Home sweet rental: Your rights as a tenant

In most states, laws carefully regulate landlords. Rental properties undergo inspections for code violations, and courts often give tenants the benefit of the doubt in a dispute. Nevertheless, unscrupulous landlords will always exist, and they are looking for people who are ignorant of the laws that govern rental properties.

If you are looking to rent a condominium, house or apartment, you may feel safe that your lease is valid and within the scope of the law. You may not feel so confident if a potential landlord shows you an apartment in a basement, attic or garage. Before you sign a lease or hand over a deposit, real estate professionals encourage you to know the laws concerning rental properties in your area.

Applying for a rental

Understandably, landlords want to know a little about the people to whom they rent. You can expect a potential landlord to screen you to make sure you are likely to pay your rent on time and not use his or her property for illegal activities. The law allows a landlord to base his decision on a limited number of factors, including:

  • Your credit history
  • Your income
  • Your rental history
  • Your criminal background
  • Your smoking habits

A landlord may also prohibit pets unless you have a dog and can provide documentation that the dog is an assistance animal. However, he or she many not ask about your religion, nationality or love life. If you believe a landlord denied your application because of any of these issues, he or she may have violated the Fair Housing Act, and you may wish to contact an attorney.

Deposits and rent

Not every state has established a maximum limit to the amount of deposit a landlord can require. Since the law sets no limit in Texas, housing advocates suggest you investigate the rates of nearby rentals before agreeing to pay an outrageous deposit. In addition, your lease should indicate that the deposit is refundable. While there may be fees, such as cleaning fees or pet fees, your deposit is refundable as long as you did not damage the property or otherwise break the agreement.

The agreed upon rent is legally binding until the lease expires. Landlords frequently raise rent - unless you live in a rent-controlled or Section 8 unit - but any hike must occur when you renew your lease.

Something's not right

If you have a lease in your hand, but its terms and conditions are confusing, you may wish to have a lawyer review it with you. You should be able to understand the language, and the lease should not include items that are illegal or that violate your privacy.

On the other hand, if you are already renting a unit and your landlord is violating the terms of your lease, a lawyer can advise you on the best steps to take. Your home should be a place where you feel comfortable and secure. If this is not the case, an attorney can advise you of your legal rights and help you decide how to handle the situation.

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