Federal law protects against discrimination in housing.
You cannot be barred from having a place to live based on race, nationality, religion, sex, marital status or disability.
The agency that is responsible for monitoring housing discrimination is the Department of Housing and Urban Development (“HUD”). Most areas have a local HUD office, but you can also contact them online, by phone, or by mail if you believe you are being treated unfairly.
State and local laws will affect your rights as a tenant.
Be sure to check the laws and ordinances for your state, county, and municipality. States will often further interpret discrimination and set out instances where specific tenant populations are entitled to heightened protection—such as assisted living intended for individuals who require help.
You have the right to basic amenities, such as heat, water, and indoor plumbing, and to have the property maintained in livable condition.
This is another area where you need to be aware of how local housing authorities interpret “livable.” For example, your landlord might be responsible for providing the means to heat your home, but not responsible for providing utilities. In addition, although you are entitled to a livable home, you are not entitled to a luxurious or aesthetically pleasing one.
Turn to advocacy groups for help with problems.
If you are having problems with a landlord, you do not have to suffer alone. You can turn to a variety of advocacy groups for help. These range from HUD, for complaints about discrimination, to local renter groups. You can also enlist the aid of a lawyer.
Your lease does not supersede the law.
No matter what kind of lease you have signed, it does not exempt your landlord from following the law. The federal and state laws supersede any lease agreement. However, if your landlord understands legal requirements at all, he or she should have drawn up that lease with the assistance of a lawyer. You might want to have your own lawyer review the lease, as well.
Take pictures of the condition of the rental when you move in. Do your part to maintain appropriate housekeeping. It doesn’t have to be beautiful, but it should meet the standards of basic home sanitation. Save your receipts for rental payments, repairs, and any improvements that you make. Obtain landlord approval before making any major alterations, such as painting the walls. Keep notes on repairs, and the timeliness of repairs. Try to be understanding and patient with your landlord, but remember that you do have a right to having the infrastructure of your living space kept up to a standard of basic habitability.
There you have it – seven things of which you should be aware if you are renting. Above all, read the rental agreement carefully before you sign it. Be aware that violating certain terms, such as the number of occupants, or failing to keep up the house and grounds through reasonable daily maintenance, or failing to pay the rent without cause (such as a breach of the warranty of habitability) can be grounds for eviction.