WASHINGTON, May 19, 2012 – Your home is your castle. Home is where your hat is. There is no place like home. This is not Kansas, Dorothy. Some landlords can be phenomenal, others, not so much. Here are some thoughts on maintaining harmony, protecting your rights, and enjoying your rented abode.
Before you sign, examine the lease very carefully. In most instances, an attorney prepared the lease for the landlord. The landlord’s interests are protected in the document. It might even be worthwhile to have your attorney review it for you if you are unfamiliar with the terms. Do not just readily sign the lease agreement. Read it very carefully. Ask questions about what different terms and provisions mean if you are not absolutely clear. Discuss the terms of the lease with your landlord and understand everything is negotiable. If your interests are not acceptable to the landlord, you will have a decision to make.
The written word is King. Get everything in writing. Verbal promises are usually impossible to prove, much less enforce. Typically many promises will be made to get you to sign the lease. If these promises are not written into the lease, effectively, they are worthless. Put all such agreements at the end of the lease on a page you might title “Additional Agreements.” Consider, as well, that often the “landlord” is an employee of the owner of the property, and that the individual “Landlord” you make the deal with might not be there when it comes times to keep the promise made. The next individual clearly is not going to know anything about your deal if it is not in writing.
Repairs; repairs; my soul for a repair. Most of the time, they do not know. If you do not tell them there is a problem, they will magically be there with solutions or repairs. You must speak up, politely, courteously, and insistently, to get things done. Your quality of life, in part, is directly related to your ability to complain. Things such as air conditioning, heat, electricity, water, shower, toilets, dishwasher, windows, and more, all are things needing periodic attention by the landlord. If the landlord is slow in getting to the problem, ask if you can do it and deduct the costs from your rent. Put a provision in your lease that if, after 2 or 3 days of non-repair, you are authorized to self-repair and deduct costs from rent. Do not deduct repair costs from rent without a prior agreement.
If problems make the property such that you cannot live there (uninhabitable), you should document everything. Document your correspondence with the landlord (even telephone conversations and in-person discussions), keep copies of letters you send, photograph the problem, and if needed, move out. Your written record will make a big difference if communication breaks down and you have to take legal action.
Before you deduct from rent, assuming such is agreeable, get that agreement in writing. If the landlord will not agree to a rent reduction, but you cannot live in the property, the best course is to pay the rent and resolve the financial issues later, after you move back in. Ultimately, if the matter cannot be resolved, litigation may be necessary.
Be nice. Most relationships live or die by the tone and tenor of our communications. Be nice to your landlord. Being nasty very rarely gets anyone anywhere; remember that you have a continuing relationship going on, and when you ultimately leave the landlord may be needed to provide a reference for you for you next rental home.
Is this a safe place? This is a legal column, but I want to totally protect you, so I am asking you to ask yourself this question. Ask neighbors as well. If the area is crime prone, do you want to live there? If you have no choice, make sure the doors have sturdy locks and inquire about building security.
Guard Your Privacy. Look for lease provisions dealing with privacy issues. Usually the landlord must give you notice before entering your unit; make sure it is reasonable with respect to the amount of the notice and the times of day that entering is allowed. As well, there will usually be rental provisions that allow a landlord to enter your unit without notice, in emergency situations such as a gas leak. The key here, in my view, whether emergency or not, is a well-defined plan to notify you. Therefore, at a very minimum, your landlord should be required to call you, and thus must have your home and mobile telephone number.
Renters’ Insurance is a must. This insurance is inexpensive and protects you and your property. Ask the insurer if medical payment benefits are included automatically, and if not, if they can be added. Renters’ insurance can cover you and save you from a large financial loss If your property is damaged or stolen, or if you are sued by someone who claims they were injured in your rental because of your negligence. Your insurance here may very well be “in addition” to insurance the landlord may have.
The Return of Your Security Deposit. I never liked someone else holding my money. I do get it thought. Security deposits are the most disputed item between landlords and tenants. Make certain that your lease clearly spells out how your deposit will be used or why it wll be withheld.
When you first move in, do an extensive walk-through to record existing damage and keep a copy of whatever report you give to the landlord. When you are ready to move out, schedule a final walk-through with the landlord, take a piece of paper and write down any problems or concerns that might trigger using your security deposit and have the landlord initial each item on the list.
Write a statement on the paper such as “the above list is the entire list of problems in the unit” and have the landlord sign acknowledging that as well. Take photographs of these problems.
Paul A. Samakow is an attorney licensed in Maryland and Virginia, and has been practicing since 1980. He represents injury victims and routinely battles insurance companies and big businesses that will not accept full responsibility for the harms and losses they cause. He can be reached at any time by calling 1-866-SAMAKOW (1-866-726-2569), via email, or through his website. He is also available to speak to your group on numerous legal topics. Paul is the featured legal analyst on the Washington Times Radio, on the Andy Parks show, on Wednesdays at 5:15 P.M., and he is a columnist on the Washington Times Communities.
His book The 8 Critical Things Your Auto Accident Attorney Won’t Tell You is free to Maryland and Virginia residents and can be obtained by ordering it on his website; others can obtain it on Amazon.
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