What To Know When You're a Renter
If you're planning to rent, here are some things to consider and do before and after you sign the lease — and in case of a disaster. Remember, landlord-tenant rights vary from state to state and even county to county.
Before You Sign The Lease
Make sure your building is safe and up to code.
Check for smoke alarms, fire escapes and extinguishers in the hallways and in the apartment — and make sure they are in good working order!
Check the state of the apartment and make a list of any needed repairs like cracks, leaks, drafty windows, etc. Give one copy to the landlord when you discuss these issues and note what he will or won't take care of.
Make sure the windows and doors are easy to open (important in an emergency).
Look for security measures like security alarms, deadbolts, locks on windows, etc.
Check out the condition of the heating/cooling, hot water, and plumbing systems (turn on the heat and a/c, run the water in the shower and sink, flush the toilet.)
If you believe you need to add extra safety measures, talk to the landlord about your concerns and what you both can do to improve the situation.
After You've Moved In
Draw a floor plan of your residence. Mark two escape routes from each room and two escape routes from the apartment (think window or balcomy). Place a copy of the plan in the bedroom of each family member and practice it at least once in daylight and once in the dark.
Know where all fire extinguishers, smoke detectors and fire escapes are located.
Know where the fire alarms are located in your building and how to operate them in an emergency.
Floor plans and evacuation procedures should be posted on every floor. Take time to learn them and teach others about the plan.
Meet with your landlord to discuss the best escape plan for each room in your unit and other areas in your apartment complex. If the landlord doesn't know, ask a fire or emergency official about the best escape routes for your apartment.
Make sure there's a number on your apartment door. If there isn't, contact management.
Learn to recognize the sound of the fire, tornado and general warning alarms, and leave the building immediately when you hear them. Never ignore the alarms.
Know where to go if you need to evacuate your apartment or the entire building. Decide on a family meeting place outside the apartment building.
Keep your balcony clutter-free. Piles of furniture, plants, toys and junk can be fire hazards and may also impede escape.
Get acquainted with the elderly folks in your building. If there's an emergency, they may have extra difficulty getting out. You may be able to help them, or you can direct help to the elderly person's apartment.
WHN Tip: Buy an emergency escape ladder for each room if there are no fire escapes.
Prepare a Home Grab-and-Go Kit that contains copies of important documents and records, photos and contact information.
Protect Your Belongings
Create an inventory of your belongings, complete with photos. (See our article Create a Home Inventory List to learn more.)Keep the inventory off-premises in a safety deposit box or with an out-of-the area contact. The inventory will provide a record for you and the insurance company. Update your inventory every two to three years and every time a major purchase is made.
WHN Tip: While the landlord is responsible for damages and losses for the physical structure of your apartment, you are responsible for your personal belongings.
Look into renter's insurance. Ask about the rates, type and extent of coverage and terms of the policy.
WHN Tip: Talk to the agent who handles your vehicle insurance. You may be able to get a discounted rate by having multiple policies with the same company. Some banks also offer renter's insurance.
WHN Tip: Acts of Nature?
Renter's insurance may not cover all acts of nature. Most policies will cover storms and fires but they will not cover floods, general water damage or earthquakes. Talk to your insurance agent about what events are not included in your policy.
After a Disaster
Again, while rights vary in each situation and location, here is a starter list of tips to help you through.
Contact the Red Cross for help with immediate needs such as housing, food and clothing.
Make sure you walk through before the property is turned over to the landlord. Landlords are not required to recover your belongings.
If you have renter's insurance, your personal belongings should be covered. Find your policy and contact your insurance agent to file a claim or learn more about your coverage.
If you are not insured, you will be financially responsible for replacing your belongings.
Know Your Rights
Landlord-tenant laws depend on your area, but most areas state that, if your rented home or apartment does not supply the basics (electricity, water, heat, plumbing, weatherproofing and a structurally safe and sanitary structure), you can choose to leave.
If you cannot live in your apartment and it has been deemed "uninhabitable," you may be able to terminate your lease, receive a refund or cease payment.
Consult your state's and county's legal codes for renter's rights about habitability, payment, termination and other legal issues. Your insurance agent or your legal representative may also be able to help you.
A look at the legal issues behind renting. Nolo.com discusses eviction, security deposits, insurance, statutes and other important issues related to renting. Nolo.com is a legal guide, which provides do-it-yourself legal solutions for consumers and small businesses.
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