Do You Know Your Renters Rights? Find Them Here!
By Pekin Insurance · Jun 5, 2019 ·3 min read
Are any two renting situations the same? You have different landlords, different room sizes, and different prices from one place to the next. Unless you move to another state, your renters rights should stay the same.
You deserve a safe living space and a positive relationship with your landlord. That’s why we’re here to help you know your renters rights. We’ll also give you questions to ask landlords before you say “yes” to any agreement.
First Things First: Know Your Renters Rights
Landlord-tenant laws serve two main purposes:
- Protect renters
- Protect landlords
Unfortunately, either party could take advantage of the other or attempt to avoid legal responsibilities.
We don’t want to paint anyone in a negative light, but some landlords don’t keep their buildings up to code. Some renters don’t see an issue with causing damage to property they don’t own.
It would take way too long to list every state’s landlord-tenant laws, so we’ll point you in the right direction. Visit this American Apartment Owners Association page. Then, click on your state to find a comprehensive list of landlord-tenant laws that apply to you.
If you’re looking for more helpful resources, RENTcafé® compiled a ranked list of the best and worst states for renters. Most states offer the following renters rights (though a few of them might not):
- It’s illegal for a landlord to deny an apartment application because of race, ethnicity, national origin, sex, marital status, sexual orientation, or religion.
- You have a right to a habitable and safe environment with running water, working electricity, and heat. That includes a sufficient amount of smoke detectors.
- Most states allow landlords to ask for the first month's rent and a security deposit at the signing of the lease. Some allow them to ask for the first month's rent, last month's rent, and security.
- In most states, it is the landlord's responsibility to pay for running water to the apartment. This does not include heated water.
Questions to Ask the Landlord Before You Say “Yes”
Now that you know your rights, what's the next step?
Let’s say you’ve found an apartment that looks like it's the perfect fit. It’s the right size and price.
Listings might disappear quickly where you live, but you don’t want to rush into a potentially bad situation.
First, you’ll want to check apartment review sites like:
Once you’ve done your research, ask the landlord the following questions:
1. Can you confirm the costs for utilities, deposits, and rent?
You don’t want the landlord to change prices on you. Get him or her to agree on these numbers to prevent hidden costs from popping up.
2. How would I get in touch with maintenance, and how long would it take them to fix a problem?
You don’t want to go without heat in the winter or AC in the summer. It’s helpful to know who to contact and when they'll arrive if you have maintenance issues.
3. What forms of payment do you accept?
You should consider a different apartment if the landlord says, “CASH ONLY.” Cash payments aren’t traceable, so you could pay the landlord, and the landlord could claim that you didn’t pay. It’s also the sign of a potential rental scam. Some fraudsters pose as landlords and rip off people this way.
4. Can I take a look at the property and the apartment?
It’s easy to make a listing look better through the magic of lighting and touch-ups. You really want to know what you’re getting in to. You might think twice about your choice if the apartment is nice but the rest of the property is in bad shape.
5. Do you have all the insurance you need?
We provided the following example in a past post, “A College Student Insurance Game Plan for Parents:”
When a pipe bursts and floods the kitchen, it's the landlord's responsibility to fix it. When a neighbor’s candle starts a fire and damages the apartment, the landlord needs to cover the repairs.
The landlord wouldn’t be responsible for:
- Possessions destroyed after the pipe bursts.
- Clothes, books, or electronics damaged by smoke and fire.
Even with this example, you might ask, "Why should I say anything about insurance?"
It's simple. You want to make sure the landlord will assume responsibility for certain liabilities and property damage when the unfortunate strikes.
When a landlord is confused by this question or unwilling to answer it, you might want to look at a different apartment.
Questions the Landlord Will Ask You
When you ask a landlord questions, you should be prepared to provide answers for the following:
- What’s your reason for moving?
- Do you have a target move-in date?
- What’s your monthly income?
- Would you be able to provide references from prior landlords and employers?
- After you apply for a rental, will you consent to a credit and background check?
You've screened the landlord and their property, so you'll get screened, too. It's all part of the process!