Knowing What Rights You Have as a Tenant, And How you Can Enforce Them


Ever been in an apartment and had a landlord that liked to drag his or her feet when it came to repairs but couldn’t wait to get your rent check on the first of the month? Ever felt like maybe you were being taken advantage of, but you were not completely sure? Then you need to know what rights you have as a tenant, and what your legal options are when it becomes necessary to assert those rights.

You don’t need to be rude, or abrasive, you just need to stand up for yourself, because unfortunately as a single mom there are probably not people standing in line to stand up for you.

Your rights will vary tremendously by state, but the basics are pretty standard. You have the right to be able to enjoy your home safely, you have the right to running hot and cold water, you have the right to lock the doors, to decide who enters your home and when they do so. You have the right to use all necessary utilities, even if that means repairing existing gas or electric lines, as well as having plumbing that works. Your state probably gives you many other rights as well, but lets start with the basics first.

You have to be able to have access to all of the necessary utilities. That doesn’t mean that your landlord has to to pay those expenses for you, it simply means that your home has to be in good enough condition that your home has access to them. If the wiring in your home is not safe for you to use your appliances, or to use the electricity, your landlord has to repair it. If your hot water heater breaks down, your landlord will typically have to replace it. That is true even if you are renting from a little old lady who only rents out the house to supplement her Social Security check, and especially if it’s been two months since you told her but she still says she cannot afford to replace it for you.

What Your State Says

Each state has different guidelines as to what you legally have to have access to, when you rent yur home. To get a more precise listing of what your state says, visit here: http://www.rentlaw.com/

In some areas, air conditioning is something a home has to have. Texas tends to be that way, because we always get at least one or two days during that summer that are around 110 degrees with a hundred percent humidity. You put kids in that kind of heat for long, and you have some really sick kids in just a little while. Obviously, other states just don’t get that hot, and although I am a little bit jealous of people who live in those states, that means that you may not absolutely need air conditioning the way we do further south.

Reasons You Could be Evicted

There are a lot of different reasons that you could be facing the possibility of eviction, and they don’t all involve not paying your rent. Although being late on rent is a common cause, people are frequently served with eviction because of:

1) The presence of unapproved pets
2) Having people that are not on the lease living in the home
3) Failure to re-sign the lease
4) Excessive noise complaints
5) The sale or transfer of the property itself, which may make the lease not valid in some states
6) Changes in family size or circumstances, like the age and gender of your children

Pets

If you have a pet that is not allowed, whether it’s because of the breed, the size, the lack of a pet deposit, or that you simply are not allowed pets where you live, you could very easily face the possibility of eviction. If so, you probably would have to choose between getting rid of your pet and finding a different home, unless you can convince someone to change the rules for you. The exception to that would be if you or a family member that lives with you has a service animal. If so, and you are able to provide documentation of the animal’s status as a necessary part of your household, you have the federally protected right to keep them. The Americans With Disabilities Act gives you that right, regardless of your disability or the type of animal that you have.

Long-term House Guests

Anytime that you have someone staying with you for longer than a few days, it is a good idea to ask your landlord for permission for them to stay longer. Sometimes you could be asked to add them on to your lease as an occupant, and have them removed when they leave your home, or you could get special permission for them to stay. Your landlord also has the right to tell you that they cannot stay longer than a few days, although the exact amount of time that you can have guests stay with you will probably be listed in your rental agreement.

Not Re-signing the Lease When it Expires

Although not re-signing the lease when it ends may seem like a great way to to have the time to find a perfect place, it could pretty easily backfire on you. You might need to think about that, particularly if you live in an area with a low occupancy rate. Just because you don’t love your house or apartment enough to commit to another six months or a year living there, doesn’t mean that someone else doesn’t. And if they do, your landlord could give you the thirty days notice to have you out on your ear.

Excessive Noise Complaints

Although it doesn’t seem fair, it is typical for a landlord to need to please as many of their tenants as possible. That means that if enough of your neighbors complain about noise ( even if the noise is coming from your kids), you could be served with an eviction notice. As a result, you will probably want to do your best to keep the noise level in your house to acceptable levels. And your neighbors versions of what are acceptable levels could be different from what you think is.

When The Owner of The Property Sells it, or Loses it to Foreclosure

A sad result of the recession that gripped the United States for so long is that many formerly prosperous and effective property owners lost their property, and landlords are no different. In the last few years, there are many properties that have been taken over by banks, which could make your lease invalid.

If you become aware that your landlord is no longer your landlord, you should contact the new owner as soon as possible and ask to sign a new lease. At the very least, you will need to know who to call in case you need repairs to the property. It’s a good bet that the person who sold or lost it will probably
not want to pay for someone to come do them.

Family Changes

If you have recently had more children, you may have to look into a bigger home. You may not be allowed to stay in your current property, once your children are a certain age, and it is common in many states to not allow a boy and a girl to share a bedroom once either one is of school-age.

Section 8

If you are currently residing in Section 8 or subsidized housing, you will be asked to adhere to more guidelines. If that is the case, you will be given a list of what the requirements are for your home either when you sign the lease, or when you apply for the housing in question. Although it may seem that when you live in this type of housing there are more rules, you actually have an extra layer of protection that tenants in regular housing do not. That is because since the state or federal government owns your home, they are more likely to take care of it than a landlord might.

Preventing, Fighting, and Hopefully Winning an Eviction Case

If you are dealing with eviction, you should first contact your landlord to see if you can work out arrangements with them. If that is not a possibility for you, you can fight your eviction, but you will probably need an attorney in order to protect all of your rights. If you cannot afford one, you can call your local courthouse and see what type of legal aid is available. If an inability to pay rent is what is prompting the eviction, it’s probably time to apply for some rental assistance.

The other important thing for you to remember that as long as you have a lease, you most likely have the right to be seen in front of a judge or jury. When you get a notice from your landlord to evacuate the property in a certain number of days, you have the right to contest it. Even if you don’t win, you will have the comfort of knowing that you tried. On the other hand, you may accrue additional fees by staying in your home and going to court, which could eventually include legal costs.

Eviction is a very serious matter, and it is not my intention in this blog to give any sort of legal advice, as I am not and have never been an attorney. Your best bet will always be to try to avoid even the possibility of eviction, and to get legal advice from a lawyer if you do.