What Are Your Rights and Responsibilities as a Renter?

As a renter of any property, you have certain rights and responsibilities when occupying someone else’s property. Some of those are governed by the lease agreement you have with the owner, some are governed by local or state law, and all are governed by common sense.

Your Rights Under the Lease

You have the right to “quiet enjoyment” of the unit you are renting as long as you follow the lease terms, rules, regulations, and laws. “Quiet enjoyment,” according to Nolo’s Dictionary, (http://www.nolo.com/dictionary/quiet-enjoyment-term.html) is “the right of a tenant to enjoy his or her property without interference.”

In layman’s terms, this means the landlord in general should not be contacting you, entering your unit, or working on the property unless it is an emergency, there is a potential lease violation, or via a mutually agreed upon schedule by the both of you. In addition, your lease most likely gives the landlord the right to enter the unit with 24 hour notice, to do normal repairs, inspections, or to show the property if your occupancy is ending or the property is for sale. But most landlords have plenty to keep them busy, so they will not stop by the property unless there is some reason they need to come to the unit.

There are, however, a small percentage of landlords who are pesky or nosy, and they will not respect the general rules of common courtesy between a landlord and a tenant. You probably are not going to learn this about your landlord until after you are occupying the place, and you may find yourself feeling uncomfortable about your landlord’s behavior. If that is in fact the case, here are some suggestions on how to proceed.

If you do get aggravated over a pesky landlord or representative of the landlord, you need to handle the situation professionally, document the issues, and perhaps send diplomatic and written notices to your landlord regarding the items that make you uncomfortable. Luckily, you do not own the property and can probably move out within a year, which might be the best solution.

In extreme circumstances where you cannot work things out amicably with your landlord, you may have to contact an attorney to help you get the landlord to change his or her behavior, or work out a mutually agreeable termination to the lease. Try to handle it the best you can and try not to get upset or overly frustrated. After all, life is too short to stress over these types of squabbles. Just make plans to move at the lease end and put it behind you.

However, if the landlord breaches some term of the lease, such as not repairing major issues or handling problem neighbors – especially if they are in attached units that the landlord owns – that is going to become more of a complex situation. Violations of the lease, neighbor noise, or neighbor behavior issues may be governed by the lease or may be governed by local laws, depending on the issue. You need to talk to a knowledgeable real estate professional or lawyer on what course of action you should consider. Ultimately, what you can and should do depends on the severity of the situation and whether you are willing to put up with what will most likely be a time-consuming and tough ordeal, or if you would rather just let it go and make plans to move at the end of the lease.

Fortunately, most tenants do not have major problems with their landlord and the majority of landlords work with their tenants to ensure that everyone is satisfied. But to keep your rights in place, you have to do your part too. You have act respectfully to your landlord, take care of their property, alert them to maintenance issues, and follow the lease terms. Pay attention because the written lease dictates your responsibilities regarding your tenancy, and so does common law and, again, common sense.

Your Actions and Responsibilities Under the Lease

Your primary responsibility is to follow the terms of the lease, which includes:

  • Paying rent on time
  • Being neighborly to occupants of adjacent properties
  • Keeping the property clean
  • Alerting the owner to maintenance issues
  • Being responsible like you would if you owned the property
  • Any other terms dictated by mutual agreement in the lease

Generally speaking, owners will not contact or inconvenience you if you take care of their properties, be neighborly to others as you would like them to be to you, and follow the lease terms. Treat owners and their property with respect and hopefully, that respect will be returned and you will get most of your security deposit back when you leave. Respecting their property means not damaging the floors or carpets, not making lots of marks or holes in the walls, alerting the owner to any broken appliances, and letting them know of any water spots or leaks you notice in the unit.

The security deposit being returned is one of the biggest concerns and causes of stress for tenants. Owners are typically going to deduct any damage to the property or excessive wear and tear from your security deposit. The first step to protect yourself is to take pictures and document via email to the landlord any concerns you believe may be an issue when you first move in. Some items worth noting include stained carpets, holes in the walls, or damage to appliances or cabinets.

When it comes time for you to move out, ask the landlord to do a walkthrough a few days before you leave so that they can give you a list of items they expect to be done when you vacate. This way, you can clear those items or discuss them – with your pictures and original emails – to narrow down what the landlord can take out of your security deposit. Clean the unit, or have a maid do it, and once you get the final figures of your updated security deposit from the landlord, you can review what they have returned to you and make sure it is fair. If you find that it is not, try to resolve it with them. If you can’t, there is always the option of taking the landlord to a small claims court. Tenants almost always win in court as long as they have the documentation of the issues to support their argument.

Luckily, it is very rare that it goes that far. Your best bet, as noted above, is to act professionally, take care of the landlord’s property, and be a good neighbor. By doing that, you will ensure that you have the best chance of enjoying a good rental experience and relationship with your landlord.