Be in the Know About Renter Protection
If you’re among the millions of Americans who rent their homes instead of owning, it’s a good idea to become educated about renter protection and your rights as a renter.
We all have stories about nightmare landlords—and even a good landlord can unwittingly violate your renter rights. So arm yourself with knowledge and safeguard your interests in every rental situation.
A security deposit is something most renters don’t think much about—until they’re moving out and they want their money back.
Various laws govern how security deposits are to be handled and returned; for instance, your landlord can typically only use the deposit for:
Unpaid rent or other fees incurred (like unpaid utility bills)
Repairing damage that goes beyond normal wear and tear
Cleaning the property to restore it to the condition it was when you moved in
There are various things that you, as a renter, can do to protect your deposit and get the maximum amount back.
When you first move in, document any preexisting damage you discover and have the landlord sign your documentation. This protects you from being held accountable for damage you did not cause.
Communicate with your landlord about your pre-move-out cleaning plans and make sure you’re on the same page. Ask specific questions, document the cleaning and repair work you perform, ask to be present when the landlord inspects the residence, and demand an itemized list of what the landlord plans to deduct from your deposit.
When you sign a lease agreement, it entitles you to live in a residence for the specified amount of time and pay the specified amount of rent during that time.
As you read over your lease agreement before signing it (which you absolutely should always do—never sign something you haven’t read), be watchful for restrictive lease terms that could leave you holding the short end of the stick, such as:
Shared utility meters:
Whenever possible, get the utilities in your own name and make sure only your charges are covered in the bill.
Don’t sign any document that contains language giving a landlord leeway to raise your rent.
Your lease should not contain provisions absolving the landlord of liability for future carelessness.
Most states have laws governing when and why a landlord can enter your home, so don’t allow any language that grants the landlord unlimited access.
Don’t sign anything that gives your landlord freedom to change the rental agreement or add new rules down the road.
Knowledge is power, and the bottom line of renting is: Know your rights. Become familiar with specific laws in your city and state, and don’t be afraid to stand up for your rights.