Whose House Is It?

Five tips to take the hassle out of the landlord-tenant relationship

Jersey, where she rented a condominium to avoid a two-hour daily commute. But a few months later she found out that the condo’s owner had not been paying his mortgage. “A lot of the units were being foreclosed upon, including the one I was renting,” she says. She was transferred to an adjacent unit, but incurred no extra fees. Why? “My security deposit was still good,” Edwards-Hall says.

A security deposit, generally a month to a month-and-a-half’s rent, is usually required in advance. Because it covers additional expenses, it can’t be used as the last month’s rent. To avoid paying for another tenant’s damages, inspect the property with the landlord both before moving in and after moving out. Record all damage in writing and/or with photographs. There’s no such thing as a “non refundable” security deposit. If you fulfill your part of the lease and cause no additional expenses, you’re entitled to a full refund after you move.

Keep the lines of communication open. Maintain a working relationship with the owner/landlord so difficulties and misunderstandings can be worked out. When they can’t, consider outside assistance. Check the phone book’s government listings for “Housing” or “Tenant-Landlord Relations” offices. If absolutely necessary, seek legal counsel.

As a landlord, you should familiarize yourself with the rights of the tenant, as well as your own. Lisa R. Hayes, chief counsel for the Division of Consumer Services with the attorney general’s office in Indianapolis, offers these suggestions:

Plainly outline permissible property changes in the lease. “Landlords should have clear provisions in the lease stating whether or not tenants can improve the apartment,” says Hayes. The provisions should include things like the use of waterbeds, the addition of pets or other occupants, as well as large-scale projects like renovations, the installation of special security systems and appliances that the tenant might want to upgrade or replace.
Be very explicit about lease termination. “The grounds upon which the lease can be terminated should be made available to the tenant before the lease is signed,” says Hayes. The tenant should be aware of all ramifications and penalties to be imposed, including possibly forfeiting the security deposit if the contract is broken before the specified time is up.

The Fair Housing Act legally forbids refusing anyone housing on the basis of race, color, sex, religion, national origin or familial status. If you suspect discrimination, file a report with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).

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