the landlord. Any person who signs is responsible for the total amount of the rent due, so the landlord can pursue any roommate for the entire amount. If you, as a roommate-tenant, pay your share of the rent, your obligation is not over until your roommates (or somebody) pays for their shares as well. However, landlords can only collect the amount owed, so they cannot collect the full amount from multiple tenants. Tenants, just be aware.
These five issues are the most common subjects of disagreement and confusion amongst tenants and landlords. Clarity on all of them help both parties to know the generally appropriate course of action in said situations. Blindly and aggressively attacking the opposite party without a basis of knowledge might be misplaced and lead to unwanted results. Don’t live in festering anger. Knowledge of Landlord/Tenant right and wrong in common situations engenders a harmonious, healthy relationship, perpetuating happiness on both sides, simplifying life, simplifying rent.
The Rent Lobster
For more info on statutory laws in your state regarding these matters, visit www.thelpa.com/lpa/lllaw.html