Rights of Tenants: Tips Before You Rent
Tips Before You Rent
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- Read the lease or rental agreement carefully before you sign or put money down. Ask about anything you do not understand. Look for hidden charges or penalties. If you sign the lease, you may be stuck paying those charges.
- If something is important to you, get it in writing. Don't count on an oral promise.
- Make a list of major problems in the apartment. Include the condition of walls, floors, windows, and other areas. Try to get the landlord to sign your list. This will help protect you when it comes time to move out.
- If the building was built before 1978, beware of possible lead-based paint problems. Owners of these older buildings must tell you of any known lead-based hazards and show you any relevant records before you rent. Your landlord must give you a form notice explaining the dangers of lead-based paint. He must also give you a pamphlet called "Protect Your Family From Lead in Your Home". Read more about lead paint issues.
- Find out who pays for hot water, heat, electricity, parking, snow removal, and trash disposal.
- Find the utility controls. Ask questions. Where is the thermostat? Who controls it? Where is the electric box? Where is the hot water heater?
- You have the right to know the energy costs for the living unit before you rent. If you will be paying an energy bill (such as electric or heating oil), ask the energy supplier for billings on your unit for the past 12 months. The company must tell you. Or ask to see the landlord's "Energy Efficiency Disclosure Statement." Get a copy of the form and more information about this law.
- Be sure that all utilities and appliances are working right. Make sure the landlord agrees to fix appliances, furnace and all other building systems.
- Bedbugs are becoming a major issue in some parts of Maine. It is against the law for a landlord to rent a living unit with bedbugs. If you ask about when the building was last treated and declared free of bedbugs, the landlord must tell you. Read more about bed bugs
- Your landlord must show you a written "smoking policy." This tells you where smoking is prohibited and identifies any smoker-friendly areas. Your landlord can include this in the lease or give you a separate notice to read and sign. You have the right to know this information before you pay a deposit or commit to a rental contract.
- If you share rent, remember that the landlord can charge you for all of the rent if your roommates don't pay their share.
- Try to talk with another tenant about the building and the landlord.
- Check about off-street parking, public transportation, and stores. Try to check the neighborhood at night.
- Check to see that all the windows and doors can be locked and are not broken. Are there window screens?
- Your landlord's insurance probably does not protect you from damage or loss of your furniture or other property. Consider buying tenant's insurance if you want this protection.
- Be careful about putting money down to "hold the apartment." If you decide later not to rent it, the landlord may refuse to return your money. You can sue him in Small Claims Court, but this will take time. Also, depending on how the judge interprets your agreement, you may not get all of your money back. For example, the court may decide that you put the money down as a security deposit. More on security deposits.
- If a landlord suggests that you buy a surety bond, instead of paying a security deposit, be careful. A few basic rules about surety bonds:
- You cannot be forced to buy one. It is your choice.
- You will not get back the money you pay for the bond, even if you owe the landlord nothing when you move out.
- Although a surety bond can save you money in the short-run, it may cost you more in the long-run if you leave owing rent or damages. The surety company can choose to sue you for the money it pays to the landlord under the bond.
- Buying a bond may not save you from getting a bad mark on your credit report, if you leave owing the landlord money. More questions about surety bonds? Contact us.
- Get something to keep your records in. Keep in your file:
- your lease or rental agreement
- security deposit receipt
- list of things wrong with the apartment
- rent receipts (or cancelled checks)
- landlord's address and phone number
- all other papers about your tenancy
Revised September 2011