House of the Day #7: 409 W. 120th Street

How can renters improve their renting experience?

Renting can be a great experience and a financially wise decision for many people. But without ownership, your rights as a renter can be a bit of a mystery. To make renting a positive experience we looked to our legal network for advice.

Our renting network seemed to agree on a few vital pieces of legal advice. Firstly, get an inspection before you move in. Take advantage of renter advocacy groups to learn more about your rights as a renter where you live. Finally, establish a professional relationship with your landlord.

Move-In Inspection

Almost all apartments, condos, and homes for rent require a signed lease before you move in. Typically, first month’s rent, last month’s rent, and a damage deposit are also expected up front. But the renter should demand one thing of their landlord or property manager before they move-in, an inspection of the rental. This is the renter’s chance to note damage of the property so they are not blamed later. It also gives the renter a chance to alert the property manager of problems that need fixing.

According to attorney Senen Garcia,

Yes, before signing any lease, all renters should properly inspect the premises for any damages or issues. These problems should be raised to the landlord and either repaired or noted for the purposes of removing fault from the tenant at time of expiration. This notation is important so that the tenant’s security deposit cannot be claimed for the problem. Of course, the lease itself should be reviewed before signing.”

Garcia notes that a move-in inspection is important for keeping your damage deposit safe. A damage deposit can sometimes be more than one-month’s rent, so this is not to be taken lightly.

Renter Law by State

Many people rent when they move to a new part of the country. What’s challenging is that many renter’s rights vary from state to state. Renter laws and rights are online, but they are often confusing and wordy. Luckily, many areas have advocacy groups that work with renters to make sure you are being treated fairly and understand the lease you have agreed to.

Attorney Steven D. Pattee gave us more information on the topic,

Landlord-Tenant laws vary by state. State statutes generally control the minimum rights and obligations of the parties. These minimum obligations and rights can then be increased by the lease agreement but generally not decreased. An internet search for your state’s landlord-tenant statutes usually will direct you to the governing law. If you have any questions about your rights or obligations, you should consult a landlord-tenant lawyer. Many locations also have advocacy groups that will work with residential tenants to explain legal rights and obligations.”

Understanding the lease can help maintain a healthy relationship between the landlord and tenant.

Landlord-Tenant Relationship

Before you sign a lease, you want to make sure that working with your landlord will be easy should something arise with your rental. This can be accomplished by speaking with neighbors to see how well the landlord maintains the property, and by your personal connection during your initial meeting with the landlord. Attorney Shawn C. White gives more advice on the topic,

One of the things I tell my clients is to investigate the property and the landlord. The internet provides you with the possibility to determine if the landlord has been involved in any lawsuits or bankruptcies. These types of searches can take as little as 10 minutes. There are several things I tell my tenants: (1) get it in writing; (2) buy renter’s insurance; (3) talk with your landlord if there is a problem and if he/she doesn’t respond, then put it in writing; (4) be sure you are comfortable with the property and the landlord before signing the lease; and (5) ask the neighbors about the property. The last one sounds silly but you’d be surprised what the neighbors will tell you about the landlord and the property.”

In addition to researching the landlord and property before you sign the lease, it is important to maintain the relationship once it has been established. Renters should pay their rent on time, abide by lease agreements (use caution when making decorative changes), and put all maintenance requests in writing. If the landlord violates the relationship or could possibly be infringing on rights, like attorney Pattee said, seek a renter’s advocacy group in your area.
Renting should be a pleasant experience. With careful selection of your property and landlord, you’ll soon call your rental your home. But be sure to do a move-in inspection and be aware of your rights and responsibilities as a renter. We hope that these tips help you have a smooth renting experience.