Lots of people rent their first apartments or houses while in college. While most landlords you encounter are honest businesspeople, some of them, unfortunately, try to take advantage of students’ inexperience with renting.
Getting informed about your rental rights can prevent this from happening to you. Some of these rights vary from location to location and by the type of rental agreement you sign. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development maintains a database with the specifics of each state’s rental rules.
Although the specifics of tenant rights vary depending on your location and circumstances, many of the rules apply no matter where you are. Here are seven things you should know about the rights you have as a tenant.
Implied Warranty of Habitability
Rental agreements in almost all states include an implied warranty of habitability, which essentially means that your housing must be livable and in compliance with housing codes.
It should give you reasonable protection from the elements, include functioning locks on all doors and windows and be free from infestations of bugs or rodents. It should allow for access to basic utilities like hot and cold running water and heating if needed.
Right to Fair Housing
Federal, state and local laws protect individuals from discrimination in rental transactions. Federal fair housing laws prohibit landlords from discriminating against tenants because of their “race, color, religion, sex, familial status, or national origin.” State and local laws may expand this to cover other things as well, such as age, sexual orientation, religion and marital status.
Although your landlord owns the property you’re renting, they cannot come in at any time. Privacy rules require that your landlord give you advanced notice before entering the home, except in the case of an emergency. In most areas, your landlord must give you at least 24 hours’ notice. If you live in university-owned or university-affiliated housing, you may have a less comprehensive privacy guarantee.
Landlords have certain obligations when it comes to maintenance, as do tenants. Landlords must make sure that any defects that could make a home unlivable get fixed promptly. They have a responsibility for “due diligence and “due care,” meaning they must investigate, identify and address any defects before your move-in date. They must also fix any deficiencies you discover after you move in, but they do not have to pay for damage caused by their tenants. Renters also have a responsibility to take care of the unit and keep it reasonably clean.
Advanced Notice of Rent Changes
Your landlord cannot change the amount of rent you owe during the term or your lease unless you mutually agree on it. They can, however, change it if you’re moving to a new lease term, which makes it easier for property owners to make changes if you have a month-to-month agreement. In these cases, though, they must still give you advanced notice of any adjustments to your rent. The amount of notice they must provide you varies, but it is typically 30 days.
The rules and processes for evicting tenants vary according to your location and your specific circumstances. A landlord, however, cannot evict you for no reason or without notice. In most cases, they must provide you with a written warning and give you a valid reason for eviction. They also need to provide you with a chance to fix the situation by, for example, paying the rent you owe or finding a new home for your pet if your lease does not permit pets. Only in the most extreme circumstances will you not have a chance to fix the situation.
Breaking Your Lease
You should try to stay for the entirety of your lease term if you can, but in some situations, you may need to leave early. If this happens, you still owe rent for the remainder of your lease, but the landlord must also make reasonable efforts to find a new tenant. If they find someone, you’ll no longer owe rent for the months the new tenant is there. You might still be on the hook for the costs of advertising and showing the unit.
If your landlord breaks the terms of the lease, though, you can move out without any consequences. There are also other reasons you may leave your agreement early, such as active military service. Some other state laws include other exceptions, such as health issues and job relocation.
Rental Rights in College Towns
Renting your first home or apartment is an exciting time. Hopefully, you won’t have any problems, but in case something unfortunate happens, being prepared goes a long way. Always read your lease agreement carefully, room with people you trust, pay attention to any red flags you notice and make sure you know your rental rights before you sign your lease.