Working With a Landlord

Renting a place to call home goes better when you understand your landlord's responsibilities and your responsibilities, too.

With any luck, your interactions with the landlord during your tenancy are short and straightforward. It’s still a good idea to understand your rights and your landlord’s rights so you know where responsibility falls if more complicated issues arise.

Making Home Improvements

You may feel strongly that a room would look way better if you painted it blue or that new tile in the bathroom would do wonders for the space, but that doesn’t mean you have the right to make those changes. Your lease should outline exactly what home improvements are allowable, and what are not. Making any alterations that are prohibited in the lease can cost you your entire security deposit. A security deposit is money you pay to your landlord that is returned to you after your tenancy ends, if the terms of the lease are not violated.

If you make changes that are pricey for your landlord to undo, it could lead to legal action—you may be on the hook for any costs in small claims court. Changes to the property could also lead to your eviction for breaking the terms of the lease. Not worth the $50 can of paint.

Even if your lease doesn’t prohibit you from making home improvements, it’s still a good idea to get permission from your landlord (ideally in writing) for any changes. You could get lucky and have the landlord offer to foot the bill for changes that improve property values. You’ll have the best luck if you have a good relationship with the landlord and can show that the changes are a good investment for them. But their cooperation isn’t guaranteed. As long as the residence is habitable and sanitary and meets local and federal housing codes, cosmetic improvements aren’t required by law.


Even if your lease doesn’t prohibit you from making home improvements, it’s still a good idea to get permission from your landlord (ideally in writing) for any changes.


Let your landlord know immediately and in writing if something breaks that is their responsibility to fix. Things like a malfunctioning toilet, no hot water, a broken staircase, exposed electrical wires, and dangerous holes are examples of issues that a landlord must fix as soon as possible. Check your lease to see what other things your landlord is responsible for repairing, like faulty appliances. The lease may also include details on things you are responsible to fix if you break them, and the timeline required.


Moving Out Early

When you sign a lease, you’re legally obligated to fulfill the terms of that lease until it’s up. That includes paying the rent for the entire duration of the contract, even if you decide to move out early.

Some landlords may let you out of the lease with an early termination fee, or let you choose to forfeit your deposit instead of charging you for all the remaining months. It all depends on the terms of your contract, so read carefully before signing.

If you notify your landlord of your intent to move out, they are obligated to find a new tenant as soon as possible. That could work in your favor, if they find a new tenant quickly, but it doesn’t mean you’re totally off the hook. You could be required to pay part of the costs of re-renting the place to someone else.


Getting Evicted

It’s not pleasant to think about, but if things really go sideways with your landlord, they may require you to move out. State laws vary, but most require your landlord to give you written notice of eviction and prove your actions are worthy of eviction.

Reasons for eviction include failure to pay rent, criminal activity, major property damage, running a business illegally out of your apartment, and other breaches of the lease agreement (including unlawful pets). The length of the eviction process varies by state, but can be as short as a few days.


10 Questions to Ask a Landlord

When considering a new rental, you’ll want to know for sure what you are agreeing to. Ask these clarifying questions before you sign a lease.

  1. What are the terms of the lease?
  2. What’s included in rent? Ask specifically about utilities.
  3. When is rent due and how is it paid?
  4. Is the security deposit refundable?
  5. What notice do I need to give before vacating?
  6. What is the penalty for breaking the lease?
  7. How are emergency maintenance requests handled?
  8. What notice is required before the landlord can enter the property?
  9. What is the pet policy?
  10. What is the overnight guest policy?


Knowledge is power, and that is especially true when it comes to the terms of the lease agreement. Understanding your responsibilities and your landlord’s responsibilities goes a long way to making your tenancy a good experience for everyone involved.


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