By Kristen Sherman
This article is the third in a multipart series on looking for housing and renters’ rights. In Part Three of this series, we provide an overview of tenants’ legal rights and responsibilities.
All renters are entitled to and should expect certain basic amenities from their landlord. These amenities include access to utilities, working heating, plumbing, and electrical systems, and lighted common areas.
In addition, tenants are entitled to safe, unobstructed access to their property, clean, adequate trash storage, and exterior locking doors. Landlords must provide tenants with adequate ventilation and must ensure that their properties are free from infestation.
If you find yourself in an apartment without these basic amenities, you should ask your landlord to promptly rectify the situation. If your landlord fails to take action, you should report him or her to your local town or city hall’s department of code enforcement.
An inspector may come to your apartment and ask to be let in; be sure to ask the inspector to produce an official identification badge.
If a landlord decides to raise the rent, he or she must provide written notice to tenants at least 30 days prior to the effective date of the increase. If you are a month to month tenant over the age of 62, you are entitled to 60 days’ notice before a rent increase.
Your landlord cannot immediately bring an eviction suit against you in court if you are late in paying the rent. Landlords who wish to evict a tenant for nonpayment of rent must wait 15 days after the rent is due before sending a notice to the tenant that the rent is overdue.
The tenant then has a five day grace period within which to pay the rent. You should also know that landlords who wish to evict tenants must do so in court through the process established by law; landlords cannot simply change the locks and leave your belongings out on the curb.
Whenever your tenancy ends, the landlord must return your security deposit, provided that you caused no damage to the apartment beyond normal wear and tear.
Landlords are legally obligated to return security deposits within 20 days after the tenant moves out. Be sure you notify your landlord when you intend to move and provide your forwarding address.
Like landlords, tenants also have legal responsibilities. Of course, tenants must comply with the terms of their lease, so be sure to review the lease to see if certain activities are prohibited.
For example, some landlords forbid the use of candles. Health and safety code standards apply to tenants as well as landlords. Tenants are responsible for properly disposing of garbage, and must keep plumbing fixtures and facilities clean.
A tenant must promptly notify his or her landlord when repairs or maintenance is needed. Tenants should not deface, remove, or impair anything that is attached to or otherwise part of the premises, and must ensure that family members and visitors refrain from doing so.