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Tips for Understanding Your Tenant Rights

Tips for Understanding Your Tenant Rights

A 2021 survey from the National Multifamily Housing Council (NMHC) found an estimated 37% – or 44.1 million – of Americans live in rental properties. This is considered a historic high, largely caused by an increase in housing prices and cost of living. 

While there are many cost saving benefits to renting property, it also has several downsides. Many tenants feel the system heavily favors landlords whenever there are disputes.

While it is true landlords have some rights and protections because they are property owners, there are also rules and regulations to protect tenants. These are known as tenant rights. Keep reading to learn more about these rights.

What is a Rental Agreement?

While it is not always legally required, most landlords require their tenants to sign a rental lease or agreement. The two terms are sometimes used interchangeably, but there are small differences. The biggest difference is duration. Rental agreements are shorter, typically lasting for a month. It can also be recurring, which is known as a month-to-month rental. 

A lease agreement covers a longer period, typically  12 months or longer, but there are also six month or one-year variants. With a lease, you are responsible for rent for the duration of the lease, even if you want to leave early. However, you may be able to negotiate an early release.

In addition to length, rental agreements and leases also include protection for tenants. For example, leases commonly include what you pay for rent and what responsibilities the landlord assumes. If the landlord promises to cover certain utility costs, he or she cannot later insist you make those payments without altering the lease. Any alterations must be made with your agreement. Your landlord is also forbidden from penalizing you for not agreeing to lease changes.

Common Rental Agreement Stipulations

Rental agreements largely focus on how long you are staying and what you pay in rent. While these are important, you should also consider some other issues. If you want pets, make sure pet rules, such as whether you must pay extra, are included in the agreement. 

Another consideration is whether you are allowed to have guests over and if they can spend the night. If there is shared space with your landlord or other tenants, the lease agreement should include when you have access to the space and what it can be used for.

Another important consideration is who is responsible for maintenance and repairs. This typically falls on the landlord, but it is important to get this in writing. It also gives an opportunity to stipulate a reasonable window, such as major repairs being addressed immediately, or providing compensation if the repair cannot be completed in a reasonable time.

Tenant Rights

With a rental or lease agreement, you are only protected based on what is included  in the contract. However, tenant rights are general laws that apply whether or not they are mentioned in the agreement.

Tenant rights are divided into several categories, such as habitable homes, evictions, privacy and quiet enjoyment. It ensures your landlord must provide safe living conditions and respects both your space and personal property. It also prevents landlords from kicking you out without warning or a proper reason. Under tenant rights, landlords are required to provide notice before entering your property unless in an emergency situation.