How to Talk to Your Landlord: Know Basic Renter Rights

Posted by Pekin Insurance on Oct 26, 2015

Learning how to talk to your landlord with tact starts with a firm knowledge of your renter rights and good communication skills

Learning how to talk to your landlord with professionalism starts with a firm knowledge of your renter rights and good communication skills

At last, the time has come: you're looking to move into an apartment. No more dorm rooms, no more crowded suites, no more living at home—you're flying the coop once and for all. Feeling the keys drop in your hand for the first time is a memorable experience; one chapter of adulthood ends, and another one begins at that moment. You have responsibilities now—a space to take care of, bills to pay, and professional relationships to maintain.

Before you begin the process of searching for an apartment, you'll want to learn how to talk to your landlord like the responsible adult you are. A large part of presenting yourself with professionalism is demonstrating your knowledge of renter rights and having a solid grasp of what's expected of both parties. If your landlord is attentive and responsive, they will be impressed; if your landlord is lazy and neglectful, they will know you mean business. Either way, it works in your favor.

In this post, we've outlined a guide on how to talk to your landlord with confidence and professionalism. The process begins with learning your basic tenant rights, developing good communication skills, and knowing how to keep a landlord happy. As a young adult, establishing confidence right off the bat will put you ahead of the many others looking to rent that dream apartment you've been eyeing. 

A simple guide on how to talk to your landlord in every phase of the rental process 

Before we begin, please note that renter rights can differ from state to state in the U.S. Although many states have similar regulations, it's worth researching the particulars of your state-level rights by visiting the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development website. Below, we've broken down the relationship process with your landlord into three sections: signing the lease, living at the residence, and moving out. Each section is detailed with renter's rights you should know and general advice that will inform you on how to talk to your landlord more effectively. 

Phase one: signing the lease 

Once you find a promising apartment, place extra care on how you present yourself to the landlord. Property owners are looking to find responsible tenants, so dress appropriately when you meet and make sure to ask good questions. For instance, ask about the average utility costs in winter months, who your neighbors will be and what they do, what repairs need to be done before moving in, etc. Also, be honest and straight forward about your credit history, job history, and current employment situation. It never helps to get caught in a lie, and more landlords today are willing to work with imperfect credit scores, as long as your explanation is reasonable.

Most importantly, be sure to go over the lease on your own and with your landlord before signing. Ask them to explain fully any details you might not understand, and be sure to check any questionable sections with a credible source. Give yourself a day to analyze the text and receive a second opinion. Also, if any promises were made to fix certain amenities or damages before your move in date (or after), make sure to add that language to the lease. A binding contract will better guarantee timely service and satisfaction.

A few renter rights to keep in mind during this initial process (may vary depending on your location): 

  • It is illegal to be denied an apartment application because of race, ethnicity, national origin, sex, marital status, sexual orientation, or religion. 
  • You have a right to a habitable and safe environment with running water, working electricity, and heat. That includes a sufficient amount of smoke detectors, too. 
  • It is illegal for landlords to require additional upfront costs other than what your state laws. Most states allow landlords to ask for first month's rent and security deposit at the signing of the lease. Some allow them to ask for first month's rent, last month's rent, and security.
  • In most states, it is the landlord's responsibility to pay for running water to the apartment. This does not include heated water. 

Phase two: living at the residence 

After you move in, it's typical that day-to-day contact with your landlord won't be necessary. If an issue does come up, follow the agreed upon lines of communication to get in touch. If your landlord stated (or included within the lease) that he or she requires to be contacted primarily through email, unless in case of emergency, then respect those terms. Plus, it's better to have all your correspondences in writing in case a liability issue was to happen in the future.

If they do not respond to you within a few days, forward the same email again and wait another day before calling them. Of course, a time-sensitive issue should be handled over the phone. Keep in mind that small requests can quickly annoy your landlord or property manager. If a light bulb goes out, take it upon yourself to replace it. If your dishwasher is clogged up, at least try to fix the problem yourself before contacting your landlord.

Additional renter rights to know while you are living in the apartment (once again, may vary depending on where you reside): 

  • Your landlord must give you reasonable notice time before entering the apartment, whether you are present for the visit or not. This is required except in cases of emergencies. 
  • Under Federal Law, your rental housing must be free of lead-based paint. Paint dust can negatively affect people of all ages and pets, but it's most dangerous to children. 
  • Your landlord cannot require a security deposit that exceeds the limits set by your state's laws. 

Phase three: moving out 

As your lease is coming to an end, you may be required to notify your landlord of whether you plan to renew one month prior to your last day. Once again, send your official notices or requests by email or regular mail. You want to have all your correspondences documented in case a discrepancy happens down the line. Though it may not be necessary, it's always a good idea to give the apartment a thorough cleaning after you've removed all your items from inside. A good reference can help you land your next lease agreement.

It's likely that your landlord will be scheduling apartment viewings during the last month of your stay if you decided not to renew your lease. Remember: they must give prior notice when they plan on showing the apartment. If the landlord shows up at your door with two strangers without telling you in advance, you have every right to turn them away. If your landlord does not return the full security deposit you gave them, they are required to give you an itemized list of how the money was spent on repairs or other issues.

Overall, keep it professional and courteous 

For first-time renters, the steps above will give you a good idea of what you need to know during the main stages of your tenancy. Experience is truly the best teacher, but sticking to a strictly professional relationship and knowing your basic renter rights will help you figure out how to talk to your landlord at the beginning.

If you are renting your first apartment, consider renter’s insurance to protect yourself from theft, damage, and other emergencies. Find out how it works.


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