So you are settled in your new place and are not sure how to approach your landlord with problems that crop up. It helps to know what you can reasonably expect of your landlord beforehand.

Generally, a landlord must:

  • Keep the dwelling and premises up to state and local housing codes, so there’s no danger to your health or safety
  • Provide heat, electricity and hot and cold water
  • Provide a means of getting rid of garbage, unless you agreed otherwise in your lease
  • Provide keys, locks and window latches
  • Keep insect infestations under control
  • Make repairs to keep your place in the same condition as when you moved in
  • Maintain any appliances in your apartment, unless you brought them with you or your lease says otherwise
  • Provide smoke detectors as required under state law and make sure they’re working properly when you move in.

As a tenant, you must:

  • Pay your rent on time
  • Be a considerate neighbor — no loud parties or obnoxious behavior
  • Keep your apartment clean and safe, and comply with local housing codes
  • Empty your garbage on a regular basis in a tidy manner
  • Give your landlord notice of any needed repairs or other problems
  • Steer clear of illegal activities in your apartment
  • Treat the plumbing and appliances respectfully
  • Consult with your landlord before embarking on remodeling or improvement projects.

Your Privacy

You have the right to your privacy, and there’s no reason your landlord should barge in unannounced. On the other hand, your landlord may sometimes need access to your apartment to make repairs, inspect it before you move out or show the place to prospective tenants. In most states, a landlord must give at least 24 hours notice before entering a tenant’s apartment, unless there’s an emergency such as a plumbing gusher or kitchen fire.

If your landlord is making a habit of dropping in, tactfully clue him or her in on the law. If that doesn’t work, put the facts in writing and threaten to move out if the unwanted intrusions continue. In some states, a landlord who unreasonably enters a tenant’s apartment is guilty of criminal trespass.

When the Fridge’s on Fire …

When something in your apartment needs repairing, give your landlord immediate written notice with a clear description of the problem, and keep a copy. Most state laws require a landlord to begin making repairs within a specific period of time — for example, two days for water, heat or electricity problems, three days for appliance or major plumbing problems, and longer for less urgent repairs.

If your landlord doesn’t respond within the allotted time period, and your rent is paid up, you may be able to:

  • Move out if the problem is threatening to your health or safety
  • Hire someone to make the repairs and deduct the cost from your rent
  • Make the repairs yourself and deduct the cost of the supplies and reasonable labor costs from your rent.

Be sure to check your state and local laws on how much you can spend on repairs and what procedures you have to follow to deduct the cost from your rent. In some states, you can withhold your rent if your landlord refuses to make certain repairs.

Be sure to take photos of the problem and collect any evidence that might be useful later, such as sewer water that has overflowed onto your floor, cockroaches, etc.

Contact your local housing department for an inspection to see if local housing or health codes are being violated. Code violations put extra pressure on your landlord to fix the problem quickly.

Your landlord cannot legally evict you in retaliation for your calling an inspector or insisting that repairs are made in a timely manner.

Rising Rent

The amount of rent you pay is usually spelled out in your lease. If you have a month-to-month tenancy, you’re vulnerable to rent hikes if your landlord gives you enough notice. If you’re told your rent’s going up, it’s a good idea to compare notes with your neighbors to be sure you’re not being singled out for some reason, such as because you’ve asked for repairs or reported housing code violations.

If you want to stay in your apartment, try to negotiate with your landlord for a smaller increase or agree to do repairs or make improvements in the apartment. Be sure to get agreements in writing.

Guests and Neighbors

You’re responsible for damage that any guests or roommates do to the apartment, so don’t let things get out of hand.

If you’ve got loud or obnoxious neighbors, try talking politely with them to make sure they realize they’re keeping your baby awake playing loud music at midnight. If that doesn’t work, ask the police to chat with them. If there’s still a problem, discuss it with your landlord, and explain that you will be moving if the problem isn’t resolved. Enlist the help of other neighbors; most landlords would rather evict one troublemaker than risk losing several good tenants.

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