Renting 101: Tips for first-time renters
By Attorney General Roy Cooper
Many students are heading back to school this month. College students as well as other renters are moving into rental apartments and houses across the state—some for the first time.
Being a renter comes with both rights and responsibilities. Renting can have a negative effect on your credit and financial future if you don’t take it seriously.
Under North Carolina law, your landlord is generally responsible for keeping your rental unit safe and in good working condition. You are responsible for paying your agreed upon rent, and paying it on time.
The following information can help you better navigate the rental process:
Leases: A lease is a legally-binding agreement between the landlord and tenant. Make sure you read it carefully before you sign, as it can be difficult and expensive to get out of a lease once it’s signed. If the landlord made promises about special pricing or rental terms, be sure they’re included in the written lease before you sign it.
Renters insurance: Many landlords now require that tenants purchase renters insurance. Even if it’s not required, renters insurance may be a good idea because it covers your personal property if it gets stolen or damaged.
Roommates: Be smart about who you choose as a roommate. Broken leases are all too common because people change their mind about living together. Unless you sign individual leases, you’ll likely be responsible for the entire rent, not just your share, if your roommate moves out.
Automatic renewal clause: Know when your lease ends and what type and how much notice is required if you decide to move out. Some leases renew automatically unless you notify the landlord in writing that you intend to leave. Be sure to ask about this clause before you sign the lease.
Security Deposits: When you sign a lease, you’ll most likely be asked to pay a security deposit, money held in reserve in case you fail to live up to the terms of the lease. Students sometimes have trouble getting this money back when they move out. We recently took action against a landlord who failed to return student renters’ security deposits. When you move out, attend the inspection of the property so you can answer any questions about damage and protect yourself from having charges for normal wear and tear deducted from your deposit. Also, make sure your landlord has a forwarding address so he or she can return your deposit to you.
So you’ve found your apartment, picked your roommate, signed your lease, paid your security deposit and moved in. But what if your refrigerator breaks, or you can’t get the sink unclogged? If something in the rental property needs to be fixed, here’s how to handle it:
Notify your landlord and ask to have it repaired. Contact your landlord immediately, over the telephone or in person. Then follow up with a written request and keep a copy of it for yourself. Don’t withhold rent to convince your landlord to make repairs–but you can ask your landlord to reduce your rent until the problem is fixed. For example, the landlord may agree to cut your rent for a month during which you couldn’t use one room due to a leaky roof. If you pay for repairs out of pocket, you may not get reimbursed. Contact your landlord first. He or she may agree to let you to pay to fix the problem and then subtract the cost from your next month’s rent. If the landlord fails to fix something that puts your health or safety at risk, report it to local authorities. Local building, health, fire and safety inspectors can take action to ensure compliance with the codes.
My Consumer Protection Division is here to help. If you have questions about your rights as a renter or think your landlord has violated the law, contact us toll free at 1-877-5-NO-SCAM or online at www.ncdoj.gov.
Attorney General Roy Cooper and his staff work to help North Carolina consumers make smart choices and avoid scams. We are here to be of service when you need us, but through education efforts like these columns we hope to help consumers avoid problems from the start.
Note to editors: This is one in a series of columns that the Attorney General is distributing to educate consumers. If you have questions or would like to receive future columns, please contact LaTonya Rogers at 919-716-6409 or email@example.com.