By Jenny Lelwica Buttaccio | Jan 16, 2018
Years ago, I discovered cockroaches in my Chicago apartment. I spent money on sprays, traps, and other gadgets to rid my place of the disgusting rent-free tenants, but I was no match for them.
So I turned to my landlord for help. If he refused, I’d withhold rent or break my lease—I was justified, right?
Maybe. Maybe not. Rental laws and tenant rights vary from city to city, and it actually might not have been OK for me to up and leave—even if my landlord wasn’t getting the job done. (Thankfully, it didn’t come to that: He quickly hired an exterminator, and I lived out the remainder of my lease roach-free.)
1. You’ll never land an apartment with a bad credit score
Yes, bad credit can make things more challenging, especially in a competitive rental market. But it doesn’t automatically disqualify you as a rental candidate.
When you fill out an application for housing, you’ll undergo a credit and background check. But other factors—such as applying with a roommate, proof of pay stubs, or letters of recommendation from your previous landlords—may help seal the deal.
2. The longer you’ve lived somewhere, the greater the chances you’ll lose your security deposit
So you’ve lived in a place for only a year, and there’s no damage to speak of—you’ll probably get your security deposit back, right? But if you’ve lived there longer, you’re probably thinking you can kiss that deposit goodbye.
It isn’t always so cut and dried, says Megan Perkins Roldan, property manager at Chestnut Tower Apartments in Chicago.
“We definitely take into account the length of tenancy when assessing wear-and-tear damages and expect that longer-term residents will need more work from us at move-out,” Roldan says. “But it’s not necessarily [considered] damage.”
The best way to avoid charges is to leave the unit in the condition it was when you moved in, whenever that was. Do a deep clean, patch large holes, and repaint any custom-colored walls.
3. Your landlord can evict you for any reason
If you’re on a signed lease, a landlord typically can’t evict you for any reason. The landlord must show sufficient evidence that you’ve broken the lease agreement, and your eviction is justifiable. (If you’re renting month to month, however, the rules get a little fuzzy.)
What’s more: You shouldn’t come home to find the locks changed and your stuff out on the street. To evict a resident, landlords or property management companies must provide sufficient and specific written notice, according to Nolo, one of the largest online libraries of legal information for consumers.
If you fail to move or change your behavior after receiving the notice, the landlord has the legal right to proceed with a lawsuit to evict you.
4. A landlord is responsible for all repairs and maintenance
The responsibilities of the landlord or property manager vary depending on where you live and the terms of your lease. In general, your landlord is on the hook to handle such things as general maintenance, noise complaints, plumbing issues, and pest control.
But there are some things that simply aren’t your landlord’s problem—usually if it’s something caused by you.
“If the damage is due to the tenant’s negligence, the landlord might choose to address the repairs and withhold the cost of the repairs out of the tenant’s security deposit,” says Daniel L. Staley, associate broker at Staley Real Estate in Rhinebeck, NY.
And, if damages are severe enough, it could cost you more than your security deposit—we’re talking lawsuits.
5. You can deduct rent when you do your own repairs or maintenance
While it might seem easiest to just subtract the money you spent on repairs, this could get you into trouble down the road—especially if you haven’t discussed this arrangement with your landlord.
Leave the work to your landlord, and make sure to send him an itemized list of what needs to be done. That way, if the landlord refuses to do the repairs, you have ammo to take to a higher power.
Renters can call their local building inspectors “to inspect [the place] and force the landlord to make the repairs that are required by code,” says Alicia Bosben, broker property manager at the Realty Tree in Madison, WI.
6. Rental prices are set in stone
We won’t lie: You don’t typically have much bargaining power when it comes to how much you’ll pay—especially in a hot rental market. But each landlord is different, and you do have a few tricks up your sleeve.
First, consider a longer lease. Landlords don’t usually want to deal with turnover. If you can commit to being in for the long(er) haul, they might be more willing to negotiate the rental price and lease terms.
Second, consider your time frame. There are typically more rental vacancies in winter, so landlords might be more inclined to strike a deal at that time.
Finally, arm yourself with info to help your case: Know the vacancy rate and the going rate for similar units in the area, and bring recommendation letters from your current landlord to show you’re a good tenant.
7. Landlords can enter your place whenever they want
A landlord may need to enter your unit for a variety of reasons—to show your unit to prospective tenants, to check the fire alarms, or simply to do routine maintenance.
But legally, a landlord can’t enter your apartment whenever he wants. He must provide you with sufficient warning, generally 24 hours.
There are some exceptions, of course: If there’s an emergency—like fire or a sever water leak—landlords can enter without notice.
8. You’re flushing away money by renting
Sure, buying a home is a good investment. But there are a ton of reasons why renting isn’t a bad investment.
It might be better for you financially, you might like having someone on call for maintenance and repairs, or perhaps you simply want the flexibility to up and move whenever you want. Plus, renting can allow you time to save for a down payment on that house.
So the next time well-intentioned friends or family members try to tell you that renting is a bad move, tell them it’s a myth—and you can debunk it.
Jenny Lelwica Buttaccio is a writer living in Chicago. Her work has appeared in HuffPost, Prevention Magazine, Reader’s Digest, and more. Follow @lymeroad
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