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How to Deal with Landlord Problems:
8 Tips for Tenants

Signing a lease, having the landlord make repairs, or getting your deposit back after moving out can be simple or stressful, depending on the landlord. Here are a few quick tips for preventing or handling common landlord-tenant conflicts.

1. Read the fine print.

A verbal agreement is legal, but it’s better to get it in writing. And don’t just skim through a lease or rental agreement before signing it; really read it, and ask questions. Be sure you understand everything. For example, a lease may renew automatically at the end of a year, locking you into another 12 months of rent unless you give the landlord written notice in advance – typically 30 or 60 days before the lease would renew. Landlords often use a standard lease form with all tenants, but if you don’t like something it says, ask for changes. The landlord might agree. All changes should be initialed and dated by both you and the landlord.

2. Protect yourself with walk-through, photos.

Before moving in, walk through the unit with the landlord and make notes about dingy carpeting, a cracked window pane, chipped tiles or other problems. Even better, take pictures or video; these can be valuable after you move out and want your deposit back. If the landlord won’t do a walk-through, ask a friend or family member to look at the place with you, and have them sign the written notes.

3. Keep good records.

Create a rental file or folder. Use this to hold your copy of the lease or rental agreement, the walk-through notes, your rental receipts (especially if you pay in cash), any notices you get from the landlord, and copies of anything you send to the landlord. If there is a problem, make detailed notes each time you talk to or attempt to contact the landlord. Whenever possible, put it in writing and keep a copy in your file.

4. Know your rights.

It varies by state, but typically a tenant must pay the rent on time, keep the unit clean, dispose of all garbage or trash, avoid damages that are more than daily wear-and-tear, and respect any neighbor’s right to a quiet and peaceful environment.

Generally, landlords must keep the place in good shape, make reasonable repairs, and allow for the tenant’s “quiet enjoyment” of the rental; in most states the landlord is not allowed to turn off the utilities, change the locks or in any way try to force the tenant to leave without going to court for an eviction order.

For more details, the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) lists tenants’ rights by state. And check with your city or county to see if there are local landlord-tenant laws that might give you even more protection.

5. When needed, seek outside help.

Online dispute resolution services, such as this one, can help you list all the facts, state your complaint and goal, and provide a chance for your landlord to agree to a solution. If the landlord remains stubborn, contact the office of your local mayor, city manager or state attorney general and ask about free or low-cost mediation services in your area, to work out your differences without going to court. If you do need legal help and can’t afford it, often Legal Aid or other agencies provide free or low-cost services; the American Bar Association lists legal resources by state.

6. Report illegal acts.

If your landlord is abusive or making threats, call 9-1-1. If you think a landlord has discriminated against you based on your race, color, national origin, religion, or sex, or because you have children or a disability, file a complaint with HUD. If despite repeated requests the landlord refused to fix fire, health, or safety hazards – such as no heat or utilities, sewage problems, a major mouse or rat infestation, hazardous lead paint, or structural defects – send a written complaint to the local health or building inspection department. If you have paid rent to someone pretending to be a landlord who does not own the property or your landlord has cheated you (such as making you pay for electric or other utilities for more than just your unit), contact your local consumer protection or district attorney office.

7. Take the right steps before moving out.

Whether you have a signed lease or are renting on a month-to-month basis, always tell your landlord in writing the date you will be moving out, and keep a copy for yourself; don’t depend on a conversation or text message. Look through your copy of the lease or rental agreement for anything that lists what should happen when you move out. Repeat the walk-through with the landlord, comparing how the place looks now with the notes and pictures that you took before moving in.

8. Know how to get your deposit back.

State laws will say how long a landlord has to return a deposit after a tenant moves out (often 30 days) and the reasons a landlord may keep part or all of that deposit (typically for excessive damages or for overdue rent). If your landlord does not return the money on time or keeps it for reasons not allowed under state law and the amount is $2,500-$15,000 or less (it varies by state), you can file a claim in small claims court, without involving lawyers. --

If you do have problems with your landlord, the best approach is to keep calm. Decide exactly what you want to see happen – “The furnace needs fixing immediately” or “I want my deposit back” – and quietly make it clear that you won’t settle for less. You might want to yell or argue, but it won’t help the situation, and could make it worse.

About the author

While care and judgment have gone into the preparation of this article, neither PeopleClaim nor the author can make representations as to its accuracy or completeness. Opinions expressed are those of the author and are offered as opinion, not fact. Readers assume full responsibility in taking action based on information, opinion, or advice offered. PeopleClaim does not independently verify or specifically endorse the article's content, and is not responsible for errors, omissions, or the consequences of advice taken.

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