Landlords and property management companies get sued a lot. Much the way your exposed flesh excites a swarm of hungry mosquitoes, these openly run businesses present tempting and often easy targets for litigious people. Sometimes litigation comes about because the property owners were, in fact, negligent. With all those railings, stairways, walkways, gates, and countless breakable items, a rental property is in many ways a lawsuit waiting to happen. Lots of times it's no one's fault, really; a person slips, gets injured on the property and a lawyer convinces him that suing the property owner will bring an easy payday.
Other times, a dispute over something either party was supposed to do according to the lease escalates beyond the ability of friendly reconciliation to solve it. Most experts other than a lawyer will recommend you do everything possible to find a resolution out of court. Such cases are often more trouble than they're worth for everyone involved -- except the attorneys.
One way landlords try to deter frivolous (and expensive) suits is by specifying that if the tenant loses in court, the tenant must pay all the legal bills and court costs. So if you sue and the court decides in favor of the landlord, you're left holding the bag for his attorney's fees, the administrative court fees and your own lawyer bill. That particular clause in the lease might not state that if the landlord loses, he or she must foot the legal bills all around, plus whatever damages the court awards to the tenant. But in many states, that's precisely the case -- no matter which side loses, the winning complainant has the right to demand compensation for legal fees.
Naturally, there are lots more things you'll want to pay attention to before you commit to making someplace your new home for the next several months -- or perhaps even for the next few years. For instance, if you are a disabled person, federal law provides numerous exemptions and exceptions to typical lease requirements. Without looking too hard, you can find a robust amount of pro-tenant information that's intended to help you protect your rights -- you should become familiar with it [source: FindLaw.com].
You don't have to be a contract attorney to secure fair and decent housing. For particulars on landlord-tenant laws where you live, you can find state-by-state summaries on sites such as Nolo.com or FindLaw.com.
Armed with this knowledge, you'll feel more confident recognizing your rights and whether a lease tramples on them or respects them. It just takes a few extra minutes to read the lease once you've been accepted as a tenant. If you spot something fishy in the document, you'll be glad you took the time to check it out. And if instead it all reads well, you'll have the peace of mind of knowing your rights are protected by a solid lease agreement.
Author's Note: 5 Things to Review on Your Lease
It's true that a few landlords are shady dealers looking to cut corners and make a killing off their clueless or cowed tenants. In my experience, many more landlords are decent folks who work hard to provide others with a comfortable home, while perhaps eking out a small profit. No matter which kind you get, the lease will either be your ace in the hole or your undoing if a dispute arises. Having rented (and rented out) a number of homes over the years, I can personally attest that a well-written, locally enforceable lease can prevent major headaches for both landlord and tenant during the term of occupancy.
- Anderson, Sally. "15 common renter's rights." MSN Real Estate. (June 19, 2012) http://realestate.msn.com/article.aspx?cp-documentid=13108370
- FindLaw.com. "Your Rights as a Tenant." (June 19, 2012) http://realestate.findlaw.com/landlord-tenant-law/your-rights-as-a-tenant.html?DCMP=GOO-REAL_Tenants-Rights&HBX_PK=tenants'+rights
- Hodges, Jane. "Rent vs. Own." Chronicle Books. 2012.
- McAdams, Jeff. "How to Run a Business from Your Apartment without Interference from the Landlord." Mcadamslaw.net. Oct. 21, 2010. (June 25, 2012) http://www.mcadamslaw.net/backissues-10-21-10.html
- Moore, Stephanie. "Renting a House or Apartment - Your Rights as a Renter." ConsumerAffairs.com. (June 20, 2012) http://www.consumeraffairs.com/rentals/how02.html
- RentLaw.com. "Landlord Tenant Statutes." (June 20, 2012) http://www.rentlaw.com/statuerentlaw.htm
- Stewart, Marcia. "Breaking a Lease and Leaving Early." Nolo.com. (June 22, 2012) http://www.nolo.com/legal-encyclopedia/free-books/renters-rights-book/chapter9-5.html
- Stewart, Marcia; Warner, Ralph and Portman, Janet. "Leases & Rental Agreements -- Important forms every landlord needs." Nolo. 2011.
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