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Focus on the law: Tips for Tenants

By Sharon Frankenberg,
Attorney at Law

In last week’s column, I focused on tips for landlords. This week I would like to focus on tips to prevent common mistakes made on the tenant’s side of a lease transaction.
Before you decide to rent, evaluate the unit’s location carefully. Is the neighborhood safe? Do you have access to transportation? Check the condition of the property carefully. Do the appliances work? Is there standing water anywhere inside? What kind of heating and cooling does the home have and does it work? If the unit is dirty and broken, that is a bad sign. Conditions are unlikely to improve after you have signed a lease and paid your money. If, however, the landlord does promise to do certain repairs or improvements after you move in, have him or her write that into the lease agreement. Your lease agreement should be signed by both parties. Insist on getting a copy of your signed lease agreement.
If your unit needs repairs during the term of your lease, you should insist that problems be fixed in a timely manner. Problems that affect the quality of life in your unit must be fixed by the landlord. This includes things like heat, water, electricity and safety issues. You should document when repairs are requested and the response made to your requests. Also it is a good idea to discuss when any needed repairs will be completed and how that will impact your use of your unit.
As I recommended to landlords last week, tenants document the condition of the residence as well. You should take date-stamped photographs that show any existing damage when you moved in. When you move out, the landlord must schedule a final property inspection. Any alleged damage should be listed and signed by both landlord and tenants. If any damage to items is disputed, these disputes should be noted. You must be able to show what condition you left the property in and how much it cost to perform any necessary repairs to the property. Good documentation often provides the proof you need to win your case.
Do not forget to purchase renters’ insurance. It is usually very inexpensive. In the event of theft or covered damage (like a fire), this type of insurance protects your belongings. The landlord’s policy will not cover your losses. Also, if someone sues you for injuries which may have occurred in your unit and sues you alleging negligence on your part, renters’ insurance may cover you.
Obviously, this article does not cover every issue which might arise. Contact an attorney to get advice and assistance with your unique situation.

Sharon Frankenberg is an experienced attorney licensed in Tennessee since 1988. She is a sole practitioner who handles foreclosures, landlord-tenant, probate, collections and general civil matters. She represents Social Security disability claimants and represents creditors in bankruptcy proceedings. Her office is in Knoxville and she may be reached at (865)539-2100.

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