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Renting / Learning About Renting a Home

If you have never rented a home, there will probably be many things you will need to learn about before deciding whether or not renting is the best option for you.

Basics of Renting

When you rent a home, you pay money every month to the owner of the property, often called the landlord. The landlord will screen applicants for credit and criminal background and may deny an application if the background check shows issues that do not meet the landlord’s criteria, such as a low credit score, previous eviction, money owed to a previous landlord or a criminal background.

People who rent are often called tenants or residents. The tenant also is usually responsible for paying for utilities, including gas and electric bills. Sometimes tenants are responsible for water, sewer and trash removal. Tenants must sign a lease when they rent, which is a legal document stating the responsibilities of the tenant and the responsibilities of the landlord. Most leases go for a full year and can be renewed each year if the tenant wants to continue to live in the apartment. The lease will state which utilities the tenant is responsible to pay for.

Many landlords also have community rules, which are enforced under the lease. The community rules explain tenant responsibilities in more detail and give additional requirements that tenants must meet.

Before deciding to rent a home, it is best to visit the rental unit and talk with the landlord about the application process and conditions for living in the community. Some properties have no smoking policies, may not allow pets and may have restrictions on the number of nights a guest can visit. You should be certain you can follow the rules in the apartment community before you sign the lease.

Take a look at this YouTube video with more information you may want to consider before renting your first place.

What to Know Before Deciding to Rent

What is a Landlord and What Does He/She do?

The landlord is the person who owns the property and decides the amount of the rent, rules for people to be eligible to rent the unit, the terms of the lease other than those required by local government and whether a tenant has broken the lease and should be evicted. The landlord also decides whether or not to grant a reasonable accommodation or modification to a unit to address the needs of a person with a disability.

What is a Lease?

A lease is a legal agreement between the landlord and the tenant (you) that provides information about when your right to live in the unit begins (the lease date), the amount of rent you will pay, the amount of security deposit you will pay and your responsibilities as a tenant, such as paying rent on time, fees for rent being late, care of the unit, etc. The lease also spells out the responsibilities of the landlord, such as maintaining the property, keeping you informed of regular maintenance activities, providing utilities (if this is the case for your unit), etc.

The lease provides guidelines for renewing the lease, notifying the landlord of your intent to move and the landlord’s right to pursue eviction if you break the terms of the lease. Always review the lease before you sign it and have your HSS,CSS/case manager and/or family review it with you to make sure everyone understands it. If there are parts of the lease you don’t understand, make sure you get answers to your questions before signing the lease.

What is a security deposit?

Landlords are allowed to collect a security deposit when renting a unit. It is held in a separate interest-bearing account until the end of your tenancy. The funds may be used by the landlord to repair any damage caused by the tenant. If there is damage that meets or exceeds the amount of the security deposit, the landlord can keep the entire amount. If the cost of repairing the damage is less than the security deposit, the landlord will return the remaining funds to you. If the unit does not have damage beyond normal wear and tear, the landlord will return the entire deposit and any interest it has earned to you.

It is important to do a walk-through of the unit with the landlord or property manager before you move in. Note any damage to the unit and give a list to the landlord so you won’t be charged for this damage when you move out. If you keep the unit clean and repair any damage that occurs, you have a good chance of getting all of your security deposit back. After removing your belongings from the unit, be sure to do a walk-through with the landlord or property manager again and be sure that you note any damage they say will need to be repaired at your expense.

It can be difficult to come up with the money for the security deposit. Some waivers have “transition services” that will help pay for security deposits, basic household goods and moving costs. Check with your HSS or CSS/case manager to see if you have this benefit.

What are Community Rules and How are They Different from a Lease?

Many communities have “community rules” that expand on the lease requirements by describing lease terms more clearly and by giving additional requirements. Community rules are generally lease addendums and therefore have the same legal requirements. It is important to review the community rules before signing the lease. Note that all community rules apply to you, your guests and staff. Be sure to make your visitors and staff aware of the rules as well. You are responsible for making sure that anyone visiting your unit follows the rules If a visitor or your staff violate the rules, it could result in you receiving an eviction notice. Your continued tenancy could be seriously affected by the behavior of your guests and staff.

THe types of requirements usually found in community rules are listed below:

  1. Maintenance – How to report both emergency and non-emergency maintenance issues and regular maintenance that is the responsibility of the tenant and landlord such as replacing HVAC filters, ceiling fixture light bulbs, smoke detectors, etc.
  2. Occupancy – Properties and programs that base rent on household income typically have strict rules about overnight guests. While rules vary, many apartment communities state that the tenant cannot have an overnight guest for more than 14 nights per year. This is to ensure that there are no additional long-term occupants whose income should be included in the total household income. It also ensures that the family is not “underhoused,” which means that there are more people living in the unit than the number of bedrooms will permit.
  3. Pet policy – Communities usually include information on whether pets are allowed and if so, whether there are size and breed restrictions. Some communities also charge additional pet deposits and pet rent.
  4. Pest Control – Communities typically have regular pest control services and tenants must allow the treatments. The rules also often have a bed bug policy with detailed guidelines on preventing, reporting and controlling these pests.
  5. Emergency Lockouts – Rules often provide guidelines for when property management will let someone in their unit if they have lost their keys and procedures for obtaining lockout services after normal business hours.
  6. Vehicles – Rules usually contain information on tenant and guest parking, and restrictions on types of vehicles, vehicle maintenance and washing.
  7. Trash and bulk trash – Rules include information on where to dispose of trash and how to handle disposing of large or bulk items.
  8. Care of the unit – Some community rules provide guidance on cleaning appliances, floors, carpets, etc.
  9. Common Area Use – Most communities have “common rooms” such as community rooms, computer rooms, libraries, etc. Community rules will provide information on when common areas are open. The rules will also provide guidance on acceptable clothing when people are in common areas. Supervision of children is also addressed in this section and often states that children must be accompanied by an adult.
What are property managers and how are they different from landlords?

A property manager works for the landlord and is their agent. The property manager screens applicants just like the landlord would and works with the tenant to sign the lease. He or she is usually at the property every day and makes sure tenants are complying with the terms of the lease and community rules. The property manager works with tenants on having good relationships with their neighbors. He/she also makes sure that maintenance fixes things. If a tenant has broken the terms of the lease or the community rules, the property manager will notify the tenant and help the landlord with the eviction process.

Who fixes things when they break?

The maintenance staff will fix things in your apartment that belong to the landlord. For example, if the sink leaks or the refrigerator doesn’t work, the maintenance staff will fix it. You will be responsible for fixing anything you break due to misuse or that is beyond “normal wear and tear.” For example, if the window blinds get bent/broken or there are holes in the walls, you will be responsible for paying for new blinds or repairing the hole in the wall.

Can I move whenever I want to?

You will be required to pay the rent on the unit for the lease period. If the lease goes for a year, you will need to pay rent for 12 months. After you have leased for a full lease term, you can sometimes rent on a month-to-month basis. It’s good to find out about this before you sign your first lease at the property.

If you decide you want to move before the end of your lease you may be responsible for rent payments even if you aren’t living in the unit. If you need to leave the unit for medical reasons, you will need to provide medical documentation of the need to leave. Maryland law will limit the number of months of rent you owe to two months.

Can I have other people live with me?

If you include other people in your application to the property, they are usually able to live with you. If you are renting a place with a rent subsidy that is based on your household income, you need to make sure that the income of all people who will live in the unit does not go above the maximum income for the rent subsidy program. Remember that a live-in caregiver’s income is not counted toward total household income.

If you want to add someone to your household after you have signed the lease it is more difficult. Some landlords will only allow people to be added to the household when a new lease is signed. It’s good to ask this question before you sign the lease. Remember, the income of anyone added to your household will be counted toward total household income.

Can I have overnight guests whenever I want to?

Some landlords restrict the number of nights a guest can spend in your unit. This can be due to the rent subsidy program or the conditions the landlord agreed to when financing the development of the property. Other times, the landlord will not specify the number of overnights per guest. This information should be included in the lease or community rules. It’s a good idea to ask this quest before deciding to rent the unit.

Will I be allowed to have a pet?

The pet policy is stated in the lease or community rules. Sometimes when pets are allowed, the landlord will charge an extra deposit and additional monthly rent. In addition, the landlord may restrict the size, number and breed of pets you can have.

Will I be allowed to smoke?

The smoking rules will be stated in the lease or community rules. If the property has a no smoking policy, you will need to go completely off the property to smoke. If you or your guests smoke in the unit or on the property, it can result in eviction.