- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 15, 2007

Renting a home — apartment, condominium, town house or single-family — is the first

real estate transaction for many residents. About one third of residents in the United States are tenants.

The lease lays out the responsibilities and rights of both the landlord and the tenant. Even though a landlord owns the property, some of his rights to the property are limited once the house is rented to another person. While he may have the right to enter the property as the owner, for instance, it’s not at will. Most leases spell out how the landlord may gain access to the house.

The lease will list each party’s responsibilities according to the agreement. Leases may differ according to specific limits and requirements in the law by state and locality.

The lease stipulates how the landlord and tenant are going to carry on their relationship. There are paragraphs for lease term, late payment and returned checks, failure to pay rent and appointment of resident agent by nonresident landlord.

The tenant should pay close attention to two paragraphs in particular: the landlord maintenance paragraph and the tenant obligations paragraph. These might be named differently in different jurisdictions, but the thrust of these sections is standard on most leases.

The landlord maintenance clause makes it clear that the landlord is to keep the property in good repair and “tenantable” condition. That means the landlord is obliged to keep the appliances working, plumbing flowing and electricity safe.

The tenant obligations clause stipulates that, while the landlord is there to keep the house tenantable, the tenant is supposed to take care of daily routine matters such as using appliances as directed, furnishing and replacing light bulbs, maintaining caulk around tubs and showers and promptly reporting, in writing, any defects, damage or breakage.

If a tenant duly notifies the landlord and the landlord doesn’t fix it, there may be — emphasizing, may be — opportunity for the tenant to perform repairs and deduct the cost from the rent, following state regulations to accomplish this within the law.

The experts at FindLaw.com say the law “permits the tenant to hire someone to make essential repairs and then to deduct the cost from the rent. In many places, state or local law covers only repairs that are required to keep the premises habitable, such as repair of a broken furnace or leaking roof.”

The Web site continues: “Local laws may place a maximum dollar amount that the tenant can spend on repairs.”

FindLaw.com and other tenant-landlord sites point out that before the tenant goes out, paints the condo, and submits reduced rent payments to the landlord, he or she must first discuss the arrangement with the landlord and get written approval to do so.

I’ve approved reduction in rent before when a tenant would get something fixed that was necessary. It was usually in the under-$100 range. Nevertheless, the tenant would call first to see if it would be agreeable to authorize a repair and then deduct the agreed-upon amount from the following month’s rent.

If you’re having issues with your landlord and the upkeep of the unit, always get things in writing.

It works best to first discuss the arrangement and then seal it with a letter of agreement between the tenant and the landlord. The written word provides you with evidence of the agreement and prevents misunderstandings.

And, always, when in doubt, consult an attorney to protect your rights.

On the Web:

• http://Tenant.net — Forums and advice, based mostly in New York City.

• http://Realestate.findlaw.com— A search engine for landlord-tenant topics.

• http://real-estate-law.freeadvice.com/ — Sample documents and legal advice.

• www.hud.gov/renting/ tenantrights.cfm — A state-by-state guide to renter’s rights.

M. Anthony Carr has written about real estate since 1989. He is the author of “Real Estate Investing Made Simple” and contributing author to Donald Trump’s “The Best Real Estate Advice I Ever Received.” Post questions or comments at his Web log (http://commonsenserealestate.blogspot.com).

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