Every Tenant's Legal Guide
eBook - ePub

Every Tenant's Legal Guide

Janet Portman, Marcia Stewart

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  1. 440 pages
  2. English
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  4. Available on iOS & Android
eBook - ePub

Every Tenant's Legal Guide

Janet Portman, Marcia Stewart

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About This Book

This book is for any tenant renting residential property, in any state. REASONS TO BUY THIS NEW EDITION:

  • Many states have tenant-friendly laws, but if tenants don't know them, they can't take advantage of them.
  • This book explains common legal and practical problems and gives workable solutions.
  • There is no national competition for this book--nothing else has the combination of specific legal information coupled with how to implement it.
  • National tome, everything about being a tenant. You can't argue for your rights unless you know what they are--no other national book gives tenants current, accurate legal specifics for their state
  • Nolo has the category killer for landlords ( Every Landlord's Legal Guide ). This is the companion book for the other side, which has many more potential buyers.
    The (9th) new edition updates all legal charts, including the latest state rules and procedures on tenant rights to break a lease and fight an eviction.

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Finding a Place to Rent

It goes almost without saying that choosing a place to live is an extremely important decision. A good apartment or house should provide more than shelter, warmth, and a place to lay your head; it should be a true home. Yet many people make bad choices—spending too much money; picking the wrong location, landlord, or neighbors; or settling on a place that’s too small, dreary, noisy, unsafe, or in bad shape. Sure, if you’re in a tight rental market, such as those in New York City, San Francisco, or Chicago, you can have an extremely difficult time finding a good place to live at a reasonable price, but it’s still possible to find decent housing.
Finding a good place to live is rarely a lucky accident. Whether rental housing is plentiful or scarce, there are specific steps you can take to find an apartment or house that meets your needs and budget. Most important, you need to take your time. One of the worst—and most costly—mistakes you can make is to sign a lease or put down a hefty deposit at the end of a long, frustrating day of apartment-hunting, only to realize later that the place is completely unsuitable. Even if it means staying with friends for a few weeks, finding a short-term rental or house-sitting arrangement, or (horrors) moving back in with your parents temporarily, it may be well worth it.
Whether you’re looking for your first or tenth rental, living by yourself or with others, this chapter shows you how to find a good place to live within your price range, by:
• setting clear priorities before you start looking for a place to rent
• using a variety of resources to tap into available rentals, and
• beating the competition by pulling together the information landlords want to see—good references and credit information—before you visit prospective rentals.
This chapter also explains your legal rights and responsibilities regarding the rental application process, credit reports, credit-check fees, and holding deposits. (For details on antidiscrimination laws that limit what landlords can say and do in the tenant selection process, see Chapter 5.)
Preparing for a move. If you’re moving from one rental to another, be sure you understand all the legal and practical rules for ending a tenancy, getting your deposit returned, and moving out. See Chapters 15 and 16 for details.
Check Your Credit Rating Before
You Start Your Housing Search
Your credit report contains a wealth of information that landlords use to choose (or reject) tenants—for example, the report lists any bankruptcy filings, uncollected child support, and unpaid debts that have been reported to the credit reporting agency. It will also reflect favorable information, such as your ability to pay your card balances and other debts on time. To make sure your credit report is accurate—or to give yourself time to clean it up if there are problems or errors—get a copy of your report before you start looking. “Rental Applications and Credit Reports,” below, provides complete details.

Setting Your Rental Priorities

While most people start their housing search with some general idea of how much they can afford to pay, where they want to live, and how big a place they need, that doesn’t guarantee good results. The best way to find an excellent rental home is to set specific guidelines in advance, being realistic, of course, both as to your budget and what’s available for rent.
Here’s our approach to finding a rental house or apartment you can afford and will enjoy living in:
Step 1: Firmly establish your priorities—such as maximum rent, desired location, and number of bedrooms—before you start looking. The list below, Rental Priorities, will help you do this.
If you’re renting with one or more other people, review the Rental Priorities list together and make sure you agree on the basics. Always consider each person’s strong likes and dislikes when you’re choosing a rental. For example, you might care most about a modern kitchen and a sunny deck or patio. If so, you’ll surely be miserable if you allow your spouse or partner to talk you into renting an older apartment with its original 1960s kitchen because it has a great view (but no deck).
Step 2: Once you’ve set your priorities, you’ll want to see how prospective rental units measure up. To make this simple, we’ve prepared a Rental Priorities Worksheet, shown below. There’s space for you to write down your mandatory (“must have”) priorities, as well as secondary (“it would be nice, but aren’t crucial”) priorities and your absolute “no ways.” Try to limit your mandatory priorities to those features your rental unit must have, such as “less than $1,000 a month rent,” “two or more bedrooms,” and “near the bus line to work.” Take time developing your list of “no ways.” Avoiding things you hate—for example, a high-crime area or noisy neighborhood—may be just as important as finding a place that meets all your mandatory priorities.
The Nolo website includes a downloadable copy of the Rental Priorities Worksheet. See Appendix B for the link to the forms in this book.
Step 3: Once you complete the priorities section of the Worksheet, make several copies for use when looking at apartments or rental houses.
Step 4: Complete a Worksheet for each rental unit you’re seriously considering, as follows:
• Enter the address, contact person, phone number, email, rent, deposit, term (month-to-month or year lease), and other key information on the top of the form.
• As you walk around the rental unit and talk with the landlord or manager, indicate the pluses and minuses and the mandatory and secondary priorities (as well as “no ways”) that apply.
• Make notes next to a particular feature that can be changed to meet your needs—for example, “Rent is high, but space is fine for an extra roommate.”
• Jot down additional features in the section for Other Comments, such as “Neighbors seem very friendly” or “Tiny yard for kids to play, but great park is just a block away.”
Step 5: If at all possible (but it may not be, especially in tight rental markets), insist that any apartment or house meets at least your most important priorities.
Check Out All Important
Conditions of the Tenancy
Leases and rental agreements cover many issues, such as the amount of rent and deposits, length of the tenancy, number of tenants, and pets. In addition, some rental agreements may include provisions that you find unacceptable—for example, restrictions on guests, design alterations, or the use of an apartment for your home business. Ask for a copy of the lease or rental agreement early on, so you are not reading it for the first time with a pen in your hand. Be sure to read Chapter 2 for details on leases and rental agreements and how to negotiate terms before you sign on the dotted line.

How to Find an Apartment or House for Rent

You’ve just done an important part of the job of finding a place to live by creating your list of Rental Priorities. Now you need a plan to find a place that matches it as closely as possible. Focus on your time and financial constraints and consider how they will influence your search. For example, the housing search of a well-paid couple with money in the bank who wants to move to a bigger apartment sometime in the next six months should differ tremendously from that of a graduate student on a limited budget with a small child who has only a few weeks to find a place before school starts.
Rental Priorities
When you’re making your list of priorities, consider these issues:
Figure out the maximum you can afford to pay. Be sure to include utilities, Internet, and any additional charges, such as for parking. As a broad generalization, you probably don’t want to spend more than 25% to 35% of your monthly take-home pay on rent, but this will obviously depend on your expenses. Be careful about overspending—you don’t want to live in a penthouse if it means you need to eat popcorn for dinner every night.
Depending on state law and landlord practices, you may need to pay as much as two months’ rent as a security deposit. (Chapter 4 covers security deposits.)...

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