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

Statement on Procter & Gamble’s New Preservative Tracker in Personal Care Products

Personal care product giant Procter & Gamble (P&G) recently unveiled a new preservative tracker, which lets consumers know which preservatives are included in various categories of P&G’s products, such as baby wipes, skin care, and hair care products. Consumers can search the tracker by ingredient or by product type.

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Statement by Mike Litt at the U.S. PIRG Education Fund, on the latest announced Yahoo data breach.

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Fight Against Unfair ATM Surcharge Fees Heads to the U.S. Supreme Court (UPDATED) | Michael Landis

UPDATE: I recently wrote about an amicus brief that U.S. PIRG Education Fund filed in support of consumers and independent ATM owners in two consolidated cases pending before the U.S. Supreme Court. Well, those cases aren’t pending anymore. On November 17, 2016, the Court issued a rare order throwing out the cases before they were argued.

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Consumer Advocates Concerned By Court Ruling Overturning Ban on High-Powered Magnets

We've joined leading consumer and pediatrician organizations in a joint news release with a sharp critique of a U.S. appellate court decision overturning a U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission ban on the sale of high-powered small magnets (some as small as BBs) that pose a severe ingestion problem for children and youth. As our Trouble In Toyland report released on November 22 pointed out: "Nearly 80 percent of high-powered magnet ingestions require invasive medical intervention, either through an endoscopy, surgery, or both. In comparison, only 10 to 20 percent of other foreign body ingestions require endoscopic intervention and almost none require surgery."

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Pages

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In response to a tidal wave of unfair marketplace practices, the CFPB asked the public to submit comments on the impact of junk fees on their lives. Some 2,500 comments later, consumers have described the pain points caused by unfair junk fees.

Cover graphic courtesy Student Borrower Protection Center, used by permission

News Release | U.S. PIRG Education Fund

Today, in response to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s (CFPB) request for information (RFI) on harmful “junk fees,” the Student Borrower Protection Center (SBPC) and the U.S. PIRG Education Fund submitted comments exposing how financial service giants and universities are plaguing postsecondary students with unexpected, unavoidable, and hugely expensive charges on a range of financial products.

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Report on issues with "Buy Now, Pay Later" financing plans.

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Even with the knowledge I’ve gained working as a consumer advocate for several years, getting my finances in order has been a work in progress. 

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