Renter Rights: How to Protect Yourself

Anytime you move into a new apartment you need to make sure that you protect yourself from any potential bad business practices or negative situations. Here are a few things about renter rights to keep in mind whether it's your first, or fiftieth, time moving on your own.

Renter Rights

Before you move in to your new apartment:

  • Make sure that you walk through the exact apartment that you’re going to move into, not a model.

  • If there are any things that are wrong with the apartment make sure you tell the landlord what they are, and that they need to be fixed prior to moving in.

  • Document anything that needs to be repaired or replaced in writing and with photographs. Send a copy to your landlord and keep a copy for yourself. Things to document are any chips in the walls, broken appliances or anything in the apartment that looks worn or deteriorated. In the event that your security deposit is held for any of these items, you now have proof that they were in existence before you moved in.

  • Make sure that the locks are changed before you move into your new apartment. Ask the landlord to tell you who has copies of the keys. Usually, the only other people that should have access to your apartment is the building management.

  • Purchase renters insurance. You might not think that you have enough stuff to need the coverage, but when you start to add it all up it will amount to more than you thought. Depending on the terms of the policy that you purchase, renters insurance will protect you from fire, break-ins or other disasters at a low cost.

After you move in to your new apartment:

  • Landlords must fix major problems in the unit. It is their responsibility to keep the apartment livable and in good condition. If you signed a lease for an apartment with air conditioning, the landlord must keep the air conditioning working in the unit. If the water is shut off (and you've paid your bills), the landlord must fix any problem in a reasonable time frame.

  • Depending on your lease, your landlord may or may not be responsible for minor problems like leaky faucets or problems with appliances. (Make sure you ask about this before you sign the lease.)

  • If it states in the lease that you are responsible for issues of this nature, building maintenance may be able to fix the problem but don’t be surprised if you end up with a bill for the repairs. This is another good reason to make sure you document any problems before you move into the apartment.

If your landlord is not receptive to repairing major problems, or is hesitant to meet with you for any other major dispute after you've moved in, make sure you follow these steps, in this order:

  • Submit a repair request through building maintenance.

If this is not acted upon:

  • Propose mediation with your landlord. 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.

If mediation fails to bring about a resolution:

  • 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 that fails should you:

  • Sue your landlord in small claims court. Not only might this damage 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.

  • The Federal Fair Housing Act protects renters from discrimination. Make sure to review the act and review all other options, including mediation, before taking any drastic measures such as a lawsuit.

This post was updated on April 1, 2013. 

Looking for an Apartment? Start Here! is the leading online apartment listing website, offering access to information on nearly 1,000,000 available rental units and helping connect property managers and landlords to millions of qualified renters every day.

Search Rentals