Sometimes, renting can be awesome: you don’t have to worry about repairing things when they break; you’re not tied to any one place by a 15- or 30-year mortgage; and your household expenses are much easier to predict than a homeowner’s.
But it’s not all sunshine and roses—and when things get tough, it can be hard to know what to do. Suddenly you might find yourself frantically researching renters’ rights or cursing noisy neighbors while you struggle to sleep.
Here are 5 common frustrations that renters face, and some insight into how to deal with them.
1. Getting Your Landlord to Fix Something
It’s a great advantage not to be responsible for doing any maintenance or repairs yourself, but it’s not so great when you have to hound your landlord for weeks before he comes to take care of things—if he even gets back to you at all.
If it’s causing a safety or habitability issue — like your toilet is clogged to the point of being un-usable — it’s within your rights as a tenant take action.
Depending on the state that you live in, “within your rights” means different things. In some states, this simply means that you have the right to terminate your lease without penalty.
In other states, you have the right to hire a plumber in order to fix the issue immediately, and deduct this from your next rent payment (a process known as “repair-and-deduct.”)
In very limited cases, you may be able to withhold the rent, provided that you’ve given your landlord adequate (state-mandated) notice and, sometimes, that you make your rent payment into an escrow account.
Part of standard renters’ rights is the right to “quiet enjoyment” of the premises. But the laws vary state-by-state with regard to how to define “quiet enjoyment” and what steps renters can take if they lose this. State laws also change frequently, so it’s critical to research your current state laws before taking any action.
Document every attempt you’ve made to contact your landlord and take date-stamped pictures of the issue that needs fixing. Make all of your requests in writing. Research renters’ rights in your state and, if necessary, mail or email a copy of the applicable laws to your landlord to get his attention.
If nothing else works, you may need to consider breaking your lease or taking your landlord to court, but make sure you’ve exhausted all other options first.
2. Annoying Neighbors
From shouting matches that go through the thin walls to pungent cooking smells that fill the hallway, living in close proximity to so many strangers can cause all sorts of problems.
Your first course of action when a neighbor is getting on your nerves is to bring it to their attention politely; it’s quite possible they had no idea you could hear their TV at all hours of the night.
If you’re not comfortable talking to your neighbor in person, you can always slip a (carefully worded) note under their door to respectfully ask for their consideration, signed “your neighbors.”
Consider including a smiley face and a heartfelt “thank you!!”, so the note feels friendly rather than threatening.
If a polite request has failed or you aren’t on good terms with your neighbors, it’s time to take things to the landlord. But bear in mind that some issues are not under his authority, like putting the kibosh on loud, late-night parties.
Other issues, like getting that jerk in 3B to take his clothes out of the washing machine when they’re done, are out of the landlord’s control. If you do your best to resolve the issue and things don’t get better, your best recourse may be to move when your lease expires.
3. Troublesome Roommates
Maybe you need someone to help you split the rent, but the person you chose wound up being a dud. If you didn’t establish some ground rules before moving in together—or you did but your roommate seems to have forgotten them—then have a frank but polite conversation to clarify who pays for what, who is responsible for which chores, and so on.
If your roommate still doesn’t contribute as expected, then you have the choice to move out (if you’re subletting their place), ask them to leave (if they’re subletting yours), or go your separate ways (if you’re both on the lease) once the rental term is up.
Then, next time you’re interviewing potential roommates, make sure to create a roommate agreement outlining things like household responsibilities and rules. Define vague terms like “clean” — does this involve dusting and mopping, or does it simply mean not leaving dishes piled in the sink?
4. Finding Adequate Storage
A small space can still hold a lot of stuff if you know how to make the most of it. Invest in some bins, racks, tension rods, and other organizational goodies to corral clutter and keep it off your floors.
Buy multi-use furniture like a portable kitchen island that can double as prep space, extra seating, or a bar car for parties. Look for pieces with hidden storage, like ottomans that can also store blankets or coffee tables with drawers that pull out.
Once there’s a place for everything, be sure to keep everything in its place with a quick 15-minute tidy-up each night before you go to bed. Clutter automatically makes any room look more crowded.
5. Getting Your Deposit Back
The easiest way to get your full security deposit back is to make sure you leave the property in the same condition it was in when you took occupancy—and that you’re not held responsible for any damage that was there already.
The day you move in, conduct a thorough inspection to make sure everything is working (appliances, faucets, lights, etc.) and that there isn’t any visible damage, like stains on the carpet or marks on the walls.
If there are, make an itemized list of all issues, take photographs, submit everything to your landlord, and keep copies for your own records. Email photographs of all damage to your landlord on the day that you move-in, so that there’s a documented digital trail that you both share.
Before you move-out, return the space to the condition that you received it in. If you’ve inserted any nails or screws into the walls, for example, remove these and apply spackle and paint over the nail hole. If you’ve painted the walls, repaint them back to their original color. If you’ve scuffed the walls, use a MagicEraser to wipe off the marks.
On move-out day, conduct another walk-through of the premises with your landlord. Document the condition of the property at move-out, and take plenty of photos. If the property is in the same condition as it was in during move-in, you will likely get your full deposit back.
And if your landlord illegally withholds your deposit, be sure to check local renters’ rights on recourse may be.
Renting comes with both benefits and drawbacks. You have more flexibility, less responsibility, and you often enjoy lower payments.
On the other hand, you can experience issues like lack of space and storage, annoying roommates and neighbors, or inattentive landlords.
The best way to deal with these issues is through a strong dose of prevention. Move-in and move-out inspections, for example, are a preventative measure that can ward off future problems.
The same is true for written roommate agreements covering your shared understanding about cleaning, noise, or other possible elements of sharing an apartment. The more you can anticipate problems in advance, the better your renting experience will be.