Welcome back to the world of RentPost. Our aim here is to simplify rent and all the issues surrounding it. 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 to benefit landlords and tenants mutually. As landlords learn to be better landlords – and tenants know 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 provide a basis for acting in certain situations, be you a landlord or tenant. The goal is to show how to prevent mishaps and act appropriately when they occur without ever overstepping the legal parameters designed to protect landlords and tenants under the cloak of Tenant Rights.
Let’s start with the tenant selection process – don’t discriminate!
It is illegal to reject tenant applications based on discriminatory reasons set forth by the Fair Housing Act. Discrimination based on the following is unlawful, so don’t get the Department of Justice on your back!
- Nationality or Place of Origin
- Familial status (pregnant or with children)
- Physical or mental disability
That is obvious enough, right? Think again. How often 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 unlawful to advertise in any discriminatory way.
There is, however, an exception to the rule worth noting – Landlords with four 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 and party connoisseur.
Other exceptions to the rule include housing specifically designed to meet the particular needs of certain people—for example, retirement home, low-income housing, etc.
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 of rats or cockroaches, for example, is justification for breaking the lease. That, however, is not always the case.
If the infestation or poor living condition results from the tenant’s lifestyle, then the tenant is financially responsible for the correction. Moreover, it provides no grounds to break the lease agreement legally. It is, however, the landlord’s responsibility to respond to a tenant’s request regarding the habitability issues, but the landlord may forward the bill to the tenant.
Most, if not all, landlords know these rules but often choose to ignore them. Also, landlords typically need to remember that it’s not just them who are not allowed entry; it is everyone in any way connected to them who is not allowed inside without prior permission.
That means Bob from Landlord’s Plumbing Services cannot 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:
- Repairs: Must be with sufficient notification to the tenant. Federal law defaults to statutory law on what is considered “sufficient notification” but uses 24 hours as the rule of thumb.
- Emergencies: This includes fire and flood. In these situations, forget the 24-hour notice.
- Showings: Again, sufficient notification is required if the property is to be shown to potential renters or buyers. Also, ensure the tenant is appropriately notified; missed phone calls don’t count (yea, we all know you’ve done that).
The landlord’s maintenance responsibilities and the consequences if these responsibilities are ignored are listed below. A landlord must provide adequate:
- weatherproofing (no leaks)
- hot water
- clean and sanitary environment
Adequacy is typically defined according to the state, and any gray areas are often covered by common law precedents set in previous court rulings. These conditions are 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 that are not in line with those mentioned above.
Keeping track of dates is important, and proving the date is equally important, so make sure to do something like developing dated pictures and getting them recorded somehow. Furthermore, submitting work orders or requests to landlords is always best done in a documentable fashion, not just by word of mouth. That allows the tenant to record the date of the request and enables the landlord to think over the matter (not putting them on the spot).
Suppose the landlord ignores the request and does not tend to the matter within the given period. In that case, the tenant has the right to make repairs and deduct the cost from the rent, withhold rent until the problem is fixed, pay less rent, call the 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 landlord’s responsibility, nor are damages resulting directly and solely from tenant actions; however, the landlord may still be responsible for alleviating the problem without any financial obligation (the 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 will pay.
Shared Rent Payments
The final pervasive issue in the world of rent is who is responsible for paying rent in certain situations. The Parties to a Lease are those who sign 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) pay for their shares as well. However, landlords can only collect the amount owed, so they cannot demand the total amount from multiple tenants. So, tenants, be aware.
Respecting Tenant & Landlord Rights Prevents Misunderstandings
These five issues are the most common subjects of disagreement and confusion amongst tenants and landlords. Clarity on all of them helps both parties know the 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. Understanding landlord-tenant rights in everyday situations engender a harmonious, healthy relationship between landlord and tenant. It perpetuates satisfaction on both sides, simplifying life, and cutting the frills out of rentals.
For more info on statutory laws in your state regarding these matters, visit www.thelpa.com/lpa/lllaw.html.