Rental Questions Answered!

When living in a rental apartment, you will often end up with questions about apartment living, landlords, leases or roommates. To help you get answers to your most important rental questions, our team of experts took questions regarding what to do if you have problems paying rent, need to break your lease or issues with roommates. If you want your rental questions answered, leave it in the comments below!


I’m living in an apartment by myself for the first time and I’m really short. I have a hard time doing things in the apartment like changing the light bulbs and getting things down off shelves. I’ve been calling the building maintenance people sometimes but I really think they’re starting to get annoyed with me. What exactly is included in my rent and what things should I be doing myself?

Stumpy in Stanford, CT

Dear Stumpy,

Unfortunately, your landlord may not be very sympathetic to the fact that you’re having problems reaching things in your apartment. It is better to ask a friend or neighbor for help. As for the light bulbs, they fall under the category of “routine maintenance” which should be described in your lease. Look for the “lawn mowing and snow removal clause” as this usually accompanies other routine maintenance tasks. If you see the clause it means that you are responsible for changing light bulbs, replacing washers, etc. Even if this clause is in your lease, I would still consider asking for help when the landlord or maintenance worker is around the building. Hopefully he/she will understand that you are not trying to abuse the lease but rather just need a helping hand.


Dude, I’m totally broke and I’m freaking out. I’m in an apartment that has pretty cheap rent, but my car was all messed up this week and I had to fix it in order to get back and forth to work. I’m about $200 short on my rent and there’s no way that I’m going to be able to pay it by the time it’s due. How do I break the news to my landlord without getting evicted?

Cashless in Corpus Christi, TX

Dear Cashless,

This seems like a tricky case but the best course of action is to be polite (very polite) and know what your options are. First, read your lease to determine what late fees apply. A landlord can only charge you a late fee if it is explicitly stated in the lease. However, seeing as you are breaking the lease by not paying your rent on time, it is in your best interest to pay a reasonable late fee if your landlord requests one. This will deter him/her from wanting to evict you. Write your landlord a letter explaining the circumstances and the date that you will pay the rent. Assure your landlord that this was an emergency situation and that it will not happen again in the future. You should also offer to pay whatever part you can immediately. Be sure you have the landlord’s permission to pay late in writing before sending a late check, as in most states a landlord can start the eviction process if rent is even one day late. In the future, I recommend getting an emergency-only credit card to be used for situations like this. Pay car or medical bills with credit and save cash for the rent.


I just moved into the best apartment in the entire world. It’s everything I ever hoped for and ever wanted in a new home. Recently, my company decided to relocate me to another city. Although I really don’t want to leave, it’s the best thing that could happen for my career. How do I tell the building management that I’m going to move and what will happen to me if I break the lease?

Sadly Successful in Schenectady, NY

Dear Sadly Successful,

Breaking a lease can be cumbersome because the burden is on you, not your landlord. Check your lease to see if subletting is allowed. This means you would have someone else living in the apartment but that you would still be responsible for it. This is not an ideal situation but it can work out if you get a responsible subletter. Another option is to assign the lease to a new renter. Assigning your lease means permanently transferring all the rights of the lease to a new renter for the remaining duration of the lease. You will usually have joint responsibility for damages to the apartment in this situation, so choose a renter wisely. Your landlord will have to approve the renter as well since a new lease will need to be signed. The last option is to actually break the lease. Explain the situation to your landlord and offer to help find a new renter. Doing this means you will likely lose your security deposit and have to keep paying rent until a new renter is found but at least you won’t end up in court. Expect your landlord to be upset and possibly give you a bad reference; this will vary with each landlord and how you present your situation.


My roommate is a total jerk. I was out of town for work last week and while I was away, he had a party and ended up getting into a fight with one of his friends. In the scuffle he punched a hole in our wall. Besides the fact that I feel like a parent rather than a roommate, I know I’m going to need to tell the building management what happened. How do I do this and what can I do to avoid losing my security deposit?

Frustrated Fistful, Frankfort, IL

Dear Frustrated Fistful,

I understand your anger but why are you taking responsibility for your roommate? Protect yourself by taking a dated photo of the damage and trying to secure proof that you were not there when the damage occurred (you could have your job confirm that you were out of town). Then firmly tell your roommate that he needs to report the damage to the landlord. If he refuses, call your landlord and expect to lose at least half your security deposit. If there is any money left, inform your roommate that his part of the security deposit has been lost and keep the rest. If your money has been depleted, consider this a lesson learned and be more discriminating when choosing a roommate in the future.

This post was updated April 2, 2013.

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