Housing

There’s No Place Like Home

The Lease

Before you rent an apartment or house, the landlord will likely want you to sign a lease. A lease is a contract that sets out the conditions for renting the apartment or house for a specific period of time, usually one year. If the lease period is for longer than one year, it must be in writing.

Some landlords may choose to rent to you on a month-to-month basis. Even if you are renting month-to-month, the landlord must provide you with advance notice if she plans to raise your rent or ask you to move out. If you are in a lease, the landlord cannot raise your rent or ask you to move out until the end of your lease term, and must also provide advance notice.

A written lease can be helpful for both the landlord and the renter. Having the details in writing can provide a better understanding of your rights and obligations under the terms of the lease and protect against dishonesty and poor memory. While many landlords use a printed-form lease, keep in mind that you don’t necessarily have to use the form as printed. If your landlord agrees, you may modify the lease to suit your situation.

Breaking a lease means that you aren’t living up to your end of the responsibilities as outlined in your lease agreement. Typically this happens if you decide to move out before the end of the lease period. If you break a lease you can be sued for damages such as:

Unpaid Rent

  • Physical damage, including cleaning expenses
  • Advertising expenses associated with re-renting the apartment
  • The landlord’s attorney fees, if the lease provides for it

If you decide to move out at the end of the rental period, you must give reasonable notice to your landlord, generally in writing. If your lease does not say how much notice you need to give, 30-day notice is generally considered reasonable.

Paying Rent

Rent is the monthly fee you pay to live in your house or apartment. Before you move into your apartment, the landlord will usually ask you to pay the first and last month’s rent as well as a security deposit. Do not pay rent in cash, use a check or money order, and always get a receipt.

A security deposit is money the landlord holds as security against property damage, unclean conditions, and unpaid rent. If you cause no damage and otherwise comply with the terms of the lease, the landlord must return your security deposit within 30 days after you move out. If the landlord does not refund your full security deposit they must provide an itemized account for how your money was spent.

If you rent an apartment with friends and they move out, it’s likely that you will still be responsible for paying the full rent. If you don’t, the landlord may choose to evict you. The landlord must give you a notice to either pay your rent or leave the property within three days.

Renter’s Insurance

Generally, your landlord’s insurance will only cover the cost of building damages — not your personal property. Renter’s insurance is relatively inexpensive and can make a big difference if you need to replace items such as your computer or TV that were stolen or damaged through no fault of your own.

Landlord Responsibilities

Unless your lease says otherwise, your landlord is required to keep the electrical, plumbing, heating, cooling, ventilation and sanitary facilities in good working order. However, if the damage to any of these items is your fault, you would be responsible to pay for the repair.

Your landlord cannot evict you for reporting a building code violation to a local building inspector. If the building becomes uninhabitable, meaning it’s unsafe to live in, you should document the issues in writing and with pictures and contact an attorney for assistance.

In emergency situations, like a water leak, the landlord can enter your apartment, even if you are not home. In other situations the landlord can enter your apartment during regular business hours with advanced notice. For example, if the landlord needs to let in someone to make a repair. Any other entry without your permission and advanced notice could be trespassing.

Fair Housing

Under the Fair Housing Act, it is against the law for a landlord to refuse to rent you an apartment or house on the basis of disability, race, color, national origin, familial status, or religion. If you think your fair housing rights have been violated, contact the Intermountain Fair Housing Council.

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