One of the joys of being a renter is that when problems happen — depending on what they are — you don’t have to deal with or pay for them. That’s what your landlord or property manager is for. But sometimes the person in charge is less than responsive to your request for help. And other times, it isn’t their responsibility anyway — it’s yours. (If you clogged the sink from repeatedly pouring grease down it, that’s on you.)
For tenants renting studio apartments in New York, NY, or living in rentals in Cincinnati, OH (and everywhere in between), we’ve created a renters’ guide to some common, real-life scenarios — and the solutions.
1. Your landlord is unresponsive
If you have a true emergency, such as a gas leak or a burst pipe, by all means, call your landlord or management company ASAP, no matter the time of day (or night). If they don’t respond quickly, take matters into your own hands. Get to a safe place, call 911 and your gas company for a gas leak, or turn off the water and call a plumber for a burst pipe. You can deal with your landlord later. But if your issue is not an emergency (the dishwasher won’t start or the hot water is out), exercise patience. “Be careful not to call your landlord several times a day,” says Shawn Council, esquire, an attorney in Bloomfield, CT. “Give the landlord a reasonable opportunity to call you back.”
The best practice is to ask the landlord to spell out in the lease who’s responsible for what repairs and how quickly things should be fixed. “It’s imperative that when something breaks down, such as a leaky faucet or an overflowing toilet, tenants know what they’re allowed to fix themselves and what they should report,” says Todd Barton, managing director of Renters Warehouse. “If you’re a tenant and you aren’t certain, ask!” he adds.
2. Your landlord is intrusive
Some landlords think that because they own the property, they can access their property anytime they like. But this couldn’t be farther from the truth. You have a right to privacy, and landlords typically need to give you 24 hours’ notice before they enter. They must also have a valid reason, such as to make a repair, to conduct a routine maintenance check, or to show the property for sale or re-rent.
If your landlord consistently crosses the line, however, it might be time to get legal advice. Each state has different rules and statutes that allow a tenant recourse against a landlord’s violation of privacy, so seek out an attorney or renter rights organization in your state for guidance.
3. You have bad credit
Bad credit can prevent you from being a renter altogether. Many landlords won’t rent to you if your credit history is less than stellar. But there are some things you can do. “First, provide as much detailed income information to your potential landlord as possible, as well as any previous rental records,” says Barton. “Your rental records can prove that you still have a good rental history, despite your credit score.” And if you do have bad credit, it doesn’t hurt to offer to pay more upfront than what the lease requires as a measure of good faith — offering to pay several months’ rent in advance can go a long way.
4. You don’t have the rent money
If you have an unexpected expense one month, such as needing to fix a broken-down car or an unplanned medical bill, you might not be able to come up with the full rent payment when it’s due. Instead of hoping your landlord won’t notice (rest assured, they will), be upfront about it. “As soon as you know your rent will be late, start the conversation with your landlord,” says Mindy Jensen, community manager, BiggerPockets.com. “Offer to pay a portion now and the remainder at a specific date, and then keep your promise.” There’s no guarantee that your landlord will agree to this proposal, but if you’re upfront about the situation, especially if you’ve been a responsible tenant thus far, your landlord might be more willing to work with you under extenuating circumstances.
5. Your landlord kept your security deposit
Landlords can use the security deposit if they need to make repairs to problems you caused or if you didn’t pay the last month’s rent. They can’t charge for normal wear and tear, however, so some landlords also charge a nonrefundable fee (if their state allows) to cover cleaning. That doesn’t mean every landlord follows the rules, however. Such was the case for Brandon Schroth, a San Diego, CA, digital analyst. “I was in the process of moving out, and I was told that I would be charged $150 for carpet cleaning, $100 for overall apartment cleaning, and $100 for paint touch-ups,” he said. To make matters worse, Schroth had been told at the lease signing that there would be no charge for touch-ups or carpet cleaning. “The main takeaway is that you should always get everything in writing,” says Schroth.
6. Your neighbors are annoying
Unless you rent a home with significant acreage, you’ll have neighbors close by, and they might be less than neighborly. “For the most part, this is not a landlord issue,” says Mindy Jensen. If you have conflict with your neighbors, you’ll probably have to try to work this out on your own. But your landlord could be responsible if, for example, you live in multi-unit building they own. “If another tenant is breaking the rules or infringing on your space — using your parking spot or throwing their garbage into your bin — you should absolutely make the landlord aware of the situation,” says Jensen.
7. You don’t feel safe
Landlords must provide a secure property, so they’re responsible for making sure the doors and windows lock properly. A deadbolt lock on the front door is recommended, especially if all the neighboring homes or apartments have one. But if you don’t lock the door and your things are stolen? That’s on you. (You’ve got renters insurance, though, right?)
However, structural or wear issues that keep a property from being secure are a necessary landlord fix. “If you notice anything like mechanical problems that prevent common-area doors from locking, lights that need to be replaced, or any broader issues that might be a safety concern, contact your property manager immediately,” says Mark Durakovic, principal officer of Kass Management in Chicago, IL.
8. You can’t stand the white walls
No matter how much you crave colorful walls, don’t paint them … at least not without permission. There are some ways to negotiate a more colorful living space, though. Your landlord might allow you to paint — if they approve of your color choices. Or they might allow you to paint if you return the walls to their original color before you move. A word of warning: If your landlord has to paint over your creation, expect to kiss that portion of your security deposit goodbye. Other options to spruce up white walls include temporary wallpaper and peel-and-stick backsplash tiles.