Protecting renters

Problems arising from rental relationships can be especially upsetting when the home becomes an extension of the day's frustrations, rather than a refuge from them. Some landlords neglect maintenance, while others habitually enter without notice. Even those fortunate enough to avoid major issues may sometimes find it difficult to recover the security deposit. Although landlords often have the upper hand, tenants may still come out on top if they are savvy, informed consumers.

  1. If you have never met a potential landlord in person: a) never send them money by wire transfer, and b) never give them private financial information (such as your social security number, bank account numbers, credit card numbers). Beware any potential landlord who makes such requests.1
  2. Carefully inspect the exact unit that you want to rent, not just a model unit. Open every door and closet, note any odd smells or noises, check for deadbolt locks, and confirm there are adequate exits in case of emergency.
  3. Read the lease contract carefully to make sure you can live with everything that is (or isn't) there. If the landlord makes additional promises, they need to be written on the lease document before signing. Never rent without signing a lease.2
  4. Take video and/or photos of the unit during the walk-through with the landlord. The more photos, the better—if your landlord later tries to withhold your security deposit for existing damage, you will have proof that you were not responsible for it.3  
  5. Buy renter's insurance whether or not the landlord requires it, and make sure it is “replacement cost” insurance. A typical policy may cost anywhere from $10-30/month, and could even be less inexpensive if bundled with a car or life insurance policy.4
  6. Do not allow your landlord to violate your right to notice before entry. Most jurisdictions require at least 24 hours notice before the landlord may enter—knowing the law in your area will make it easier for you to protect your privacy.
  7. Tell your landlord to make repairs. Landlords are required to provide basic amenities of habitability, which typically includes heat, water, electricity, cleanliness, and safety. If talking to the landlord isn't going anywhere, you may be able to remedy the situation by withholding a portion of the rent, calling the building inspector, or breaking the lease and moving out without penalty.
  8. If you need help with your specific situation, get free legal advice from your local branch of the Legal Services Corporation—they frequently specialize in landlord-tenant questions.

Additional Resources:

Student PIRGs: Renter's Rights       
Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD): Tenant Rights

State-specific consumer guides for tenants:

Sources:

  1. FTC Consumer Website: http://www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/0079-rental-listing-scams 
  2. HUD Renter's Guide: Ten Tips for Tenants: http://www.hud.gov/local/shared/working/r8/mf/topten.cfm?state=nd 
  3. NYC.gov Rental Tips Website: http://www.nyc.gov/html/dob/html/homeowners_and_tenants/renter_tips.shtml
  4. HUD Renter's Guide: Ten Tips for Tenants: http://www.hud.gov/local/shared/working/r8/mf/topten.cfm?state=nd

Issue updates

News Release | U.S. PIRG Education Fund | Consumer Protection, Food

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News Release | U.S. PIRG Education Fund | Consumer Protection

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News Release | U.S. PIRG Education Fund | Consumer Protection

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News Release | U.S. PIRG | Consumer Protection

U.S. PIRG response to reports of Facebook security breach

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News Release | U.S. PIRG | Consumer Protection

U.S. PIRG response to reports of Facebook security breach

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News Release | U.S. PIRG | Consumer Protection

Tomorrow's National Free Credit Freeze Law

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News Release | U.S. PIRG | Consumer Protection

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News Release | U.S. PIRG | Public Health, Consumer Protection

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Blog Post | Consumer Protection

Could portable bank account numbers ease moving your money? | Ed Mierzwinski

PIRG "Big Banks, Bigger Fees" reports have documented the many so-called "switching costs" problems consumers face when trying to move their money to a new bank (or credit union). Account number portability, which has worked well for phone company switching, could be a part of the solution.

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Blog Post | Consumer Protection

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Blog Post | Consumer Protection

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Blog Post | Consumer Protection

NY Investigates Banks "Forcing" Consumers To Buy Overpriced Mortgage Insurance | Ed Mierzwinski

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Blog Post | Consumer Protection

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News Release | US PIRG

During this time of year, families are thinking about the children going back to school, and for parents who are sending their kids to college, it can be a bit overwhelming. A key to addressing those concerns is making sure their teens are prepared for “adulting” -- in other words, taking care of their own lives.

News Release | US PIRG

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News Release | U.S. PIRG Education Fund

As the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) turns 10 years old, a new report from the U.S. PIRG Education Fund recaps how the agency has helped consumers over the past decade and the steps under way to refocus the CFPB on its mission after three years of retrograde decisions under the Trump Administration.

Report | U.S. PIRG Education Fund

This report recaps the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s results for consumers over the past 10 years, the steps taken to return the CFPB back to its mission after three years of retrograde decisions under the Trump Administration, and our recommendations for CFPB action moving forward.

News Release | US PIRG

Johnson & Johnson Consumer Inc. said Wednesday it’s voluntarily recalling all lots of five types of Neutrogena and Aveeno aerosol sunscreen after internal testing showed “low levels of benzene” -- which can cause cancer -- in some samples. J&J also said consumers should stop using the sunscreen.

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