What can you do when your rental story doesn't end happily ever after? Here's how to handle some common problems and seek help for the big stuff.
Your apartment needs repairs
In almost every state, tenants are entitled by law to a safe and livable home. That typically means landlords are required to provide safe structural elements (like stairs and roofs), hot and cold water and operating electrical, plumbing, heating and air-conditioning systems, among other things.
"If you're in a situation that threatens your health or safety, contact a lawyer who can tell you about your rights in the state, county or city you're in," says Olivia Stoker, a tenant counselor with Solid Ground, a nonprofit community action agency in Seattle. Your options might include *moving out.
You have less recourse for that drippy faucet. In some states, you can make repairs yourself and deduct the cost from your rent, within limits. Either way, your first step is to report the problem in writing to your landlord. "If water is leaking for several days in my apartment, it could cause damage if I don’t tell my landlord immediately, so I want to document that I told my landlord on a certain day," Stoker says.
Keep records of everything, she adds. If your building uses paperwork orders for repairs, take a picture before turning one in. As an extra precaution, email the photo to yourself so you have an extra time stamp you could use in a court of law.
You have noisy neighbors
Make sure you understand what limits a lease places on you and neighbors. For example, there may be quiet hours, and you can document violations of those guidelines. In addition, don’t forget to politely ask for help in sharing walls and floors before turning to your landlord: Your neighbor may not realize how much sound travels, for example.
You can’t get your security deposit back
Make a video when you move out to document that you left the space clean and that all locks and appliances are in working order. "You may need evidence to help tell your side of the story," Stoker says.
The good news: You might have more time than you think to recover a deposit. "In Washington State, for example, if you have a written contract you can go to small-claims court and try to get your money back from a landlord up to six years after you've moved out," Stoker says.
You need expert help
There are nonprofit agencies, advocate groups and legal organizations that offer free tenant assistance in every state. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development provides a link to the ones it has approved, along with detailed information about tenant-landlord laws and protections.
The information contained in this article or linked to the Solid Ground Tenant Services website is for informational purposes only. Solid Ground makes no claims, promises or guarantees about the accuracy, completeness or adequacy of the information contained in or linked to its website. Solid Ground cannot act as your attorney. Solid Ground makes no representations, expressed or implied, that the information contained in or linked to its website can or will be used or interpreted in any particular way by any governmental agency or court. As legal advice must be tailored to the specific circumstances of each case, and laws are constantly changing, nothing provided herein should be used as a substitute for the advice of competent counsel. *