Just because you don’t own the home you live in, doesn’t mean you don’t have rights. There are a slew of laws designed to protect renters and landlords alike.

“While a majority of renters will enjoy trouble-free renting situations for years, there are always the few unpleasant stories that underscore the importance of knowing your rights as a renter,” says Susan Bryant, vice president of marketing at Apartments.com. “Some of the most common rental misunderstandings involve rent increases, subletting, lease termination and discrimination.”

Tenants’ Rights

Before signing an agreement, real estate experts advise renters learn their rights and review the lease thoroughly before singing the dotted line.

“It’s important to have a good general understanding of what your landlord is obligated to provide so that as issues arise, you are able to put them in perspective and seek resolution in a professional manner,” says Kari Taylor, director of marketing at Rent.com.“Having the facts can put you at ease and make tough conversations with your landlord more productive.”

Laws vary by state and lease terms vary by apartment complex and landlord, but there are general rights extended to all renters. For instance, it is illegal for renters to be denied an apartment application for any discriminatory reason, including race, color, religion, national origin, age, sex marital status or sexual orientation, says Taylor.

Renters also have the right to a “habitable” living environment, which means the landlord has to provide a clean space with working water, heat and electricity. “This also includes adequate pest control, if necessary, and all properties are required to have a sufficient number of properly-installed smoke detectors,” says Taylor.  Renters also have a right to their privacy whether they live in New York City or Fargo, N.D. 

In addition to these federal laws, states also regulate the rental process, and renters can find more information about their state or city laws by visiting www.hud.gov or doing a quick Google search. 

Renters have rights during an eviction, even if they haven’t paid their rent or broke one of the stipulations in the lease.  While a renter won’t be able to squat in the apartment for long, the landlord cannot forcibly remove the tenant nor can he or she turn off the utilities or change the locks to get the person or people out. Rather, the landlord has to get a court order before an eviction can take place.

How to Resolve Issues

It doesn’t have to get to the point of an eviction if a tenant has a dispute. Experts advise both the renter and landlord remain respectful and professional when discussing how to diffuse the situation so it doesn’t turn ugly.

“If you feel the landlord has breached your rights in any way, the first thing you should do is call your landlord to discuss the issue professionally,” says Taylor. “It’s always wise to put your concerns in writing initially as well, which could help if the matter is not resolved and you need to seek recourse.”

Renters need to give a landlord enough time to fix the situation before seeking other options. If a landlord ignores the complaint or the situation is dire, Taylor recommends documenting in a letter any efforts made to reach the owner and to try and break the lease without being penalized. 

If all else fails, it may be time to get an attorney involved.

“The court system is available to protect your rights,” says Bryant. “But we have found that most landlords will attempt to fairly address legitimate complaints that are brought to their attention.”

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