Dealing With Your Landlord
Resolving tenant-and-landlord disputes
If you have a concern about your rental property, it does no good to keep it bottled up. Clear communication is the best way to solve your problems. Go to your landlord and talk about the issue, being as reasonable and courteous as you can. Try to reach a compromise.
If you are like most tenants, there will come a time when you have some kind of disagreement with your landlord. Common issues of contention include:
- Rent. Your landlord won’t be pleased if you don’t pay your rent on time. If you can’t make a payment, let him or her know in advance and ask for a short extension.
- Repairs. When you notice that something needs repair, provide your landlord with written notice. Your landlord is obligated to perform the repairs in a timely manner. “Timely” means within 24 hours for water, heat, electricity; 72 hours for appliances like the fridge and oven; and 10 days for all minor repairs. Even if your landlord is slow to act, don’t take the drastic measure of threatening to withhold rent. Doing so will likely turn a minor conflict into a major one. If your landlord flat-out refuses to make the necessary repairs and you decide it’s time to play hardball, hire a contractor to do the work and deduct the cost from your rent. (If you choose to do this, you must first submit a written estimate to your landlord and you cannot deduct more than one month’s rent.)
- Damage. It’s the tenant’s responsibility to care for the property during the time that he or she is living there. When you move out, the apartment should be in the same condition as when you moved in.
- Decorating. Unless your lease states otherwise, you can’t make permanent changes to your apartment, such as painting the walls or taking out carpet, unless you receive your landlord’s approval.
- Noise. You can be evicted (and anger all your neighbors) if you constantly make too much noise, so turn off the music late at night and try to avoid yelling at the top of your lungs.
- Guests. You are free to have friends or your romantic partner over to eat, study or just hang out. They can even spend the night. However, your guests can’t live in your apartment with you unless they are named on the lease. If you have an unauthorized permanent occupant, your lease could be terminated.
- Access. Your landlord must give you at least 24 hours’ written notice before entering the apartment, except in the case of emergency or if you have previously agreed to give him or her unlimited access.
Know the Law
Even if your dispute is centered around a clause in your signed lease, you are not legally obligated to obey the clause if it violates state laws. There are many statutes and codes that exist to protect tenants’ rights. Unfortunately, some landlords try to get around these laws. They try to do as little property maintenance as possible, or they try to charge their tenants for expenses that they are not legally allowed to pass on.
Laws differ from state to state, so make sure you find out what they are in your jurisdiction. If your college has an office dedicated to student housing, this is a good place to start your research. Failing that, talk to a lawyer (many lawyers offer free initial consultations) or see what information you can dig up online.