How to Protect Your Security Deposit

Have you ever had to fight to get back your security deposit? Ray, a renter from Brooklyn, contacted his landlord every week for six months trying to get his $2,000 security deposit after moving out of his first apartment. He never saw a cent. To make sure your security deposit is safe, try our checklist.

When you move in.

The process of safeguarding your deposit starts when your lease does. Before you move in your stuff, be sure to:

  • Document the state of your rental. Make a list of all preexisting damage and take time-stamped pictures.
  • Understand the terms of your lease. Clarify which of the fees you pay are part of the deposit and what kinds of damage can be charged to you upon move-out.

Before you leave.

For the duration of your lease and before you move out, don’t forget to:

  • Report to your landlord any repairs that need to be made that aren’t your responsibility. From a broken oven to a faulty doorbell, make sure your landlord takes care of everything during the lease, so you’re not stuck paying for it later. Document these interactions for your own protection.
  • Revert the rental back to the state it was in before you moved in. If you painted the walls, repaint them to the same color they were at the beginning of your lease. If you used tacks or nails to decorate, patch up the holes.

After you’ve moved out.

Try to move out your belongings before your lease ends. A lot of what you need to do to protect your deposit is easier if the apartment is empty. For example:

  • Clean the empty apartment, including the oven and fridge.
  • Document the state of your rental with time-stamped photos.
  • Schedule a walk-through with your landlord so they can tell you any repairs or cleaning you’ll need to do before your lease ends.

How to Get Out of Cockroach Hell

Your home is your sanctuary. And nothing turns your sanctuary into a scene from a horror movie like a cockroach infestation. The sound of tiny, scattering feet when you turn on the lights can set your heart racing. Take a deep breath. They may live through a nuclear holocaust, but this is your domain, and you’re bigger and smarter. You can do this!

Seal Off Entrances

To set up and keep residence in your home, roaches need three things: food, water, and hiding spots. Eliminate all three with a deep clean. Empty out the cupboards and clear out all the crumbs. Clean out the gunk behind your appliances and in your trash can. And get rid of old paper and cardboard boxes, which are favorite hiding spots for these unwelcome guests.

Don’t let dishes pile up in the sink. And when you finish washing dishes, wipe down the sink and counters. Roaches can live several days without food if they have access to water. Replace your trash can with one that has a tightly-sealed lid, and take out the trash often. Make sure you store your food in sealed containers. Cereal, for example, should go in plastic tubs, not left in its box.

Cracks in the window? Gap underneath the door? Roaches see these as formal invitations. Invest in caulk, steel wool, or some other sealant from the hardware store to keep them outside. And beware of used furniture, groceries, and cardboard boxes from deliveries. These are all free rides into your home for invaders.

Renters’ Right to Extermination

Roaches aren’t just gross. They’re dangerous. When they skitter across your countertop, they can leave behind E. Coli, salmonella, or other illness-causing bacteria. Especially if you live in a large building, the infestation is likely deeper than just your apartment. Unfortunately, your legal rights for infestations are not difficult to use, when available.

Every state and locality is different, but generally, landlords are not required to fix problems caused by the tenant. With roaches, it’s hard to say who caused it – at least, that’s what the landlord might argue. They will argue that your messiness attracted the roaches. Some states have rules that say that landlords are only required to fix bug infestations if they affect multiple units in the same building owned by the same landlord. So one way to get an extermination is to talk to your neighbors and see if they’ve had similar problems. If not, well… you’re on your own.

Another method is to consider whether there are gaps or nooks where roaches are entering. Some city housing codes require landlords to seal off apartment walls.

Of course, laws vary state by state. Learn your rights with RenterPeace and then talk to your landlord about calling in the cavalry. Your health and wellbeing are worth it!

DIY Extermination

If your landlord refuses or is not required to pay for an extermination, you’re on your own. Cleaning the house is an essential first step because killing individual roaches is useless if you have something that’s attracting more. Start with buying some caulk and seal off any cracks in your apartment. Then, buy some bug spray or traps and keep them around in case you see the roach(es) again. You may also want to consider doing a bug bomb, but this is not safe if you share vents with other renters. Also, consider your pets – buy spray should be used sparingly and cleaned up immediately after.

Together, these methods should eliminate most roach infestations, even in big cities. Before you know it, you’ll be doing a victory dance, singing “La Cucaracha.”

 

4 Questions Every Renter Should Ask Before Applying

Everyone knows signing a lease is a commitment, but before you get to that step, even applying for the place can have sneaky costs. Smart renters should consider a rental application as the multi-thousand dollar commitment that it is. You should be prepared ahead of time with the right questions to ask. For example…

“What’s the tenant screening process?”

Many landlords engage in tenant screening, which often includes running a credit check with your application and costs a fee the landlord will charge to you. It could be a hard inquiry, which hurts your credit score, or a soft inquiry, which does not. Find out what kind of inquiry your potential landlord uses.

If you’re denied your rent application, always ask why. Sometimes, it can be a sign of bank fraud or a mistake. For example, many tenant screening services report whether a tenant has previously gone to landlord-tenant court, without explaining who won or why. Landlords may assume this means you’ve failed to pay rent or destroyed property, when in fact, you were in court because of problems caused by the landlord. If there’s a mistake on your record, call the appropriate companies quickly, because these smudges on your record will follow you around!

If you’re denied, it could also be because of rental discrimination. If you’re denied a rental unit race, discouraged from your desired apartment, or otherwise treated differently based on your color, national origin, religion, sex, familial status, disability, it’s considered rental discrimination in the United States. There are some exceptions for smaller landlords – you can learn more and report problems here. It may not be worth forcing a discriminatory landlord to rent to you, but you should help other renters by taking 5 minutes to file a complaint. States and cities sometimes extend these protections to prohibit discrimination by political affiliation, the source of income, appearance, LGBT status, immigration status, age, status as a student, and more. Search RenterPeace to learn more about the rules in your jurisdiction.

“Can I speak to a previous tenant?”

Not a lot of landlords will help you with this, but it doesn’t hurt to ask. If the apartment is in a building, you might consider investigation yourself by asking the neighbors for their opinions of the landlord and about latent problems that you can’t easily discover with a quick walkthrough. Ask whether they’ve had problems with the landlord and if the landlord has a reputation for not returning security deposits. Also, ask about noise, neighbors, utility problems, seasonal problems (e.g., do the water pipes freeze every winter?), and the open-ended question, “Do you like living here?” Because finding and connecting with previous renters can be hard, RenterPeace is currently working to help renters learn more about their apartment before they move in.

“What are the house rules?”

You should check the lease, but it sometimes helps to ask the landlord directly. Often, landlords will have a standard lease that covers all the landlord’s bases just in case, but in practice, they’re more lenient. For example, the lease may prohibit pets, but the landlord may not care. You should cross out any sections that you both agree should be modified and initial next to them. The most common things to check for:

  • Pets
  • Parking
  • Smoking marijuana indoors or outdoors (where it’s legalized)
  • Whether Airbnbing and subletting is allowed
  • Who fixes broken appliances and furnishings?
  • Policy on throwing parties or having guests

“Can you clarify the rent and fees?”

The listing you saw might be outdated or for a similar unit in the same building. If the rent the landlord tells you in person is higher than the one you saw, pointing this out might get you the lower rent. And you never know if asking in person will yield a lower number! As for utilities, remember to factor these into your overall budget. Landlords may have insight into average monthly utility payments.

Find out early about any non-refundable fees and what they’re for. Most state laws prohibit non-refundable deposits, but clarifying this ahead of time helps ensure you’re on the same page!

If you prefer to pay online, it helps to know ahead of time that you’ll have to adjust to paying by check. But, more importantly, a landlord who says they want you to pay cash is a big red flag. Likewise, a landlord who says to pay “whenever you can” probably has a cavalier attitude toward their own lease agreement – another red flag. And you should know ahead of time whether you can afford potential late fees and whether they’re in compliance with your state law.

Applying for an apartment may seem like an intimidating undertaking, but with the right prep, you can protect yourself and find the right place. Happy hunting!