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Housing Rentals

Find out how to find housing rentals and learn what's included in a lease.

A housing rental agreement is a legal document signed by both the tenant and the landlord. [©Shutterstock, 2010]
©Shutterstock, 2010
A housing rental agreement is a legal document signed by both the tenant and the landlord.

Housing rentals can include any publicly or privately owned housing unit that is not occupied by its owners, but instead by someone else who pays rent to live there. Types of homes available for rent include single-family and mobile homes, attached housing and multifamily buildings.

In 2007, there were more than 35 million occupied housing rentals in the United States, according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development's (HUD) 2007 American Housing Survey. Research shows that the number of available rentals and people who are willing to use them are on the rise. One potential explanation for this trend is the recent economic downturn and decrease in homeownership rates.

Leasing Terms

A lease is a legally binding contract between a landlord and a tenant. There is no single governing body that determines the terms of housing rentals. Instead, each state is allowed to set its own laws regarding landlords' and tenants' rights, with the exception of how a lease should be written. When drawing up a leasing agreement, landlords also may need to refer to an outside resource, such as the National Apartment Association (NAA), that provides legal information on housing rentals. The NAA, which is the leading advocate for quality rental housing in the United States, also offers its members leasing forms, and even a trademark-registered leasing program for landlords in certain states.

One major commonality among state mandates is that landlords must provide and maintain housing rental units in suitable residential living conditions. This rule prohibits landlords from forcing a tenant to take a property in "as is" condition. Some local laws even go as far as to enact rent control governing the allowable increase in rent at the end of each leasing term. In general, a lease should include 11 basic line items:

  • Names of the landlord and the tenant
  • Length of time that the lease is valid for
  • Amount of rent due upon a certain date and particulars of any late fees
  • Details of a security deposit
  • Consequences for a default in rental payment
  • Expected property maintenance by both parties
  • What happens once the leasing agreement expires
  • Under what conditions the landlord may enter the property
  • Whether the tenant must pay legal fees associated with any incurring lawsuit
  • If the tenant is allowed any pets
  • What happens in the event of the landlord's death or sale of the property

Tenants' Rights

Tenants' rights also fall under the jurisdiction of state law; renters can find their respective state's housing rental laws through HUD. Although there is some variation between states, many of their laws have some basic provisions in common. For example, the State of Connecticut Judicial Branch lists main tenants' rights to include those clean residential living conditions with properly functioning plumbing and heat; timely repair of damages; and a returned security deposit within a reasonable amount of time after the leasing agreement expires.

Where to Find Housing Rentals

Prospective tenants may have many different needs to be accommodated by their living arrangements. Though not an exhaustive list, special needs include those like handicapped accessibility, pets and season rentals. Once prospective tenants recognize their needs, they should narrow down a desired location, type and size of housing unit, as well as the amount of rent they are willing or able to afford. All of these factors are important in searching for a housing rental.

The most common type of housing rental, particularly in metropolitan areas, is a multi-family or apartment building. In fact, multi-family units comprise nearly 25 percent of all housing in the United States, according to HUD. These types of housing rentals are more likely to be advertised publicly through such sources as national classified advertisements, real estate agents, apartment search organizations or signage on the building.

Individual single-family houses or housing rentals often resort to smaller advertising venues like word of mouth, local classifieds or postings in places such as community centers. Savvy prospective tenants should find a way to get references about a particular housing rental before signing a lease just as a landlord will likely seek references on prospective tenants.

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