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Apartments

Leasing apartments can be daunting. Read on for handy tips.

Apartments can be as simple as a small studio, or as elaborate as a freestanding home. [©Jupiter Images, 2009]
©Jupiter Images, 2009
Apartments can be as simple as a small studio, or as elaborate as a freestanding home.

When leasing an apartment, a potential tenant should be sure to carefully research many different issues, and fully understand their rights as tenants, before signing the lease. Renters have certain rights by law, according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). However, these rights may differ depending on the state where a person resides. A complete listing of tenant rights for each state is available at the HUD Web site's Tenant Rights page.

Signing the Lease

Renters should be sure to ask how many months the lease covers, how much the security deposit is, if there is rent control, and if there is an extra charge for renting month to month versus signing a longer lease. Ask whether there are fees for pets and whether any of the security deposit will go to non-refundable cleaning fees.

Potential tenants should also understand the difference between a rental agreement and a lease. A rental agreement usually covers a short period of time, such as 30 to 60 days, and is renewed automatically unless either tenant or landlord gives written notice. A lease usually covers a permanent period of time, such as 1-2 years, for as long as the renter abides by the lease terms. The landlord cannot legally raise the rent or change the lease agreement, unless the tenant agrees to it in writing.

Tenants should also be completely clear as to which utilities they are responsible for (such as gas, electric, water, sewer, garbage removal, any maintenance fees, etc.).

Lease agreements to avoid include:

  • Split utility meters (the meter is in the name of the tenant as well as another party)
  • Rent increases without written notification (an agreement should state that the rent cannot be raised for the duration of the lease).
  • Future rules (any rules not specifically stated in the lease or a statement to the effect that future rules shall be followed).

The Security Deposit

A security deposit is paid upfront by the renter, and usually held in a financial institution for safekeeping until the renter moves out. Approximately half of the states have laws that limit how much a landlord can charge for a security deposit. Some states may even require the landlord to pay a tenant interest on the security deposit.

Tenants should be certain to thoroughly assess the condition of the property before move-in, to ensure that they receive all or nearly all of their security deposit back. Renters should take pictures and fill out the move-in checklist in detail and keep this information in a safe, preferably fireproof place (like a safe or safety deposit box at a bank).

Housing Discrimination Rights

The U.S. federal government's Fair Housing Act and Fair Housing Amendments Act was passed by the United States government in order to prevent landlords from choosing tenants based upon sex, race, religion, marital status, ethnic background or national origin, or mental or physical disability.

If a tenant believes that a landlord has violated this law, they can contact a local HUD office in their area or go to the HUD website. Note that the complaint must be filed within 12 months of the alleged discrimination.

Eviction Rights for Apartment Renters

A landlord can evict a tenant by giving written notice to the tenant for violation of any of the lease terms, such as late payment or violation of the noise standards, or even for something like smoking, if the lease disallows it. If the tenants do not move out after notice is given, the landlord can file an eviction lawsuit against them.

Termination notices come in three forms:

  • Pay Rent or Quit Notice: for not paying rent
  • Cure or Quit Notice: for violating a term of the lease
  • Unconditional Quit Notice: for repeated violations of lease terms, including recurring non-payment of rent, damage to the premises or illegal activity on the premises.

 

Unconditional quit notices require a tenant to leave immediately, without any chance of paying back-rent, paying for damages or promising to adhere to the lease agreements.

Online Resources for Renters

There are several helpful online resources available to help tenants understand their rights. These websites include Nolo, TenantNet and FindLaw

Understanding the full rights of tenancy when leasing an apartment will help prevent disappointments -- and potential lawsuits -- down the road.

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