Looking for an Apartment or Rental House? Know Your Rights & Responsibilities!

As the weather warms up, the deals apartment complexes offer to potential residents become more appealing. With offers of free rent, discounts on the first three months of rent, and no security deposit, it’s no wonder that summer and fall are the most popular times to apartment hunt. Although searching for a new home can be exciting, there are many factors to consider before signing a lease.

  1. Rent. Determine how much can you afford and still live comfortably taking all of your expenses into consideration. One rule of thumb suggests dividing your income by four. Your rent should not exceed more than 25% of your monthly income.
  2. Space. How many people will be living in the unit? 100-400 square feet per person is considered practical.
  3. Location. How important is it for you to be near your place of work, school, shopping, medical facilities, etc.?

Before signing any lease, you should always make sure to read the terms and conditions carefully. The Alabama Tenants Handbook is a handy resource guide published by the Low-Income Housing Coalition of Alabama. Its purpose is to help ensure renters understand their rights and responsibilities under The Alabama Landlord Tenant Law.

Make sure the following information is included in your lease:

  • Maintenance. Find out how all repair concerns are handled such as how to submit a repair request. Ask how quickly tenants can expect maintenance personnel to respond to a request once it has been turned in.
  • Deposits. You should know what your security deposit covers and the conditions which might cause a tenant to experience deductions.
  • Increases. Ask if your rent or other fees will be increased during your lease term.
  • Subletting. Find out whether or not you are allowed to sublet your unit to another party in case of an emergency.
  • Rent. Get a schedule of when monthly payments are due and where rent can be paid.

Upon move-in, do not forget to document the condition of your apartment. Make sure that your list includes each and every flaw or defect in your apartment so that you are not held responsible for damages later. It’s advisable to also take photos or a video of your unit prior to move-in so that you have documentation available in case a dispute arises when you get ready to move out.

Renters should also:

  • Check out reviews of the apartment complex. Go to bbb.org to see the BBB Business Review of the apartments you are considering. This will show its BBB rating, any history of complaints, as well as the complaint details and any contact information.
  • Visit the complex personally. Tour the facility and the visit the specific unit you’ll be renting. Make sure that the community is safe and that the living space will meet your needs. Does it appear the way it was described? Websites often use pictures taken only from the best vantage points on the property or may be of a promotional unit.
  • Keep a signed copy of the lease. Store it in a safe place so it is readily available in the event you ever need to refer back to it.
  • Consider renters insurance. Many apartment communities require tenants to have a minimum amount of renter’s insurance before move in. If it’s not required, it’s still an option tenants should consider. Renter’s insurance would cover your losses in the event of fire, burglary or other damage. Pay attention to deductibles and coverage limits when choosing a policy.
  • Do your homework. To help focus your search, have an idea of the amount of rent you can afford, the desired location, and the number of bedrooms before you look. Go to bbb.org to check out apartment complexes and property managers you are considering. BBB Business Profiles show a company’s rating, consumer reviews, a history of complaints, as well as an overview of the company’s track record.
  • Get everything in writing. Before signing the lease, make sure you read and understand the rental terms and your responsibilities as a tenant. Do not sign any contract containing blank spaces. Keep a copy for your records.
  • Ask Questions.  When is rent due? Who pays for utilities? Are pets allowed? How accessible is the landlord? Do they have an emergency or cell number?
  • Do a walk-through. Before moving in, look over the condition of the apartment in person and document all flaws and defects in both writing and with photos. Keep a copy for yourself.
  • Who is responsible for upkeep? Find out how maintenance and repair concerns are handled and within what time frame.
  • Know your rights. Remember that you have certain rights when it comes to a livable space, such as heat, water, electricity and clean, safe surroundings. Visit the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development at hud.gov for information on landlord-tenant rights.

BBB also warns potential renters of the following:

  • Never wire money or use a prepaid debit card. If you are asked to pay a security deposit or first month’s rent by prepaid debit card or wire transfer, it is very likely a scam. Remember, once the money has been sent, there is no way to get it back.
  • Never send money overseas. Keep in mind, scammers often claim to be out of the country and instruct targets to send money overseas.
  • Search for duplicate listings. If you find the same ad listed in other cities – that’s a huge red flag – steer clear.

If the “deal” sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Watch out for low rent and great amenities that are not being offered by similar properties.

Source: BBB of North Alabama and BBB.org

To report a scam, go to the BBB Scam Tracker. To find trustworthy businesses, go to https://www.bbb.org.

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