Managing An Accidental Landlord: Understand Your Tenant Rights To Protect Yourself

Real Estate

The odds that you rent your home are a little greater than one in three. Of course, some readers may own their property outright or be paying a mortgage, but the number of renters has climbed in recent years to the point where more U.S. households are renting than ever before.

A 2016 report from the Pew Research Center, based on data from the Census Bureau, showed that 36.6% of households were renting. If you live in a rental property, you may have a pesky landlord or a property manager. That can be a pain when you have a household to run and life to live. I’m the owner of a national franchise property management company. That means I have some insight to help you manage your landlord, instead of feeling like you’re always the one being managed.

Many Landlords Are ‘Accidental Landlords’

Many people don’t consider that a lot of landlords didn’t necessarily choose their trade; it chose them. If you’re renting a house from somebody who has a day job and is renting your home for side income, they aren’t a professional landlord. Maybe your landlord decided to rent because they couldn’t sell the place. Maybe they decided they liked the idea of extra side income.

As a result, you’ve got someone who’s winging it and may not be very good with repairs. They may think an Allen wrench belongs to some guy named Allen (close, though; they’re named after the Allen Manufacturing Company).

You may not be able to do much to help your landlord improve their skills, but it may help your stress levels if you recognize your situation isn’t that unique. That is, until the refrigerator doesn’t work or the toilet is overflowing.

Many Accidental Landlords Don’t Know Your Tenant Rights (Or Their Own)

If you suspect you have an accidental landlord, you would do well to quickly learn your rights. Even if your landlord is on top of things, educate yourself on your rights. Go to a search engine and type in “tenant rights” and your state. You should find your state agency website quickly, and it should have a list of your tenant rights.

For instance, one of the biggest conflicts you’ll often find between a landlord and tenant is between the rights of access — and the right to be left alone. The tenant, understandably, never wants to be bothered by the landlord. And the landlord would like to have access to the property whenever they want.

Both positions are perfectly understandable.

It is the landlord’s property, but it’s your home. You have the reasonable expectation that you can be eating six jelly doughnuts and a bag of Fritos in your underwear in the middle of the workday without being judged — and without your landlord unexpectedly popping in.

If your landlord is intrusive, you may want to brush up on what rights you have. For instance, odds are that in your state, your landlord is legally allowed to come over and let themselves into your home. The catch is that they will probably be required to give at least 24 hours’ notice before that happens.

If you know that, you can hold your landlord to it. If you both don’t know your rights, get ready to dive behind the couch the next time your landlord barges in.

Some Landlords Have Poor Leases (Or No Leases At All)

If you’re renting property from somebody who has limited experience, you may have not signed a lease — or not much of one. Fortunately, residents have tenant rights. If you’re worried about your rent going up because terms aren’t clearly outlined, the solution here is to negotiate in advance. With any luck, your landlord has already alerted you — because of the laws in your city or state — that if your rent is only going up, it’s by a predetermined amount.

Negotiate Early, And Draw Up A Lease

Still, you will want to talk about that early on. What should help you is that as a general rule, landlords don’t like change. Most would rather keep a tenant indefinitely than go through the frustration of having their place vacant for weeks or months, much less having to fix up the place for a new tenant.

If you’re paying on time, and you aren’t hurting your property, you may be able to negotiate no raise in rent, or a very minimal one. However, you want to do it early in the year rather than discover at the last minute, right as the lease is ending, that your rent is going up. Even if it isn’t going up by much, you should be aware that an increase is coming.

And if you don’t have a lease, you may want to insist that you and your landlord draw one up. A lease protects both of you. A lease is more than a contract between a tenant and their landlord. Your lease is a legal safeguard that protects both parties involved. With a clear understanding of what’s expected regarding your home, renters can ensure that there are no unwanted surprises. You don’t want to be told one day that your landlord is selling your home and you have to leave tomorrow. Because you can’t leave tomorrow — that’s your home. You don’t deserve to end up on the street because of an unprepared landlord.

Know your rights as a tenant so you can help your landlord get it right.

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