Know before you sign your lease
Learn about your rights and responsibilities as a renter and how to avoid rental scams.
As a tenant, you’ll have responsibilities beyond making your monthly rent payment. When you sign your lease, you are legally committing to terms you’ve agreed upon with your landlord. Make sure all policies and procedures are clearly stated and that you fully understand them—you and any co-signers are ultimately responsible for damages and policy violations.
Understanding your responsibilities
Before moving in, be sure to do a walk-through inspection of the property with the landlord. Keep a written report that clearly states any damage or required repairs to protect yourself. Once you sign the lease, you’ll be responsible for:
Maintaining the rental. Keep your home clean and in good condition. This includes:
- Properly discarding trash
- Preventing mold growth
- Preventing excessive dirt, rust and grime buildup
- Maintaining in-unit appliances
Preventing excessive damage. Normal wear is expected but neglect or reckless behavior is not. Misuse of property may include:
- Removal of permanent fixtures or appliances
- Damage due to pet policy violations
- Large holes or stains on carpets and walls
- Violation of occupancy requirements
Reporting issues in a timely manner. Let your landlord know about necessary repairs as soon as possible. You may be held liable if you fail to report an issue that results in greater damage, including:
- Plumbing issues that could lead to water damage
- Pests that could pose health hazards
- Electrical mishaps that could pose fire hazards
- Structural damages to the home
Additional maintenance responsibilities. Have a conversation with your landlord about what additional home maintenance is expected of you, clarifying who will be responsible for:
- Cutting grass
- Raking leaves
- Shoveling snow
- Putting down salt for ice
- Trimming plants and trees
- Cleaning gutters
Understanding your rights
As a tenant, you have important rights that protect your privacy, security deposit, the condition of your home and you and your family from illegal discrimination. Each state has different rights, laws and protections for tenants.
Whether it be the limit on your security deposit or rent control, your state has laws in place for your protection. The more you are aware, the better.
Your rights generally include:
- A clean and safe home that meets state and local building codes and health requirements
- Working heat and air-conditioning units
- Functioning water, hot water and toilets
- At least 24 hours’ notice for a landlord to enter your home, unless it’s an emergency
Watch out for rental scams
A rental scam is a fraudulent activity by a person who claims to rent a property that isn’t their rental, doesn’t exist, or is their rental but is different from what’s advertised. Scammers may place phony ads to find their victims, and may offer certain enticements, such as not requiring a credit or background check or rent that's below the market's norm.
Be savvy when you’re in search of a rental! Here are some signs you may be dealing with a scam:
- You’re asked to wire funds or use cash to pay for the security deposit and initial month's rent.
- Your rental contact will only communicate digitally, can’t verify their identity or claim to be out of the country.
- You are asked for personal information, including credit card or Social Security numbers.
- You're pressured into making a fast decision.
- They won’t let you see the property.
Protect yourself against scammers by meeting people face-to-face, asking questions and verifying documents. Unfortunately, thousands of renters fall victim to scams each year. Be sure to do your research and stay aware!