Protect your rights as a tenant and learn how to deal with problem landlords using the forms and information in these three books. The legal and practical information provided in Nolo's Tenant Law Bundle will show you how to:
negotiate a lease or rental agreement
get your security deposit back, with or without taking your landlord to court
Every Tenant's Legal Guide by Janet Portman, Attorney and Marcia Stewart.
Everybody's Guide to Small Claims Court by Ralph Warner, Attorney
When does my landlord have to return my security deposit?
Most states hold landlords to strict guidelines as to when and how to return security deposits. Landlords who violate these laws may lose the deposit entirely or face hefty penalties. Every state’s laws are different, so you need to know your state’s rules. But here are the general things to look for.
Most states set a deadline, usually two to three weeks after you move out, for the landlord to mail you the following:
A statement showing specifically how the deposit has been applied toward back rent, cleaning, and repairs
what’s left of the deposit (including any interest, if local law requires it), and
if required by your state, a list of proposed deductions before they are actually made.
Can the landlord use my damage deposit to cover unpaid rent?
The short answer is yes. Most states allow landlords to use deposits to cover:
unpaid rent or other charges--for example, unpaid utility bills
repairing damage you (or your guests) caused, and
cleaning the premises so they’re as clean as when you moved in.
There’s mold in my apartment. What can I do?
Most mold -- for example, the kind that grows on shower tiles--is not harmful to your health. It takes an expert to know whether a particular mold is harmful or just annoying. And it takes tests that measure the presence of a particular mold's DNA in a blood sample to know for sure whether a resident has inhaled the mold.
No federal law sets permissible exposure limits for mold in residential buildings, and only a few states have taken steps toward establishing mold standards. California, Indiana, Maryland, New Jersey, and Texas have passed laws aimed at developing guidelines and regulations for mold in indoor air. New York City and San Francisco have also enacted local ordinances relating to mold and indoor air quality.
But unless you caused the mold problem yourself (by tightly sealing a bathroom, for example), your landlord is responsible for cleaning it up—and may be liable for any health problems you’ve suffered as a clear result of living with the mold.
My roommate didn’t pay her share of the rent—and now the landlord says I owe it. That’s not fair, is it?
It may not be fair, but it’s the law. In legal terms, cotenants are “jointly and severally liable” for the rent. That means that the landlord can demand the entire rent from any cotenant, regardless of whatever rent-sharing agreement the roommates have. Even if you pay $400 for your tiny room and your roommate pays $800 for a master suite, you’ll be liable for the full $1,200 rent if your roommate flakes out.
What are a landlord's maintenance responsibilities? Do tenants have to maintain the premises?
You and the landlord each have legal responsibilities. Under most state and local laws, landlords must keep housing “habitable”—that is, livable. Usually, the premises must have adequate weatherproofing, available heat, water, and electricity, and they must be structurally safe.
Local building or housing codes typically set specific standards for light, ventilation, and wiring. They may also require smoke detectors and certain kinds of locks in residential units.
Tenants have the responsibility to keep their own living quarters clean and sanitary. If you do not, you can't go to the landlord and request repairs that are due to your carelessness, such as infestations of pests such as ants. In that case, the landlord could have the work done and send the repair bill to you.
Do I get a grace period if I pay the rent a little late?
Most leases and rental agreements call for rent to be paid monthly, in advance, on the first day of the month. That means your rent check must be in your landlord’s hands on the first. There’s no automatic grace period that gives you a few extra days to pay. If you mail your check on the first of the month and it takes three days to get there, you’re three days late.
There’s one exception: Many lease and rental agreements state that if the first of the month is on a Sunday or legal holiday, rent is due on the next business day. This practice is legally required in some states.
If you don’t pay rent when it’s due, you may owe a late fee (check your rental agreement) or even get a termination notice from the landlord, telling you that if the rent is not paid within a certain number of days, he’ll begin eviction proceedings.
After I said I would be moving out, my landlord showed my apartment to prospective renters when I wasn’t there. Can she do that?
In most states, a landlord or manager may enter your unit only in an emergency -- such as a fire or serious water leak–unless the landlord gave you advance notice or you have granted permission. Typically, 24 hours’ notice is required.
With the proper notice, the landlord has the right to enter the rented premises to make repairs (or in some states, to determine whether repairs are necessary), or to show the property to prospective new tenants or purchasers.
Several states also let landlords or property managers enter during a tenant's extended absence (often defined as seven days or more) to maintain the property as necessary and to inspect for damage and needed repairs. In most cases, a landlord may not enter just to check up on the tenant and the rental property.