Nothing says “adulting 101” as well as moving out of your parent’s house and getting your own place. You leave the comforts of the family home and embark on a journey towards being self-sufficient. Your first apartment was probably a shared one, with a couple of roommates with whom you can split the rent. During your first move, you probably didn’t know anything about your rights as a renter except for what was told by your landlord during your first meeting. But over the years, as you move from apartment to apartment, you’ve come to realize that there’s more to being a renter than what your roomies or your landlord told you.
As you grow older, you get more serious about the rental properties you pick. By the time you progress in your career and get a promotion, you’ve probably moved into a newer apartment or a condominium with the ultimate goal of owning real estate for yourself. You’re probably starting to scout for residential properties to buy a townhome or single-family home.
But until you save enough money for a house, you’re renting. That’s a practical thing to do considering that people are more mobile now and renting makes it easier to move around. More and more people are opting to rent. As per the 2016 US Census, the number of renters has increased by more than 23 million, and that of homeowners by less than 700K.
As you move around from one rental property to another, there are a couple of things you should know. Being armed with information about renters rights would make it easier for you to understand your rights and responsibilities as a tenant. This information can help you find the best property to rent, be able to help you understand and negotiate lease terms, be more flexible with the rental agreement, and know how to request for repairs and maintenance in your rental apartment.
The rental agreement
As part of your new tenant-landlord relationship, the landlord should provide you with a copy of the rental agreement. Each of the tenants should have their own copy of the signed agreement. So if you’re sharing an apartment with 2 other people, all 3 of you should have copies.
There are 3 types of rental agreements. They are:
Month to month lease: Month-to-month lease agreements are for an indefinite amount of time. There are no specific time limits and the tenancy goes on until you choose to vacate the property or the landlord decides to terminate the tenancy (with a 20 days notice before the rent is due). In some areas, like Seattle, landlords are required to give more notice and restricts termination of tenancy to 18 reasons.) These month to month agreements can be verbal or written. Washington State allows verbal agreements as legal. But if you pay any deposit or non-refundable fees, the rental agreement has to be in writing to clearly state the conditions and portion of your money which is refundable.
One way lease: They are a month to month agreements in which a landlord charges a fee or waives the deposit if a tenant vacates the property before a prescribed number of months. This is illegal in some cities, like Seattle, as they only benefit the landlord.
Fixed term lease: These are rental agreements that are set for a specific period of time. They must absolutely be in writing. The most common term is a one year lease. These leases restrict the landlord from charging fees, increasing the rent, or changing any rules during the fixed lease term. Tenants must follow the conditions of the lease for the duration of the term or incur penalties. The lease expires at the end of the term unless renewed.
A landlord can’t put in just any rules they want in a rental agreement. Some terms are often self-serving to the landlord and might even be illegal, so read the agreement carefully.
Here are some prohibited provisions to watch out for in your lease agreement:
- Anything that waives any right that the Landlord – Tenant Act gives you.
- Makes you waive your right to defend yourself in court against the landlord
- Limits the landlords’ liability for things they would normally be responsible for
- Excuses the landlord from making repairs
- Lets the landlord enter your property without notice
- Makes you pay for damages that aren’t your fault.
- Makes you pay for the landlords’ lawyer fees if an argument goes to court, even if you win.
- Lets your landlord take your things if you’re behind on rent.
For a harmonious relationship, the landlord and tenant must work together to come up with a mutual agreement that satisfies both parties. There are certain things that keep the relationship mutually beneficial.
A landlord must provide safe, clean, and secure living conditions for the tenant including:
- Keeping the premises fit for human habitation and keeping common areas reasonably clean and safe
- Controlling insects, rodents and other pests
- Maintaining roof, walls, and foundation and keeping the unit weather tight
- Maintaining electrical, plumbing, heating and other equipment and appliances supplied by the owner
- Providing adequate containers for garbage and arranging for garbage pickup
- When responsible for providing heat in rental units, from September through June maintaining daytime (7:00 a.m.-10:30 p.m.) temperatures at 68℉ or above and nighttime temperatures at not less than 58℉
- In non-transient accommodations, providing keys to a unit and building entrance doors and, in most cases, changing the lock mechanism and keys upon a change of tenants
- Installing smoke detectors and instructing tenants in their maintenance and operation
However, landlords are not required to make cosmetic repairs after each tenancy.
Tenants have to maintain the property in a safe and clean manner, including:
- Properly disposing of garbage
- Exercising care in use of electrical and plumbing
- Promptly repairing any damage caused by them or their guests
- Granting reasonable access for inspection, maintenance, repair, and pest control
- Maintaining smoke detectors in good working order
- Refraining from storing dangerous materials on the premises
You can see more details and examples here.
Remember, a lease is a legally binding contract. So, please read everything carefully before signing.
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