Housing Assistance Guide for Renters

While finding a new apartment can be an exciting experience, it is important to be aware of the pitfalls that many first-time renters tend to fall in such as underestimating costs,

skimming a rental agreement, failing to view an apartment and forgoing renters insurance. While avoiding these mistakes are a crucial part of ensuring a smooth residency, it is equally important to be aware of your landlord’s responsibility.

Your landlord is legally responsible for the safety and upkeep of the apartment complexes. Part of that responsibility will include providing repairs and maintenance within a reasonable amount of time. Should a landlord or their employee need to enter your apartment, a notice must be given, except in the case of an emergency. While you will likely sign a lease for a 12 or 24 month period with every intention of residing within the apartment for that amount of time, life does happen and you may need to one day break your lease.

Should you need to break your leasing contract, it is crucial that you know the methods available to you that will allow you to get out of your lease without further consequences such as civil lawsuits, derogatory marks on your credit score and poor rental history. Finally, if you decide to move elsewhere after your lease, it is important to know how to get your security deposit back and what reasons that a portion may be deducted from the amount. To learn more about these valuable resources for renters, review the sections below.

Security Deposit Savings

A security deposit is an amount of money that you will be expected to pay when signing a lease that your new landlord will hold as financial security. Your security deposit can be put towards repairs for any damages sustained in your apartment that are outside normal wear and tear and can be put towards unpaid rent amounts if you leave unexpectedly. The maximum amount a landlord can request for a security deposit is two times your rent amount. For example, if you have a $750 rental fee each month, your security deposit can then be up to $1,500. Yet there are ways that you can reduce the amount that you will be expected to pay for your security deposit. Rental advertisements commonly come with low security deposits, so long as you have a good credit score, rental history and your application is approved. In some cases, you may be able to negotiate with your potential landlord before signing a lease in order to see if you can save money on the deposit. If another apartment is offering a better deal on security deposits or if you are willing to extend your lease — you may have a little wiggle room.

When you are ready to move out from an apartment, it is important to know how to ensure that you get your security deposit back. Keeping the apartment undamaged and clean throughout your residency will go a long way towards ensuring that you receive the full amount of your deposit. If you do not clean the unit up before vacating, your landlord will likely keep a portion of your deposit to put towards cleaning expenses. It is also recommended that you document the state of your apartment both at the start and end of your lease. Be sure to take photos of the apartment so that you can easily disprove any false claims.

Mistakes for First-Time Renters to Avoid

If you are planning to rent an apartment for the first time, it is crucial that you learn about the common mistakes that first-time renters make in order to be better prepare you and ensure that you avoid these common pitfalls. Before signing a lease, it is important that you view the apartment that you would move into. This will help you to avoid rental scams, but will also give you the opportunity to point out damages or flaws with the apartment, no matter how small. This is an important step, because failing to point out these damages right away could result in a reduction of the security deposit that is repaid to you at the end of your lease. If a potential landlord shows you an apartment unit that contains the same layout as the one you would be moving into, ask to see the exact unit.

Once it is time to sit down and go over the lease agreement, one of the most common mistakes that first-time renters make rears its ugly head. Do not skim your lease agreement as it is a legally binding document that will include important information about the apartment, your lease and the rules of the complex. Failing to review the lease and ask questions about any portion that you do not understand could lead to serious consequences later.

Another common pitfall for new renters is underestimating the cost to move into an apartment. Some of these upfront costs may be obvious such as prorated rent, deposits and application fees. However, consider additional fees such as pet deposits, deposits needed for utilities, cable or internet and moving truck fees. Additionally, you will need to purchase essential household items such as bedding, towels, paper products, dishes and cleaning supplies. It is also wise to calculate your expected monthly household expenses and compare that amount to the income that you receive each month. It is recommended that you find a rental amount that is no more than a third of your income.

Should you want to save money, consider obtaining a roommate to lower monthly expenses. However, should you choose to do so, it is important to meet all potential roommates first, ensure that the two of you have a similar lifestyle and hammer out some ground rules such as noise levels, chore agreements, rental agreements, permitted guests and the temperature setting of the unit.

Your Landlord’s Responsibilities

Your landlord has a variety of responsibilities to you, the apartment complex and the other residents. One of the key responsibilities of a landlord is to ensure the safety and stability of the apartment complex, including general maintenance, repairs and ensuring that an apartment is free of mold and other hazards. Should you experience a maintenance issue such as a leak, broken appliance or problem with your heating and cooling system — your landlord is obligated to provide repairs at no cost to you. Should a repair, inspection or general maintenance need to be performed — a landlord is responsible for providing you with at least 24 hours written notice before entering your apartment, except in cases of an emergency. Furthermore, entry into your apartment must be within a reasonable time frame, such as within business hours.

Be sure to check to make sure that there are functioning smoke detectors and (where states require) carbon monoxide detectors as these items must be provided and maintained by the landlord. Should you notice any mold, it is important to alert your landlord right away. Recent building codes in most states require that any new construction have sufficient ventilation, making it harder for mold to develop within in an apartment, but if your apartment does contain mold, your landlord must take care of the problem right away as mold is considered a hazard to your health.

When signing your initial lease for the apartment, you will be likely be asked to provide a security deposit before you will be able to move in. This deposit can be no more than two times your monthly rent amount and must be held until you decide to vacate the apartment. So long as there is no damage to the unit, you do not break your lease and you are not behind on rent — your landlord has the responsibility to return that deposit to you.

Lastly, you have the right to live in housing that is non-discriminative. Landlords are legally responsible to follow the Fair Housing Act of 1968, which prohibits discrimination under the basis of race, color, national origin, familial status, religion or disability.

How to Get Out of Your Lease

Breaking your lease agreement can lead to serious penalties such as civil lawsuits, hefty fees, a diminished credit score and poor rental history. Therefore, breaking your lease without preparation should be avoided at all cost. Fortunately, there are a few methods available that may help you get out of your lease with diminished consequences — or no consequences at all.

It is recommended that you first review your lease agreement in order to discover if one or two circumstances apply to your situation. As mentioned previously, landlords have a lot of responsibilities to provide safe and habitable housing. While many landlords take these responsibilities seriously, that is not always the case. If you have numerous complaints, ignored requests for repairs or there are health hazards within your apartment — your landlord may have breached the lease agreement first, allowing you to leave without penalty. If your landlord has not broken the lease agreement, you should review your rental agreement for an early termination clause. Not all leases will have an early termination clause, but those that do may provide reasons that a tenant can end their lease early, such as in the case of financial hardship.

It is recommended that you speak with your landlord about your situation in as much detail as possible. Depending on the circumstances and your relationship with your landlord, you may be given permission to break your lease by your landlord. You may also be able to come to some sort of arrangement, such as a payment plan for the remainder of your lease amount or that the landlord can keep your deposit in exchange for permission to vacate. As a last resort, ask your landlord whether or not he would allow you to sublet your apartment. By subletting, you would be able to find a new tenant that would take over your lease. You will still be legally responsible for the apartment during the lease period, but the new tenant will pay the rent in exchange of living there.

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