Being a Successful Tenant

There are many things you can do to be a good tenant!  Some suggestions for things to pay attention to are below:

Love Your Neighbor

Rent payment plan

Nothing is more important to the landlord that getting the rent on time!  Make sure you have a plan for how and when you will pay the rent.  Many landlords do not take a check, so you may need to get a money order.  Have a plan for getting the money order and for getting it to the landlord or the property manager.  Make sure you get a receipt for your payment whenever possible.  If you need supports for getting your rent paid, be sure that this need is part of your person-centered plan.  

Getting along with neighbors

Some neighbors can become good friends, and some you may not get along with.  If a neighbor is doing something that disturbs you, the best thing to do it talk with the property manager or landlord about the issue.  They will know how to handle things.  It is not recommended that you talk directly to the neighbor.

Getting along with the property manager

Your relationship with the property manager is very important!  The property manager is there to help you and work with you to be successful.  If you have questions about living in your new home, ask the property manager.  If you have a concern, tell the property manager.  

Caring for pets or assistance animals

If you have a pet or an assistance animal, the expectation is that you will care for the animal and have it under your control at all times.  This means that dogs must be on a leash and you must be able to handle the dog if it gets excited.  You must have the dog on a leash when it needs to go to the bathroom, and you must also clean up the waste right away.  If you have a cat, you will need to make sure it does not leave your unit and that any smell from the litter box can’t be detected from outside of your apartment.

Requesting exceptions to the rules

As a person with a disability, you are entitled under Fair Housing Law to request changes in the rules that will help to address a disability-related need.  This is called a “reasonable accommodation.” More information on laws protecting people with disabilities in housing can be found under the Fair Housing tab.  Examples of reasonable accommodations related to the community rules include having someone else copied on all communication to you such as your family or case manager, having an alternative method of disposing of trash if you are not able to reach the dumpster door, having alternative pest control chemicals if you have a chemical sensitivity, having an assistance animal that helps you with tasks or provides necessary emotional support and having an additional key fob for staff or family.

Maintenance

Getting along with maintenance staff – The maintenance staff perform essential tasks for you and the rental community.  They take care of the property, common areas, stairwells, elevators, and things that are not working right in your unit.  It is helpful to have a good relationship with the maintenance staff, to make sure you report problems as soon as you notice them and to make sure the area where they will be working is clear of items that may be in the way.  

Maintaining the toilet

Stopped up toilets are the number one maintenance issue by far. If you can prevent the toilet from becoming stopped up and clear it if it does, you will be helping the maintenance staff in your community.  The information below will be helpful in keeping your toilets working.

What NOT to flush:

12 Everyday Items You Should Never Flush Down Your Toilet

16 Things You Should Never Flush Down The Toilet — Wastewater Transport Services

  1. “Flushable” wipes
  2. Paper Towels and Tissues
  3. Too much toilet paper
  4. Cotton balls, rounds or swabs
  5. Feminine products
  6. Dental floss
  7. Hair
  8. Bandages
  9. Vitamins and medications
  10. Paint
  11. Cigarette butts
  12. Fats, oils or grease
  13. Kitty Litter
  14. Gum
  15. Pet fish
  16. Any food
  17. Bleach
  18. Diapers
  19. Plastic
  20. Toilet bowl scrub pads

When the toilet stops up
How to Unclog a Toilet

For about 90 percent of clogged toilets, you only need one special tool — a toilet plunger. Buy a toilet plunger with an extension flange on the rubber bell-shaped end. A toilet plunger with an extension flange is designed to fit toilets better, so you can deliver more “oomph” to the plunge. The toilet plunger will unplug sink and tub drains, too, if you simply fold the flange back into the bell

How To Use a Plunger

First, plunge the toilet with the rubber flange pulled out to get a better seal. Push in and out vigorously, keeping enough water in the bowl to cover the plunger. As always, towels handy to wipe up any water that splashes out.

Plunging Tips – A toilet plunger fits over and seals the toilet drain. Wear rubber gloves — things can get messy— and follow these plunging tips:

  1. Make your first plunge a gentle one. Initially, the bell will be full of air. A hard thrust will force the air back around the seal and blow water all over the bathroom and you!
  2. Once you force out the air, plunge vigorously in and out, maintaining the seal. You’ll be forcing water in both directions in the drain, which will effectively loosen most clogs. Stick with it, plunging 15 to 20 times if necessary.
  3. Be patient. Try alternating between steady strokes and occasional monster heaves.
  4. Keep enough water in the bowl so the toilet plunger stays covered. Trying to force air through the toilet trap won’t generate much pressure.
  5. Most of the time, plunging is all it takes to clear the clog. But for tougher clogs, try using a toilet snake.
  6. Energy efficient toilets – Energy efficient toilets use less water to flush and, consequently, are more prone to becoming stopped up.  The tips below will help you keep an energy efficient toilet working. How to prevent stoppages:
    7 Tips to Reduce Clogs in Your Low Flush Toilet
  1. Say no to ultra-style toilet paper – While you may really enjoy the extra fluffy ultra-style toilet papers, they absorb more water than regular ones. This, combined with the limited water the low flush toilet is producing, means more likely clogs. Super absorbent tissue plus limited water means it is absorbing and sitting, rather than moving through as it should. Change your toilet paper, reduce clogs.
  2. Run more water – If your entire home is full of water saving devices, and your sewer line hasn’t been adjusted to deal with the appropriate float level, you will actually have to waste water sometimes in order to keep the system moving. I know, ironic. Run an empty load of laundry, or run the hose into a floor drain to allow more water into the system to get the “float level” back up to push debris through the drain lines.
  3. Force a flush – Another way to get more water into your drain system is to force a large flush. To do this, you can fill a large bucket with water and pour it into the toilet. This will cause the toilet to manually flush and push the water through the stub and trap under it to clear it of any resting debris. NOTE: DON’T do this if you suspect a clog, as it could cause the toilet to overflow. Use a plunger instead.
  4. Flush more – Again, flushing more often seems like it defeats the point of a low flush toilet, but remember, it is a design flaw only in homes where the sewer line wasn’t set up to manage lower water levels. Because most homes were built to last a very long time, retrofitting new water saving devices onto older drain systems is a norm. New homes built with sustainability and water conservation in mind will likely have less issues. So, flush more frequently to reduce clogs.
  5. Don’t allow extras – Anything extra absorbent, heavy, or that doesn’t break down easily, will become a culprit for causing clogs. Either they themselves will create a blockage, or they will collect debris and build into a clog. The most common problem items are: wipes, tampons, and paper towels. Don’t let your guests or your family flush these items if you have a low flush toilet. Use the trash can with a lid instead.
  6. Conduct preventative cleanings – Scheduling a regular preventative maintenance sewer or drain cleaning can help reduce clogs by pushing additional debris through the line. Consider a cleaning every 6 months. Ask for discounts for regular service to keep your system from backing up due to clogs that keep building.
  7. Keep a plunger handy – Whether you have a low flush toilet or not, we always recommend having a plunger in every bathroom. This will help prevent embarrassing guest issues, especially when they haven’t followed the above rules. A plunger should be designed to fit your toilet and create enough pressure to push through any clog.

Reporting non-emergency issues

Non-emergency maintenance issues should be reported as soon as they are noticed, but can wait until the next business day if you notice the problem when the management office is closed.  Examples of non-emergency maintenance issues include a dripping faucet, noisy air conditioner, hole in a window screen, burned out light bulb in a ceiling fixture, toilet that doesn’t stop running, stopped up toilet in a unit with more than one bathroom, and a dishwasher that doesn’t turn on.  

Determining if a maintenance issue is an emergency – A maintenance emergency should be reported immediately.  Maintenance emergencies are problems that cannot wait to be reported because they are a safety hazard, are causing damage to the unit or can have a negative effect on your health.  Examples of maintenance emergencies include:

  1.  fire
  2. water leaking on the floor
  3.  door lock that is not working
  4.  no heat when temperatures are very cold
  5.  no air conditioning when temperatures are very hot
  6.  no running water
  7.  smoke detector does not work when tested
  8.  no electricity
  9.  stopped-up toilet in a unit with one bathroom.  

The community rules will often have information on what the community considers to be a maintenance emergency.  They may also have a separate emergency maintenance phone number.  If they do, you should write this on a piece of paper and put it on the refrigerator with a magnet or tape it to the inside of a kitchen cabinet door to keep it handy.  You can also store it in your cellphone contacts list.

Routine maintenance

Smoke detectors – Many newer rental communities have centralized smoke detector systems.  Often, these systems use a different type of battery.  The maintenance staff will take care of replacing the batteries when needed, however, you should test the smoke detectors every month by pushing the button on the detector.  You may need to use a broom handle or other long object to reach the button.  If the smoke detector does not work, this is a maintenance emergency.

If your smoke detector is not part of a centralized system, you will need to replace the battery every 6 months.  A good way to remember this is to change the battery when time changes in the spring and fall.  

If you are not able to change the battery yourself, you can ask the maintenance staff to help you.  You could also ask your staff, family or a friend.  

National Fire Protection Association:
Installing and Maintaining Smoke Alarms

FEMA:
Smoke alarm outreach materials – US Fire Administration

HVAC filters

Most homes have some sort of furnace or heat pump, and many of those homes (especially newer ones) have combined heating, ventilation and air-conditioning or HVAC systems.  Each type uses some type of air filter or screen to prevent larger airborne particles from entering the system and clogging sensitive machinery.  A system that has a dirty filter have reduced air flow, or “blow-out,” resulting in no air infiltration at all.  Any of these conditions can cause the system to work harder to keep the home warm or cool.  And any mechanical component that has to work harder to run efficiently puts undue stress on the whole system, which can lead to premature failure, resulting in repair or replacement. 

Also, a dirty filter that’s exposed to condensation can become damp, which can lead to mold growth that can be spread throughout the home by the HVAC system.  This can lead to serious health consequences, not to mention a compromised unit that will likely require servicing and may require replacement, depending on the severity of the moisture problem.

The filter of the unit, especially if it’s an HVAC unit that will tend to get nearly year-round use, should be changed by the homeowner at least every three months, but possibly more often.

Homeowner Maintenance: Changing the HVAC Filter 

Caring for your apartment

Using appliances

The best way to get information on how to use the appliances in your new home is to ask the property manager, landlord or maintenance staff.  In this section, you will find general information on using home appliances.

Thermostat – Many new apartments have programmable thermostats which can allow you to set the temperature to automatically go up or down at certain times of day.  These thermostats can also be adjusted manually, whenever you want the temperature to be higher or lower.  You can also change from heat to air conditioning manually.  It’s a good idea to ask the property manager or maintenance person to teach you how to use your particular thermostat.  

For general information on setting a thermostat, go to: How to Set a Thermostat: 14 Steps (with Pictures)

For tips on programming a thermostat, go to: Programmable Thermostat: How to Use & Set for Every Season

Refrigerator temperature settings: Keep your refrigerator temperature at or below 40° F (4° C). The freezer temperature should be 0° F (-18° C). Check temperatures periodically. Appliance thermometers are the best way of knowing these temperatures and are generally inexpensive.

For tips from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration on storing food safely, go to
Are You Storing Food Safely? | FDA

Stove – Your apartment will probably have an electric stove and oven.  If you need help to use your stive, it’s best to ask the property manager or maintenance staff.  They will know how to work the particular model of stove that you have.  

If you have a gas stove, be sure to ask the property manager or maintenance staff for information on how to use your particular model.

Oven cleaning – It is very important that you know whether you have a self-cleaning oven.  If you do, NEVER use any oven cleaners in your self-cleaning oven.  Doing so can cause a fire!  Simply turn on the self-cleaning feature and let the oven do the work.  It will heat to a super high temperature and turn any food that has dripped onto the oven to ashes. Be sure to remove anything you keep on top of the stove, next to it and towels that you hang from the oven door handle before you set the oven to self-clean.  When the self-clean cycle is done and the oven is cool, you can wipe the ash out with a damp paper towel.

Dish washer – Most apartments are equipped with a dishwasher.  You can use it or you can wash and dry your dishes by hand, whichever you prefer.  For tips on using a dishwasher, go to  
How to Use and Load a Dishwasher the Right Way

Garbage disposal – Your apartment may have a garbage disposal.  This is a machine that grinds up foods that you wash down the drain when you hit the switch.  Always run cold water down the drain while running the garbage disposal.  

It is best to only put foods in the garbage disposal that you are able to cut with a fork.  This will help to ensure that the garbage disposal continues to work well and that the plumbing system does not get clogged.  Tougher food items like bones, shells, potato peels and stringy vegetables like celery should go in the trach can. 

Be sure to prevent silverware or other small non-food items from going down the drain.  If something has gotten into the garbage disposal by mistake, it will make a very loud noise when you turn the garbage disposal on.  If this happens, turn the garbage disposal off immediately, wait a couple of minutes to be sure it has stopped turning, and use tongs or pliers to remove the item in the drain.  Don’t reach in with your fingers because the sharp blades could cut you!  You can also ask for help with this from maintenance staff, friends or family.  

For more tips on caring for your garbage disposal, go to:
9 Tips for Using a Garbage Disposal Correctly

For a list of items to NEVER put down your garbage disposal, go to
15 Things Never to Put Down Your Garbage Disposal

Microwave – Most apartments will have a microwave, either installed above the stove or placed on a counter top.  Different microwave brands will probably have different control panels.  It’s a good idea to ask the property manager or maintenance staff to help you learn to use your new microwave.

Keeping the apartment clean

It is your responsibility to keep your unit clean and free of debris.  Regular vacuuming, mopping, wiping counters, washing dishes, cleaning bathrooms and disposing of trash and other items you do not need or no longer use will make keeping your unit in good shape much easier.  Your landlord or the property manager will inspect your unit periodically, including right before you renew your lease.  In addition, when maintenance staff are in your unit, they will look for things that may be of concern and report them to the landlord.  If you need assistance with keeping your home clean, it is a good idea to plan for staff support for this in your person-centered plan.  This can include having someone clean your unit periodically, having staff remove trash and other debris or having family give you a hand with some chores.

For tips on cleaning your apartment, go to
How to Clean Your House or Apartment Quickly and Effectively

Reporting insects/other pests

If you see any pests such as ants, roaches, flies, gnats, spiders, centipedes, etc., you should report this to the property manager right away.  Most apartment communities have pest control contracts and can have someone treat your apartment quickly.  Some apartment communities have preventative pest control treatments applies periodically, usually every 3 months.  You will receive a notice ahead of time that the pest control people will be coming.  You do not need to be home when the apartment is treated, however, you do need to allow the treatment to be done.  

Mold and Mildew

 Mold and mildew are serious concerns due to the possible health risks they have.  If you see mold or mildew anywhere in your apartment, report it to the property manager right away.  They will treat the problem so it is less likely to come back.  Mold and mildew are most likely to occur in damp places like the kitchen and bathroom.  It can also occur more often in window sills, corners of rooms and near HVAC systems.     

Mold is a type of fungus that consists of small organisms found almost everywhere. They can be black, white, orange, green, or purple. Outdoors, molds play an important role in nature, breaking down dead leaves, plants, and trees. Molds thrive on moisture and reproduce by means of tiny, lightweight spores that travel through the air. You’re exposed to mold every day.

In small amounts, mold spores are usually harmless, but when they land on a damp spot in your home, they can start to grow. When mold is growing on a surface, spores can be released into the air where they can be easily inhaled. If you’re sensitive to mold and inhale a large number of spores, you could experience health problems.

It’s impossible to get rid of all mold and mold spores in your home, but because mold spores can’t grow without moisture, reducing moisture in your home is the best way to prevent or eliminate mold growth. If there is already mold growing in your home, it’s important to clean up the mold and fix the problem causing dampness. If you clean up the mold but don’t fix the problem, the mold will most likely return.

Bathroom Tip: Places that are often or always damp can be hard to maintain completely free of mold. If there’s some mold in the shower or elsewhere in the bathroom that seems to reappear, increasing ventilation (running a fan or opening a window) and cleaning more frequently will usually prevent mold from recurring, or at least keep the mold to a minimum.

Tenant responsibilities for damage

You are responsible for damage that happens to your unit that is beyond “normal wear and tear”.  This includes small holes that were made to hang pictures, marks on the walls and floors, worn carpet, etc.  

Other damages – Any damage beyond normal wear and tear that happens to your apartment that is caused by you, your guests or your staff is your responsibility to fix.  This includes large holes in walls, floors and carpet, holes in window screens, cracked windows, broken window blinds, etc.

It is important to fix any damage that may occur as soon as it is noticed.  If the damage is not fixed by you, your landlord will deduct the cost of repairing the damage from your security deposit.  This could result in a poor reference from your landlord.

Reporting changes in income

When you are using a rent subsidy, you pay rent that is based on your household income.  Household income includes the income of all adults who live in your home and some Social Security benefits of children.  If there is a change in household income it must be reported right away.  

  1. Reporting increases in income – Increases in income of more than $200/month need to be reported to the voucher administrator right away.  They will recalculate your rent and you will pay a bit more rent every month.  
  2. Reporting decreases in income – Any decrease in income can be reported right away.  Your rent will be recalculated and you will pay less rent every month.  

Staying safe in your home

Staying safe at home is very important and something that you, your case manager and your family/friends should think through whenever you move to a new place.  

Keep emergency numbers handy

It’s a good idea to put emergency numbers in your phone and also on a piece of paper that you keep handy, such as taped inside a kitchen cabinet.  Important numbers to have include:

  1. 911
  2. Poison Control – The Maryland Poison Control number is available 24/7: (800) 222-1222.  You can also visit https://www.mdpoison.com/
    • A quick call to the Maryland Poison Center is faster and a lot less expensive than going to the emergency room. More than 60 percent of all cases reported to the Maryland Poison Center are managed safely at home.
    • Before calling Maryland Poison Control, instruct the person to rinse out their mouth if something was swallowed or rinse out their eye if something was splashed in the eye. Do not make a person vomit if you suspect they have swallowed something harmful. If the person is not breathing, is unconscious, or having seizures, call 911 right away.
    • If you suspect a poisoning or overdose, do not wait for symptoms – call the poison control number immediately. All calls to Maryland Poison Control are free – services are supported through federal and state dollars, grants, and private donations. 
    • Once you call the number, pharmacists and nurses with special training in toxicology will respond, ask questions about health and medications and specifics about the situation and provide further instructions for treatment.
  3. Emergency maintenance number for your apartment community

List your medications and allergies and keep the list handy for others

Purchase a fire extinguisher and learn to use it:
Choosing and using fire extinguishers

How to use a fire extinguisher – PASS:

  1. P: Pull the pin. Hold the extinguisher with the nozzle pointing away from you and release the locking mechanism.
  2. A: Aim low. Point the extinguisher at the base of the fire.
  3. S: Squeeze the lever slowly and evenly.
  4. S: Sweep the nozzle from side to side. 

Test your smoke alarm and make sure batteries are replaced

Contact local police and fire department to inform them that you have a disability and about any information they may need to assist you in an emergency.

Planning for emergencies

 Weather and other emergencies can happen where you live.  It is a good idea to create an emergency preparedness plan with your case manager and family.

The Maryland Department of Disabilities has a lot of good emergency preparedness information for people with disabilities: www.mdod.maryland.gov/ep/Pages/Emergency-Prep-Home.aspx.  

Additional information on emergency preparedness for people with disabilities can be found at:  

www.ready.gov/disability

www.redcross.org/get-help/how-to-prepare-for-emergencies/make-a-plan.html

www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/disabilityandhealth/emergencypreparedness.html

For information on fire emergency preparedness, go to   www.usfa.fema.gov/prevention/outreach/disabilities.html

Emergency kits – You can find helpful lists for emergency kits at the following websites:

DISABILITY-SPECIFIC SUPPLIES FOR EMERGENCY KITS
Emergency Supply Kits

Who will help you

Emergency Planning for People with Disabilities

A personal support network is made up of individuals who will check with you in an emergency to ensure you are alright, and give you assistance, if needed. A support network may include family, friends, personal attendants, neighbors or co-workers. It’s best to have more than one person in your support network at every location where you spend significant amounts of time, such as your home and your place of employment. If you rely on a personal assistance service (attendant), this type of assistance may not be available after a disaster. Therefore, it is vital that your personal support network consists of different people than those who are your personal attendants.

If you employ a personal attendant or use the services of a home health agency or other type of in-home service, discuss with these people a plan for what you will do in case of an emergency. How will you get along in an emergency for as long as 7 days? A critical element to consider in your emergency planning is the establishment of a personal support network.

Work out support relationships with several individuals. Identify a minimum of three people at each location where you regularly spend a significant part of your week: job, home, school, volunteer site, etc.

In spite of your best planning, sometimes a personal support network must be created on the spot. For example, you may find yourself in a shelter and needing to assemble help for immediate assistance. Think about what you will need, how you want it done and what kind of person you would select.

Make sure everyone in your support network knows your emergency plans. This includes methods of contact, evacuation routes and location of emergency supplies. If you use medical equipment, show support network members how to operate it.

Seven Important Items to Discuss, Give to and Practice with Your Personal Support Network

  1. Make arrangements, prior to an emergency, for your support network to immediately check on you after a disaster and, if needed, offer assistance.
  2. Exchange important keys.
  3. Show where you keep emergency supplies.
  4. Share copies of your relevant emergency documents, evacuation plans and emergency health information card.
  5. Agree and practice a communications system regarding how to contact each other in an emergency. Do not count on the telephones working.
  6. You and your personal support network should always notify each other when you are going out of town and when you will return.
  7. The relationship should be mutual. Learn about each other’s needs and how to help each other in an emergency. You could be responsible for food supplies and preparation, organizing neighborhood watch meetings, interpreting, etc.