Your Home, Your Rights: What Every Renter Should Know

It was Emily Dickinson who said “Where thou art, that is home.” So whether you live in a mansion, ranch, cabin, condo, townhouse, apartment, flat or houseboat, chances are you refer to that place as home. Even though a lease or mortgage we signed may dictate otherwise, the place we call home belongs to us in many other ways.

As a renter, my apartment is my home and that comes with a degree of ownership. However noisy neighbors, limited space, and the over-controlling landlord are common issues more likely to affect the average renter rather than the mortgage.

Your Home, Your Rights: What Every Renter Should Know

Dealing with noisy neighbors (I am lucky that my neighbors are very quiet and respectful)
Before pounding down their door while in your bathrobe, ask yourself the following first:

  • Is the noise at a reasonable or unreasonable volume?
  • Is it occurring at a reasonable or unreasonable time of day?

Some people have a lower tolerance for noise than others, and what you define as noise may not really constitute nuisance behavior. Unless your neighbor’s music or conversation is literally shaking your furniture and causing your cat to shed its fur, it’s not cool to knock on your neighbors door at 8:30 at night and demand complete silence. However, excessive noise after 11 p.m. on a weekday or past midnight on a weekend may be fair grounds for a complaint.

A word of caution: Before getting the law involved, consider that pulling out the ‘big guns’ too early could be detrimental to the relationship between you and your neighbor. Most nuisances are small enough to tolerate for the night. Unless you feel the situation is relative to that of a torture chamber and wouldn’t be sanctioned by the Geneva Convention, wait until the following day before confronting your neighbor. This will allow you time to calm down and avoid starting a brawl. You might just find out it was their birthday party. Chances are your neighbor may not realize that their TV speakers are right against your bedroom wall, or that the kids running around in the morning sounds like military calisthenics.

If the problem persists after confronting your neighbor, then it is time to discuss the issue with your landlord as most residential complexes have a policy on noise violations (which is referenced in your copy of the lease you signed).

Maximizing the space of your place

Even if you live in a one bedroom studio, you should not feel as if living in a prison cell would be an upgrade. There are ways to maximize any space, and most methods do not involve expensive cleaning services.

The objective is to create the illusion of space. Start by taking inventory:

  • Think about where your items are located. Is everything in places that are functional?
  • Think about what item you actually use. If you haven’t used/worn it in a year, do you really need it?

For example, a functional kitchen makes the area more convenient and easier to use. The space will feel larger with proper organization and storage.

Clean out all drawers, cabinets and closets removing any unnecessary items. Work one cabinet at a time and be realistic with your items. Do you have small appliances, cookware, containers, or dishes that are broken or you do not use? Go through your closet. Do your clothes no longer fit or can’t remember the last time you wore something? If so, donate or sell them. Instead of paying rent on space for your junk, let your junk pay the rent!

Another option is to assemble storage units or shelving in halls or corridors. A simple cabinet assembly is a great way to efficiently organize any bathroom and store towels and toiletries.

Your Landlord and Your Rights

Just because you don’t own your home, does not mean you don’t have rights. It is the responsibility of the landlord and or property management staff to keep the apartment livable and in good condition. Landlords MUST fix major problems in the unit. If you signed a lease for an apartment with air conditioning, the landlord must keep the cooling services working in the unit. If the water is shut off (and you’ve paid your bills) the landlord must fix any problem AND in a reasonable time-frame.

Depending on your lease, your landlord may not be responsible to repair toilet leaks or other minor problems such as fixing small appliances (make sure you ask about this before you sign the lease). If your lease states that you are responsible for issues of this nature, building maintenance may bill you for the repairs. To avoid unnecessary bills, be sure to document any problems before you move into the apartment. If you’re responsible for repairs, you can count on ServiceLive to help you get connected with a service expert in your area.

If you’ve submitted the repair request through building maintenance and your landlord is unreceptive to repairing major problems, you should consider the following steps and be sure to take them exactly in order:

  • If your residence belongs to a property holdings company, contact the corporate office or property manager.
  • Propose mediation with your landlord or apartment property manager (there are independent agencies that will be able to hear both sides of a case and help the parties in the dispute come to a reasonable agreement).
  • Report your building and landlord to a local housing authority or building agency. Most often this agency can apply the needed pressure for your landlord to understand the importance of your issues and help rectify any problem.

Only when all other attempts at mediation have failed should you go to court. Taking your landlord to small claims courts not only damages the reputation of your landlord and the apartment property, but if the lawsuit is financial in nature it may also reflect NEGATIVELY on your credit report.

Every state has protections for renters, but they vary, so do your homework. If your landlord does something that feels unfair, you may have a legal recourse. There are numerous free law resources online for renters, as well as tenants’ rights organizations that you can contact for help. You can also refer to The Federal Fair Housing Act  which protects renters from discrimination.

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