How to Approach Your Landlord If You Can’t Pay Rent Next Month

If you’ve been out of work and can’t pay rent, the end of the federal moratorium on evictions is guaranteed to dredge up a ton of stress. But now’s not the time to bury your head in the sand.

By exercising your negotiation muscle, you may be able to strike a deal with your landlord that prevents the worst-case scenario: getting kicked out of your home.

Negotiating a Deal With Your Landlord If You Can’t Pay Rent

When you think you can’t pay rent for the upcoming month, it’s best to talk to your landlord sooner rather than later. Even if you’ve been letting late payment notices stack up, coming to a fair agreement with your landlord can help alleviate some of that financial stress.

Here’s what you should do.

First, Know Your Rights

Matt Koz, finance director for the Tenant Resource Center in Madison, Wisc., recommends that renters do their due diligence to research the eviction laws in their area and see if their city, county or state has a moratorium on eviction proceedings during the pandemic.

There may be an eviction moratorium in your local area that extends past the federal moratorium. For example, New York City’s rental eviction moratorium is in place through the end of August.

Being educated about the tenant laws in your state doesn’t just give peace of mind about whether or not your landlord can evict you during this crisis. It can also help you decide how to best proceed when reaching out to your landlord.

For example, Koz said there could be laws where you live that make it disadvantageous to pay partial rent, if you were thinking of suggesting that to your landlord.

“In some cases, it may be better not to offer terms and wait to see what recourse is available to you,” he said.

Approach Your Landlord with Empathy

You may just think of your landlord as a faceless entity that takes the biggest single chunk of your money every month. But a little kindness can go a long way.

“Lead with empathy,” advises Michael Thomas, an accredited financial counselor and faculty member at the University of Georgia. “It’s very easy to become self-absorbed when we’re experiencing a financial shock.”

He says taking the time out to ask how your landlord is doing and working to establish a relationship can make them more willing to work with you. Understanding where each person is coming from can lead to a resolution that’s best for both parties.

Provide Realistic Solutions

Offering up a solution to your situation can show your willingness to work with your landlord.

You might propose to make a partial payment with a promise to pay the remainder of the rent by a certain date. If you don’t know when you’d be able to make the remaining payment, Koz said it’s reasonable to make an agreement based upon a specific occurrence.

For example, you might ask if you can pay the remainder once your kids’ school starts and you can pick up more hours at work.

Instead of suggesting a partial payment, you could ask to skip paying for one month and spread that payment over the remainder of your lease if you think you’ll be able to pay the following month. Or you could negotiate for an overall reduction in rent given that you sign a new lease locking you in for a longer term.

Another option: Ask your landlord to apply your security deposit to the upcoming rent payment, agreeing to replace it at a later date. Or if you paid your last month’s rent upfront when you first signed your lease, you could ask to apply that money to next month’s rent.

Pro Tip

When trying to come up with a rent solution for the upcoming month, make sure you’re not creating a worse financial situation for yourself later on.

Something else you might consider is bartering. For example, you could agree to do landscape work for your landlord’s properties in exchange for a break on rent.

When trying to strike a deal, Thomas suggests coming up with at least three plausible solutions that work for your budget.

“Go with your best-case scenario first,” he said.

If your landlord won’t agree to that, ask for their input on mitigating the situation before presenting your other options.

Get Agreements in Writing

If you and your landlord are able to agree on an alternative plan for paying rent, make sure to get that deal in writing.

“If [your landlord] were to come back and say we didn’t agree to that, [you can say]: Actually we did and here’s proof,” said Pamela Capalad, a New York-based Certified Financial Planner and founder of Brunch and Budget.

Putting things in writing also helps eliminate misinterpretations of your agreement, she said.

However, when signing a lease addendum or other paperwork, don’t rush into a contract with terms you don’t understand.

“If you’re not sure what you’re signing, you can always try to contact a tenants rights organization or an attorney,” Koz said. “Whatever you sign is something that you’re held to. If you don’t meet the terms of that agreement, you’re back where you started.”

Remember, You’re Not Alone

You may experience shame over not paying rent or fear over potentially losing your home, but try not to let that lead you to making drastic decisions.

“The thing I would recommend, if you can avoid it, is to not take out loans to pay rent,” Capalad said.

It can be comforting to put things in perspective and realize you’re not the only one who can’t pay your rent right now, she said.

4 Additional Solutions If You Can’t Pay Rent

In the event that your landlord won’t budge on requiring you to pay your rent in full, it’s good to have a backup plan. Here are a few ideas.

1. Seek Housing Assistance

Look into local housing assistance or eviction prevention programs for emergency funding to help keep you in your home.

The United Way’s 211 network is a great way to connect to resources in your community. Other charities, like Modest Needs, may also be able to help. Your landlord may even know of housing assistance options in your area.

2. Bring In a Roommate

If you can find a good roommate, you can split housing expenses and lower your financial obligation. Just make sure you properly vet the potential roommate and your landlord approves of the new tenant.

Subleasing your place could be another route to take, provided your landlord allows it and you have somewhere else you can crash in the meantime.

3. Sell Something

Make some extra dough by selling unwanted items around your home. Put that money toward the rent.

You can even make sales while practicing social distancing. Check out these 14 websites for selling things online.

4. Get Another Gig

Get money for rent by landing a new job — or securing a second source of income.

Consider a side gig, like a food delivery driver or a pet sitter, where you’re paid based on how much work you take on. These jobs often pay faster than traditional jobs that run on a biweekly schedule.

Many retailers and restaurants are hiring to make up for a shortage of workers. Some are even offering sweet sign-on bonuses.

Now is also a great time to find a job where you can work remotely. There are several gigs that are perfect for doing virtually, like freelance writing. Check out The Penny Hoarder’s work-from-home job portal for new job opportunities posted every weekday.

Feeling overwhelmed? Create a budget that works for you with our budgeting bootcamp!

Nicole Dow is a senior writer at The Penny Hoarder.




Aura Will Protect You From Dark Web Hackers in Two Minutes

The internet can be a scary place — hackers, fraudsters and schemers are standing in the proverbial shadows, just waiting for you to drop your guard.

And every seven seconds someone does let their guard down — which, according to a 2020 report from the U.S. FTC, resulted in more than $3.3 BILLION in identity theft and fraud losses in 2020 alone.*

It’s way too easy to open yourself up to a credit-score destroying, identity-stealing criminal. And they know it.

Things as innocent as swiping your credit card at a gas station, connecting to a public WiFi or answering a Facebook quiz about your first pet and the street you grew up on could be handing these bad guys your personal information. And most of us don’t even realize it.

That’s where a digital security company called Aura comes in. It guards your money, personal info and devices against identity theft and fraud all in one place. It’s the most uncomplicated way to protect yourself online.

Safeguard Your Money, ID and Devices All at Once

Normally, if you want to protect yourself, your money and your network, you’d have to buy three products, set up three services and wade through three customer service centers to solve any problems. Talk about a mess.

But when you sign up with Aura, you get identity theft, financial fraud and device and network protection in one subscription. For just a few bucks a month, Aura’s tech will protect you from financial, credit and identity theft, plus malware, ransomware, scam sites and more.

Here’s how it works: Aura will monitor the web  —and your credit — for leaks and breaches of your personal information, which you provide to Aura, and alert you of any suspicious changes or charges. Plus, they do this four times faster than the average identity theft product. If you do experience identity theft or fraud, you’ll be assigned a US-based personal case manager to help fix it.

And for some peace of mind, you’ll also be covered with a $1 million identity theft insurance policy for eligible losses.

As for your devices, Aura stops malware from infecting your phone or computer and will even block you from scam and phishing sites that could steal your info. It works across Android, iOS and Windows.

There are three plans to choose from, ranging from a basic plan to ultimate protection.

More than one million people are protecting themselves with Aura. It takes just two minutes to sign up, and your identity, money and devices could be safer, too.

Kari Faber is a staff writer at The Penny Hoarder.

* 2020 Consumer Sentinel Network report, U.S. FTC




Dear Penny: Can My Criminal Ex-Husband Take My Social Security?

Dear Penny,

My spouse was in the Air Force National Guard on and off. He owned a private, profitable tree work, gutter cleaning, snow-plowing and roof-raking company. He hasn’t filed business or personal taxes since the mid-’90s. He NEVER paid into Social Security and has been involved in fraudulent activities. Is he still entitled to 50% of my Social Security?

I’ve been disabled since 2000. I’ve paid all the bills, while he has been stashing cash and trying to get me to return to work, all while working only on bending his right elbow and lying in court. 

His attorney told the court outright that he will NOT file taxes. Since he’s a hoarder, I believe he filled his friend’s dumpster and disposed of his paperwork in the friend’s outside furnace to impress his mistress.

-Hands Off My Social Security

Dear Hands Off,

Unfortunately, Social Security doesn’t have special rules for lying, cheating, no-good rotten scoundrel spouses. The rules that were meant to protect spouses who stayed at home for much of their marriage, often caring for a family, also apply to guys like your husband.

So yes, he’ll probably be able to collect up to 50% of your full retirement age benefit, whether you’re still married or you’re divorced.

You say your husband has been involved in fraudulent activities. Technically, if your husband were incarcerated for more than 30 days, any Social Security benefits would be suspended until his release. But this sounds like it’s a nasty divorce involving a deadbeat husband, rather than a criminal case.

That’s the bad news. The good news is that even if your ex gets Social Security based on your work record, it will never, EVER affect your benefit. If you remarry at some point, his benefit also wouldn’t have any impact on your current spouse.

Since your husband was in the National Guard off and on, I’m guessing he paid at least something into Social Security, even if it wasn’t much. What happens in this situation is that Social Security looks at whatever your husband qualifies for based on his own work record. Then they use his current or ex-spouse’s record to qualify him for extra benefits if applicable.

It sounds like this divorce is still underway. You’re probably not going to be able to prove how much cash he’s earned over the years or whether he torched his business records. Focus on what you can control. For example, anything you can do to prove you shouldn’t pay alimony or that any assets should go to you would be a far better use of your time and energy than worrying about his Social Security.

Hang on to any financial documentation you have, like bank statements and copies of bills you’ve paid, so that you can present them to an attorney. If you can’t afford an attorney, search the American Bar Association’s website to see if free legal assistance is available in your area.

Your ex’s Social Security benefit is out of your hands, and it doesn’t affect you. You can’t undo what sounds like a miserable couple of decades with this guy. But rather than getting angry about his Social Security, channel your energy toward building a life that he’s not part of.

Robin Hartill is a certified financial planner and a senior writer at The Penny Hoarder. Send your tricky money questions to [email protected].

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Dear Penny: I’m 74 and My 24-Year-Old Boyfriend Is Awful With Money

Dear Penny,

I am 74 and have fallen for a 24-year-old. He says he wants to get married, but he has only the house he inherited. 

I’m self-employed but have only a meager income. It makes me uneasy that I have to pay for everything. He may be able to work eventually, but for now all he finds are part-time jobs. Should I break off this relationship due to poor finances?

-Too Much in Love

Dear In Love,

I’m going to attempt the impossible, which is to put aside this glaring age difference for a minute.

Here’s what I would have told you if you hadn’t mentioned your ages: You’re pulling all the weight here, and you don’t feel good about it. Your boyfriend doesn’t sound very responsible. Nine times out of 10, when someone writes to me, a stranger, to ask whether they should end their relationship, the answer is: “Yes! End this relationship.”

Now, let’s talk about this gaping age discrepancy. There’s no way I can make myself not worry that your boyfriend is taking advantage of your generosity here. Yes, plenty of people fall in love with someone way older or younger than they’d ever imagined. So I don’t want to make any sweeping generalizations about what constitutes too young for someone of 74.

But I think an age difference becomes too much when you’re in vastly different places in life. Even if you’re both in love with perfectly pure intentions, surely this is one of those times.

Aside from the fact that he’s dating a 74-year-old, your boyfriend doesn’t sound that unusual for someone who’s only 24. Most twentysomethings haven’t acquired much in the way of assets. It’s not unusual for someone this age to have a string of part-time jobs and side hustles instead of a career.

Meanwhile, you’re 74 and don’t have much income, which certainly isn’t unusual for someone who’s retirement age. You deserve to retire at some point. I’m afraid you can’t afford to wait for your boyfriend. You say he may “eventually” be able to work. Somehow, I think “eventually” will happen a lot faster when he has no choice but to pay his own bills.

You say you’re paying for everything, so I’ll assume he’s living in your home. Since you say he inherited a house, hopefully he can move in there and you can make a clean break.

Whenever you end a relationship, you need to act quickly to unmingle your finances. That includes closing any joint bank accounts and removing your boyfriend if he’s an authorized user on any of your credit accounts. If you’ve listed him as a beneficiary on a retirement account or life insurance policy, or included him in your will, be sure to remove him as well.

And yet, untangling the heart can be even more complicated than separating your money. There’s nothing I can say to make that part easier.

Just know that it’s not too late for you to fall in love all over again. But make sure that anyone you’d consider dating in the future is at a similar place in life as you are. That doesn’t mean you need to be the same age. But that person needs to be a mature and independent adult, not someone who mooches off you. Anyone who’s not willing to be your equal partner doesn’t deserve your time.

Robin Hartill is a certified financial planner and a senior writer at The Penny Hoarder. Send your tricky money questions to [email protected].

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Take These 4 Steps to Lower Your Cost of Living — Without Moving

If you’re determined to have the lowest cost of living among every other human being in the United States, move to Mississippi.

Seriously — it has the lowest cost of living overall, taking into account grocery, housing and transportation expenses.

Dollar for dollar, your cash will probably go further in the Magnolia State than if you were to live in a major urban cluster like New York, California or Florida. And you’ll definitely get more bang for your buck than if you lived in Hawaii — the state with the highest cost of living.

But packing up everything you own and moving somewhere just because it’s cheaper doesn’t actually make sense for most people. Jobs, family, friends and just plain old loving where you live means buying a piece of property outside Jackson isn’t always a viable option.

So whether you live in Huntsville or The Hamptons, you can cut your cost of living anyway. Take these steps to slash your bills and give your budget a Mississippi makeover.

1. Knock $489/Year From Your Car Insurance in Minutes

When’s the last time you checked car insurance prices? Unless you live in Ohio, North Carolina or New Hampshire — the cheapest states to get car insurance in 2021 — you’re probably paying too much. And that can make a big dent in your lower cost of living.

But no matter where you live, you should shop your options every six months or so — it could save you some serious money. Let’s be real, though. It’s probably not the first thing you think about when you wake up. But it doesn’t have to be.

A website called makes it super easy to compare car insurance prices. All you have to do is enter your ZIP code and your age, and it’ll show you your options.

Using, people have saved an average of $489 a year.

Yup. That could be $500 back in your pocket just for taking a few minutes to look at your options.

2. See if You’re Wasting $690/Year on Homeowners Insurance

You’re probably wasting money right now. And it’s probably on something you’d never expect — your homeowners insurance policy. But if you’re living in a place where housing is more expensive, this is the one cost you can actually control.

This isn’t something you actively think about — you just know you’re required to have it.

The problem is, you’re paying too much. Luckily, an insurance company called Policygenius makes it easy to find out how much you’re overpaying. It finds you cheaper policies and special discounts in minutes.

In fact, it saves users an average of $690 a year — or $57.50 a month. It’ll even help you break up with your old insurance company. (You’re allowed to cancel your policy at any time, and your company should issue you a refund.)

And just because you’re saving money doesn’t mean you’re skimping on coverage. Policygenius will make sure you have what you need.

Just answer a few questions about your home to see how much money you’re wasting.

3. Stop Paying Your Credit Card Company

What does your credit card have to do with your cost of living? Well, no matter where you live, credit card debt payments can be keeping you from saving more money and investing it somewhere smart.

And the truth is, your credit card company doesn’t really care. It’s just getting rich by ripping you off with high interest rates — some up to 36%. But a website called AmOne wants to help.

If you owe your credit card companies $50,000 or less, AmOne will match you with a low-interest loan you can use to pay off every single one of your balances.

The benefit? You’ll be left with one bill to pay each month. And because personal loans have lower interest rates (AmOne rates start at 3.49% APR), you’ll get out of debt that much faster. Plus: No credit card payment this month.

You don’t need a perfect credit score to get a loan — and comparing your options won’t affect your score at all.  Plus, AmOne keeps your information confidential and secure, which is probably why after 20 years in business, it still has an A+ rating with the Better Business Bureau.

It takes less than a minute and just 10 questions to see what loans you qualify for — you don’t even need to enter your Social Security number. You do need to give AmOne a real phone number in order to qualify, but don’t worry — they won’t spam you with phone calls.

4. Find Out If You’re Overpaying

Wouldn’t it be nice if you got an alert when you’re shopping online at Target and are about to overpay?

That’s exactly what this free service does. And if you want to have a lower cost of living, you should be taking advantage of the lowest prices available on the internet.

Just add it to your browser for free, and before you check out, it’ll check other websites, including Walmart, eBay and others to see if your item is available for cheaper. Plus, you can get coupon codes, set up price-drop alerts and even see the item’s price history.

Let’s say you’re shopping for a new TV, and you assume you’ve found the best price. Here’s when you’ll get a pop up letting you know if that exact TV is available elsewhere for cheaper. If there are any available coupon codes, they’ll also automatically be applied to your order.

In the last year, this has saved people $160 million.

You can get started in just a few clicks to see if you’re overpaying online.

Capital One Shopping compensates us when you get the extension using the links provided.

Kari Faber is a staff writer at The Penny Hoarder. She has only lived in the most expensive states the last 10 years and has definitely paid for it.




Catering Side Gigs May Be the Best Hustle of 2021

The 2021 wedding season is projected to be among the busiest in a decade with an estimated 2.77 million weddings, which is over half a million more than usual.

This is great news for catering companies, whose income evaporated during 2020, and it can be great news for your wallet if you explore this lucrative yet under-appreciated side hustle.

I first discovered catering in graduate school, when a friend who worked for a catering staffing company offered me a job. I had an hour-long training from the staffing company. On my first shift, a wedding at a historic estate with ocean views, I dropped a tray of champagne flutes.

Despite my non-illustrious start, I stuck with catering. The money is consistent and the perks, if you work for the right caterer, add up. As I write this, I’ve been eating catering leftovers all week.

Find out how to get started in catering, how much money you can make catering, plus what skills caterers need right now.

How to Find Local Catering Jobs

Event caterers are everywhere: big cities, college towns, and rural areas cashing in on the rustic wedding trend. Wherever you go, you’ll find a local catering company. If you find yourself in between jobs, catering income can give you a buffer until you land something else.

Plus, the jobs are often on Friday nights or weekends anytime, a bonus for a Monday-through-Friday worker looking to bring in more money.

Given the part-time, seasonal nature of the industry, workers tend to come and go. As a result, catering companies are often hiring. Many caterers love working with college students who are home for the summer or teachers looking for extra money on their summers off.

During the wedding season, the best catering companies will have two to three weddings on the same day and you’ll be able to work every weekend if you want. 

In many markets, the catering season extends beyond summer weddings. University towns have receptions, graduations, and college reunions. Individuals have private parties for milestone events.

Companies host holiday parties, summer picnics, and other employee engagement events, although Jackie Spigener, who owns Silver Sycamore Events Resort, a wedding and event venue in Pasadena, Texas, says corporate events haven’t yet returned fully.

There will always be more opportunities if you live in a bigger city, simply because catering will serve multiple markets, but even in my part of upstate New York, I could get a shift every single weekend from May to October if I wanted.

server holding champagne glasses at outdoor wedding
Getty Images

Jobs in Catering

Catering jobs include bartender, server, and cook. Bartender and cook jobs tend to go to people with previous experience in that role.

A typical catering shift lasts anywhere from 7 to 10 hours and you may need to travel to the location (I’ve gone as far as two hours, but been paid for travel time). The work is physical, the hours are long, and you’ll be on your feet the entire time.

There are perks. You’ll be a fly on the wall at events held in beautiful locations. If you’re the sort who gets bored easily, you’ll appreciate having different work environments, since  many caterers travel to several event venues in the region.

“Catering is an extremely fun job as every event is different, and you can see a lot of really cool venues and be a part of some amazing events,” says Daniel Wolfe, owner of Wolfe and Wine Catering in Houston.

Eating on the Job

You’ll be fed on your shift; this might be the same food guests are eating or a separate, simple meal. Food that was not served to the guests and would otherwise be wasted is typically up for grabs at the end of the night. I’ve also taken home wedding decor, bouquets, and opened bottles of wine.

While it helps if you have previous experience, this is absolutely not necessary.

“All of the catering/food serving skills can be trained if the work ethic and personality for customer/guest service is there,” says Spigener.

Catering Side Gig Jobs

Depending on how big the event is, the caterer could need dozens of people. Some will need high-level culinary skills but that’s not what you will probably be doing. Think of your as the muscle and if you’re dealing with guests, a server with a good attitude.

There are positions for people of all skill levels. For example:

Jobs for New Hires

  • Refill water glasses
  • Clean up during cocktail hour
  • Clean up after event

Jobs for Experienced Workers

  • Pass appetizers
  • Tend the bar
  • Serve people sitting at head table

While I started with a catering staffing company, I wouldn’t recommend doing this. I was basically a temp sent to bolster catering agency staff, who earned more than I did.

The agency agreement prohibited temps from being hired on by any caterer we’d temped for, which kept us corralled in lower-wage, disposable work.

Approaching companies directly is the better option. While catering companies are typically looking to hire in spring, this year’s labor shortage means that many are understaffed. You can find local caterers who are looking to hire on Craigslist or by searching for event venues and catering companies in your market and reaching out directly.

If you know someone who works for a restaurant or hotel that has a banquet facility, they may be able to refer you.

server setting the table at formal event
Getty Images

How Much Money Can You Make Catering?

Restaurant workers in most American markets receive a well-below-minimum-wage shift payment and make most of their money in tips. Catering workers tend to be paid competitive hourly wages, plus tips.

Thanks to the hospitality industry labor shortage, it’s a worker’s market. Employers all need to staff up at the same time, so companies have to compete on wages. Reach out to several companies at the same time, then take your pick of one or more that pay the most.

The Hourly Wage

Wolfe currently pays $12-$15 per hour for servers and $15 per hour for cooks. Bartenders earn $10 per hour with a tip jar visible or $25 per hour with no tip jar. Wolfe says he pays based on the cost of living and would probably pay 20 to 30 percent more if he were located in a market like California or New York.

Private party shifts tend to be shorter — a skeleton crew will be working in (or outside) someone’s home for a dinner service or cocktail party — but the odds of a direct cash tip at the end of the night increase significantly.

Spigener says she currently starts catering staff at $10 per hour.

LaSonya Holmes-Boulware, who owns My Girls Catering and Food Truck in Greensboro, North Carolina, starts catering servers at $10 per hour and cooks at $15 per hour. Experienced workers can be paid more for working elite events.

What the Bosses are looking For

When hiring, Spigener looks for personality (“courteous and mannered well”) and a willingness to pitch in. Wolfe values punctuality (because “an upset client is a lost client”) and flexibility, since it’s difficult to predict when shifts will end.

Attention to detail, a good work ethic, and a positive attitude are his top desired skills. Holmes-Boulware seeks out people who are willing to work flexible schedules, like Wolfe, and prefers those who have prior experience with events.

I’ve worked in restaurants and for caterers. Catering has always paid me more per hour, in every market I’ve worked. The seasonal nature of the job makes it an ideal side gig. If you can get in with a top-notch caterer now, when the need is high, you can secure a lucrative side hustle for as long as you need or want one.

The Penny Hoarder contributor Lindsey Danis is a Hudson Valley-based writer who specializes in food, freelancing advice, and personal finance. Her work has appeared in Business Insider, NextAdvisor, Greatist, and more. 




Know Renters Rights Before Signing Agreement

More than a third of American households are inhabited by renters and that means the tenants who live in those housing units have landlords.

The relationship between the two can sometimes be tricky.

Renters have rights, as do the landlords who own the properties their tenants live in.

Renters rights vary by state and local jurisdiction, so this serves as a general guide to those rights and who — the tenant or the landlord—  is responsible for what.

General Rights of Renters

The most basic right is to a residence that is in good enough condition to be lived in, also known as a warranty of habitability.

That often includes a space that:

  • Is safe to live in.
  • Is structurally sound.
  • Has working utilities.
  • Has working plumbing with hot and cold water.
  • Has usable heat or air conditioning (depending on jurisdiction)
  • Is equipped with doors and windows that are not broken and locked.
  • Is free from vermin or other pests.
  • Has working smoke detectors (a requirement in some jurisdictions[TS1] )

Often, there is a lease or formal agreement between the two parties outlining some of these responsibilities like the amount of money owed and when it is due, what happens if rent is late, the length of time the tenant is allowed to live in the dwelling, etc.

“That right or that warranty [of habitability] exists whether there is a lease or not,” said Marcos Segura, staff attorney for the National Housing Law Project. All states except Arkansas have recognized that warranty in residential leases.

A renter also has a right to privacy, meaning once they rent a dwelling, it is theirs to lawfully use.

The landlord can only enter the premises to inspect it or make agreed upon or necessary repairs. Entry can only happen during certain hours and with sufficient notice.

“But there are exceptions where you don’t have to give notice to a tenant and that is in situations where there is some sort of imminent emergency like a gas leak, fire, or an alarm going off,” Segura said.

Concerning rent, unless a jurisdiction allows it, a tenant’s rent cannot be raised during the terms of the lease.  Some leases require notice if a tenant does not intend to stay after the lease ends.

The Accidental Landlord

According to the American Apartment Owners Association, half of all landlords are not big corporations, but rather people who own one or just a few properties.

“There are a lot of what we would call accidental landlords. They didn’t even try to be landlords,” said Alexandra Alvarado, director of marketing and education for AAOA. The membership organization represents landlords who own and rent a single house to large property management companies.

“Accidental landlords” might have inherited a home or moved to another home and chose to rent out a property. Alvarado said they call organizations like the AAOA for help because they are often new to renting properties.

“It’s in the interest of the landlord ultimately to make their tenants happy. In the long run, it’s way harder to find a good tenant to replace another than it is to just keep a good tenant happy and keep them in the unit.”

General Obligations of Renters Beyond Pay Rent

Landlords must provide a habitable space for renters, but renters have some responsibility for maintaining the quality of the property.

A renter must:

  • Pay the rent according to the rental agreement or lease.
  • Comply with building or local housing and health codes.
  • Maintain the unit and keep it clean.
  • Not cause any damage.
  • Not violate any laws or allow guests to do so.
  • Not allow anyone to use the rental unit for illegal purposes.

“Wear and tear is okay, there is no way to prevent that and it is not something that a tenant is responsible for, but [a tenant must] take care of the property and not do anything to destroy or damage it,” Segura explained.

Renters are responsible for keeping the peace by not disrupting neighbors with noisy equipment cranked up late at night or early in the morning, or by playing loud music when most folks are sleeping. 

Fixing Problems

So, what happens if a tenant keeps the place generally clean, but mice find their way in? Or if a faucet starts to leak and damages the cabinet below? Or an appliance breaks?

“That’s the advantage of being a renter versus a homeowner is the landlord is the one that takes care of all the maintenance, unless it’s the tenant’s fault,” Alvarado said, adding sometimes it is difficult to tell the difference between normal wear and actual damage.

A tenant needs to report any problems with their rental unit to the landlord. Knowing how to contact that landlord should be clear from the beginning of the rental term.

“Typically, every lease will have some stipulation in there that you have an obligation to report issues as soon as you notice them,” Segura said. “If you don’t, and it becomes a bigger issue, then the tenant might be liable for that.”

In some rental situations, especially with single-family homes, some maintenance is the tenant’s responsibility, like lawn care.

Tech Communication

Alvarado said larger property management companies often have an online system to report maintenance requests or problems and landlords with fewer properties often give tenants their cell phone numbers or email addresses.

Giving a landlord 24 to 48 hours to respond to a problem or request and about a week to fix it is the norm. If it’s a habitability issue, tenants should expect a quicker response. Landlords should keep their tenants informed about the progress they are making to address the concerns.

Security Deposit

Usually, renters pay a security deposit to the landlord to protect against damage that could happen to the property.

The landlord holds this deposit while the tenant is living in the property and returns it to the tenant within a set amount of time after they vacate the unit.

As a tenant, don’t forget to tell your landlord where to send your security deposit.

If the landlord does not plan to give back the deposit or just part of it, the landlord should present the tenant with an itemized list of problems.

Pet Deposit

If a rental allows pets, often landlords collect a pet deposit and may have restrictions such as the weight of the pet or the number and type of animals. Some landlords might allow cats and not dogs.

Segura said a violation of pet rules can be grounds for eviction and landlords have a right to prohibit or restrict pets in most circumstances. An exception is a trained service dog.

“The biggest issue with pets is that people either don’t notice that there’s a prohibition on pets or they do and don’t care and they try to get away with it. Then the landlord finds out about it six months later, and now you either have to get rid of your pet or you have to move. So, the first thing is you want to be upfront with the landlord.”

How and When to Complain or Seek Legal Help

Disputes between tenants and landlords often involve four things; unpaid or late rent, security deposits, damage, or needed repairs.

It might be time to get help if you have notified your landlord in writing about a problem and nothing has been done in a reasonable amount of time.

But don’t just stop paying rent. Segura said there are few circumstances where it is okay to withhold payment. Legally, landlords cannot charge rent if the dwelling is not habitable, but there are very specific definitions of that condition.

“It should be the very last resort because inevitably what will happen is the landlord is going to hit you with an eviction for non-payment of rent,” he said.

To Pay Rent or Not

If you reach the point of thinking about withholding rent or you’re at a stalemate with your landlord, Segura advised seeking legal representation either with a private attorney or legal aid office.

“At some point, you’re going to get some notice saying either pay rent, fix this, or remove this pet, whatever the case might be. Without question, at that point, you want to seek legal help.”

The required notice is the first step in the legal process.

“Once that notice has been served, the landlord is going to move to evict and it’s really difficult to get a landlord to back off from that,” he said.

In almost all cases, a landlord cannot evict a tenant immediately. There is an eviction process. Also, a landlord cannot lock a tenant out, cut off utilities, or forcibly remove a tenant or a tenant’s belongings.

Ways to Protect Your Renter’s Rights

Read the entire lease and make sure you understand everything in it, including your responsibilities, before you sign it. If you don’t understand something, ask.

Other ways to protect yourself:

  • Take photos: When you move in, take photos of the condition of everything. Send that document to your landlord and ask for a signature. Repeat the process when you move out.
  • Receipts: Get and keep receipts for all rent payments. Take photos of checks or account transfer confirmations. This is especially important if you pay rent in cash.
  • Insurance: Get renters insurance to protect your personal belongings from theft or damage.
  • Requests: When there are problems or you need something, report the issue to your landlord as quickly as possible. Put all requests in writing. Certified return receipt mail is one option for correspondence done by snail mail. Return receipts are an option for email.

One of the best ways to protect yourself is to try to have open communication with your landlord from the beginning.

“Once an issue arises, your relationship with your landlord makes a huge difference as to whether it gets taken care of the way it’s supposed to be, or whether it’s going to result in some bigger issue, which ultimately could be like an eviction,” Segura warned.

Tiffani Sherman is a Florida-based freelance reporter with more than 25 years of experience writing about finance, health, travel and other topics.