I’ll try to put here some useful or somewhat useful articles I find about rental housing/apartment living. We’re all in this together! (some bylines are not given due to hyperlink-formatting issues–will aim to correct soon)
From Jennifer Lai,
Your Guide to Apartment Living / Rental.
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Q. How to Legally Break a Lease
The thing to remember is that an apartment lease is a legally binding contract between the tenant and the landlord. So, breaking a lease is like breaking any contract. There are usually penalties. That doesn’t mean you should never break a lease.
In real life, things come up all the time: you get a new job that’s out of town; you can no longer afford the rent; you’re getting married. We can’t always put our life on hold for a lease. While landlords understand this, it doesn’t negate the fact that you’re ending an agreement. For them, it means finding a new tenant sooner than they expected, and if you give them little notice, having an empty apartment until they find a replacement.
The key to all of this is choosing the best between two unappealing scenarios: stay in the apartment or break the lease. Which is better? Put another way: is the reason you want to break the lease strong enough to you that you’re willing to suffer the penalities?
Before making the decision, you’ll need to know about possible penalties.
Typical Penalties for Breaking a Lease
Many leases specify the penalties for breaking it. The penalties are there to deter tenants from breaking the lease and to compensate the landlord should a tenant decide to go ahead and do it.
Some areas have laws that govern how the breaking of a lease plays out. For example, some places allow tenants to break a lease if they’re moving for a job. And people in the U.S.military have special rights concerning lease termination.
Common penalties include paying rent until the landlord finds a replacement (local laws may require the landlord to make an effort to find one) or loss of security deposit or both. Read the lease to find out what’s been specified in your case and check out rental laws in your area. To do this, you can call a legal aid office or the state department that handles housing issues.
Breaking the Lease
If you decide to break the lease, talk to your landlord and be polite. You may need to use them as a reference in the future, so it’s best not to burn any bridges. If you can help it, give them plenty of notice.
If you’re in a situation where the landlord is justified in penalizing you for breaking the lease, it’s up to him or her whether they actually want to enforce the penalties. If you’re polite and honest about your reasons for leaving (such as moving to another state, getting married, etc.), they may let you out of your lease without any penalties. When doing this, remind them that you’re a good tenant. Also, you could offer to find a replacement yourself, assign the lease or sublet. If they like you as a tenant, they may be happy to receive a recommendation from you for a replacement tenant. If they agree let you out of your lease without any penalties, remember to get it down in writing with both of your signatures. See this sample lease release form.
If the landlord decides to penalize you, I recommend following whatever was laid out in the lease. If you don’t, the landlord could file a lawsuit against you.
Disclaimer: Please note that I am not a lawyer. I always advise that you talk to someone qualified to give legal advice on tenant issues before making any decisions related to the apartment lease or taking any legal actions.
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Alternatives to Breaking a Lease
When You Need to Move Out of Your Apartment Early
From Jennifer Lai,
Your Guide to Apartment Living / Rental.
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There comes a time when you must consider breaking a lease, and there are many reasons for this consideration. You are moving to a new city. You got a new job and want a shorter commute. You can no longer afford the rent. Your neighbors are so abominable that they’re making you miserable. Whatever the reason, remember there are consequences to breaking a lease.
Breaking a lease means you are breaking a binding contract with the landlord. Standard penalties can include losing your security deposit and paying rent until the landlord finds a new tenant. You may also risk a bad reference from you landlord, which will affect your chances of renting a new apartment. Many leases specify the penalties to breaking a lease, so read your lease to see if there is a clause discussing this.
If you’re thinking of breaking a lease, consider these alternatives to avoid the penalties:
1. Sublet your apartment until the end of the lease.
Procedures, regulations, or limitation for carrying out sublets and assignments are sometimes stipulated in the lease as well. For example, the landlord may want to approve any person subletting the apartment.
3. Claim constructive eviction when your landlord has failed to keep your apartment in good living condition.
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Very Low to Moderate Income Housing Loans
The following is a summary of information about an assistance program or grant available to individuals or families through an agency of the U.S. Government. (“CFDA No.” is the program’s listing number in the Catalog of Federal Domestic Assistance.)
CFDA No. 10.410 VERY LOW TO MODERATE INCOME HOUSING LOANS
CATEGORY: Housing Assistance
To assist very low, low-income, and moderate-income households to obtain modest, decent, safe, and sanitary housing for use as a permanent residence in rural areas.
TYPES OF ASSISTANCE
Direct Loans; Guaranteed/Insured Loans.
USES AND USE RESTRICTIONS
Direct and guaranteed loans may be used to buy, build, or improve the applicant’s permanent residence. New manufactured homes may be financed when they are on a permanent site, purchased from an approved dealer or contractor, and meet certain other requirements. Under very limited circumstances, homes may be re-financed with direct loans. Dwellings financed must be modest, decent, safe, and sanitary. The value of a home financed with a direct loan may not exceed the area limit. The property must be located in an eligible rural area. Assistance is available in the States, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Guam, American Samoa, the Commonwealth of Northern Mariana’s, and the Trust Territories of the Pacific Islands. Direct loans are made at the interest rate specified in RD Instruction 440.1, Exhibit B (available in any Rural Development local office), and are repaid over 33 years or 38 years for applicants whose adjusted annual income does not exceed 60 percent of the area median income, if necessary to show repayment ability. Payment assistance is granted on direct loans to reduce the installment to an “effective interest rate” as low as one percent, depending on adjusted family income. Payment assistance is subject to recapture by the government when the customer no longer resides in the dwelling. There is no funding provided for deferred mortgage authority or loans for deferred mortgage assumptions. Guaranteed loans may be made to refinance either existing RHS Guaranteed Housing loans or RHS Section 502 Direct Housing loans. Guaranteed loans are amortized over 30 years. The interest rate is negotiated with the lender.
Applicants must have very low-, low- or moderate incomes. Very low-income is defined as below 50 percent of the area median income (AMI), low-income is between 50 and 80 percent of AMI; moderate income is below 115 percent of AMI. Families must be without adequate housing, but able to afford the housing payments, including principal, interest, taxes, and insurance (PITI). Qualifying repayment ratios are 29 percent for PITI to 41 percent for total debt. In addition, applicants must be unable to obtain credit elsewhere, yet have an acceptable credit history.
Regional or Local Office Consult your local telephone directory under United States Department of Agriculture for Rural Development field office number. If no listing, contact appropriate Rural Development State Office listed in Appendix IV of the Catalog or on the internet at http://www.rurdev.usda.gov/recd_map.html.
Headquarters Office Director, Single Family Housing Direct Loan Division or Director Single Family Housing Guaranteed Loan Division, Rural Housing Service (RHS), Department of Agriculture, Washington, DC 20250. Telephone: (202) 720-1474 (direct loans), (202) 720-1452 (guaranteed loans).
Web Site Address http://www.rurdev.usda.gov.
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Renter’s Letter of Employment
Some landlords will require a letter of employment from your employer as proof of employment. Letters of employment must include your position, salary, and length of employment. Below is a letter that can be presented to your employer.
(Print on Company Letterhead)
To whom it may concern:
This letter is to confirm that (employee’s name) has been employed by (company name) since (date) as a (job title). (Employee’s name) receives a salary of (dollar amount), which is paid (weekly, monthly, etc.), and a bonus of (dollar amount), which is paid (annually, bi-annually, etc). She currently works (number of hours, if paid by the hour) a week.
If you have any further questions, please call me at (phone number).
Employer’s job title)
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Eligibility – Determine Whether You Meet the Requirements for Low Income Housing
There are three criteria that must be met to be eligible for public housing. They are:
- Annual gross income. The public housing program is available for those who meet the income requirements set by HUD. HUD has two categories: lower income and very low income. The income limit for lower income is 80% of the median income for the county or metropolitan area where you want to live. For very low income, the income limit is 50% of the median income. The median incomes are adjusted to match the size of your family. Because the limits are based on the median income of any given area, you could be eligible in one area and not another.
- Considered elderly, disabled or a family under the program’s guidelines.
- Citizenship or eligible immigration status. At least one person in the household must be a U.S. citizen or an eligible immigrant.
Based on information provided by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development
Updated April 25, 2006
- Locating Your Local Housing Authority
- Eligibility – Determine Whether You Meet the Requirements for Low Income Housing
- Submitting the Low Income Housing Application
- Notification on Acceptance or Rejection of the Application
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Look for signs of potential problems
By Kate Kemp
While examining a potential apartment, it’s important to listen while you look. You don’t want to discover your noisy environment after you’ve already signed the lease. Follow this advice to make sure the apartment is the right one.
Visit the apartment at different times in the day
Just because the complex is peaceful at one in the afternoon doesn’t mean it will be at three when the kids get home from school, or at nine when the parties next door begin. It’s a good idea to look at your apartment at different times and on different days of the week before you sign the lease.
Don’t be afraid to ask around
You might enjoy loud get-togethers every night, but if you are more of the stay-at-home type, you need to make sure that the lovely patio next door isn’t filled with fifty college students every night. You might be moving next door to where the “cool kids” go. Don’t be afraid to ask your potential neighbors where the parties typically are. If they’re frustrated, they’ll be happy to unload their woes on you. If you feel awkward asking people you don’t know, just think how much worse you would feel if you moved in without asking, and were kept up every night until five am by the deafening bass, laughing voices and clinking bottles on the patio next door. It’s worth asking.
Can you hear footsteps or voices?
A common complaint from downstairs apartment dwellers is the noise from the upstairs neighbors. Without good carpeting and padding, the downstairs neighbors can hear footsteps and voices through the ceiling. Double check that the quality of the carpet is decent. This can be a major soundproofing tool. Ask what is underneath the carpet. Ideally, it should be on top of a relatively thick pad. Not only will this absorb up to fifty percent of airborne noise, but it provides much better insulation (cutting down on the electric bill).
Some apartments give you the option of renting their carpet or purchasing your own. If you are given this option, you’re probably better off purchasing your own. Most carpet companies will sell posh carpeting remnants – leftovers from bigger carpeting jobs – at a fraction of the original cost. For small apartments, this is ideal.
Is the apartment located … near a stairwell or elevator?
Late at night, footsteps echoing off of a metal stairwell, or the ding of the elevator can be startling, not to mention incredibly irritating.
Right next to the front gate?
A friend of mine lived in a downstairs apartment near the front gate. At all hours of the night headlights would shine straight into the bedroom, and the noise of the electric gate was almost unbearable.
By the pool, or rec center?
This may be convenient or a nuisance depending on your personality type. Just keep in mind that there will always be people around your apartment.
Near a train track or airport?
In order to avoid the deafening roar of a landing airplane or the piercing scream of a train whistle, experts recommend you live no closer than 20 miles to these places.
Close to a fire or police station?
About six months ago, a fire station was built at the end of my street. I’m a heavy sleeper, so it never bothered me. I actually sleep better knowing I’m that close to safety! However, other people have complained that they wake with every siren.
Look at the apartment floor plan
You might only be worried about where your iron table will fit or where that Waterhouse painting will look best, and not looking at the overall set up. Do the washer and dryer share a wall with the bedroom? Is the sliding door to the patio on the same wall as where your headboard will be? If you are sharing the apartment with roommates, this could pose a problem. You’ll also want to check to see that doors and windows fit snugly in their frames. This will cut down on noise allowed into and out of the rooms.
Use this advice to find a comfortable apartment. Once you’ve found one that you think meets most of your criteria, you might consider purchasing low noise appliances to move in with. Some products now bear the “low noise certification” stamp. This is great for people moving into smaller apartments. While we can’t avoid noise pollution, we can reduce it.
Ten Tips Every Tenant Needs to Know
The way to win over a future landlord? Be prepared
Here are 10 tips to help you be prepared in case disputes occur with a landlord:
1. The best way to win over a prospective landlord is to be prepared. Bringing the following information when you meet prospective landlords will give you a competitive edge over other applicants: a completed rental application; written references from landlords and employers; friends and colleagues, and a current copy of your credit report.
2. Carefully review all the important conditions of the tenancy before you sign on the dotted line. Your lease or rental agreement may contain a provision that you find unacceptable — for example, restrictions on guests or pets, design alterations or running a home business.
3. To avoid disputes or misunderstandings with your landlord, get it in writing. Keep copies of any correspondence and follow up an oral agreement with a letter, setting out your understanding. For example, if you ask your landlord to make repairs, put your request in writing and keep a copy for yourself. If he agrees orally, send a letter confirming this fact.
4. Protect your privacy rights. Next to disputes over rent or security deposits, one of the most common and emotion-filled misunderstandings arises over a landlord’s right to enter a rental unit and a tenant’s right to be left alone. If you understand your privacy rights, for example, the amount of notice your landlord must provide before entering — it will be easier to protect them.
5. Know your rights to live in a habitable rental unit — and don’t give them up. Landlords are required to offer their tenants livable premises including adequate weatherproofing; heat, water and electricity; and clean, sanitary and structurally safe premises. If your rental unit is not kept in good repair, you have a number of options ranging from withholding a portion of the rent to pay for repairs to calling the building inspector (who can usually order the landlord to make repairs) to moving out without liability for your future rent.
6. Keep communication open with your landlord. If there’s a problem — for example, if the landlord is slow to make repairs — talk with the landlord to see if the issue can be resolved short of a nasty legal battle.
7. Purchase renters’ insurance to cover your valuables. Your landlord’s insurance policy will not cover your losses. Renters’ insurance typically costs $350 a year for a $50,000 policy that covers loss due to theft or damage caused by other people or natural disasters.
8. Make sure the security deposit refund procedures are spelled out in your lease or rental agreement. To protect yourself and avoid any misunderstandings, make sure your lease or rental agreement is clear on the use and refund of security deposits, including allowable deductions.
9. Learn whether your building and neighborhood are safe, and what you can expect your landlord to do about it if they aren’t. Get copies of any state or local laws that require safety devices such as deadbolts and window locks, check out the property’s vulnerability to intrusion by a criminal, and learn whether criminal incidents have already occurred. If a crime is highly likely, your landlord may be obligated to take some steps to protect you.
10. Know when to fight an eviction notice–and when to move. Unless you have the law and provable facts on your side, fighting an eviction notice is usually short-sighted. If you lose an eviction lawsuit, you may end up hundreds (even thousands) of dollars in debt and face a negative credit rating.
What are your rights when the volume is too high?
By Courtney Ronan
Anyone who has ever lived in an apartment can relate to the scenario: You’re lying in bed late on a Sunday night, attempting to catch a few good Zs before the Monday morning rat race begins. Just as your eyelids begin to feel heavy, and you begin to drift into that wonderful state of almost-sleep, the thud of bass jars you into a state of wide-awakeness.
Sitting up in bed, eyes half-mast in a state of nervous disorientation, you ask yourself what that racket is, and then it hits you … it’s that neighbor who moved into the downstairs apartment two weeks ago. She’s at the beginning of what will be an almost-nightly ritual of blaring music and thudding bass.
You try your best to block it out, but you feel your floor vibrating as the beat runs through your head. The longer you listen, the more resentful you become. Three hours later, you’re still awake, stewing and plotting your revenge.
And before anyone gets excited, let me stress that revenge is never an option. Going that route is likely to provoke your neighbor into blaring his or her music that much louder (or resorting to nastier tactics). True, it’s extremely difficult to resist the urge to stomp downstairs and yell (something unprintable in this story) at your noisy neighbor.
But if you’re smart and play your cards right (in other words, deliberately and wisely), you’ll have a much better chance of emerging from this situation as a victor.
Noisy neighbors are a nationwide epidemic. They’re everywhere. In fact, a multitude of Web sites are devoted to this subject. Many renters and even homeowners use the Web to vent their frustration revenge fantasies, and to offer sound advice (no pun intended) to fellow renters and homeowners experiencing similar afflictions.
In short, if you’re dealing with a noisy neighbor, a good portion of America feels your pain. And there are measures you can take to bring some peace back into your home.
For homeowners, the first step is to talk to your neighbor if you can maintain your composure. While it might seem beyond your comprehension, some people are actually clueless as to the kind of noise they’re creating — probably because you’re so quiet, and they’ve never heard a peep from upstairs. Some buildings have thicker walls than others, so there’s a good possibility that once you explain your situation to your neighbor, he or she will comply with your wishes.
If the problem continues, obtain a copy of the noise laws in your community. Your local city hall or public library can help you locate this information. Most cities have specific criteria outlining particular hours during which noise may not exceed a certain amount of decibels. Violators of these regulations may face a warning for the first violation and stiff fines for any subsequent violations.
Once you’ve gotten a copy of your local ordinance in hand and have determined that your neighbor has violated it, write him or her a last-chance letter (and keep a copy for your own records) to rectify the problem. Remain polite, but state matter-of-factly that if he or she fails to turn down the noise, you’ll have to notify the police. Enclose a copy of your local noise law as “back-up.”
Any neighbor (and I use that term loosely) who continues to make a racket after the above-listed suggestions is pushing his or her luck. But if that’s the case, open your Yellow Pages and find yourself a good mediator.
Mediators specialize in listening to both sides of a dispute and objectively attempting to reach a resolution for the parties. Don’t tell your annoying neighbor about your plans first; call a mediation service and let them make the phone call to your neighbor. The official nature of that call brings officiality to the meeting (besides, you might lose your cool if you make the call) and makes it much less likely that the neighbor will try to “weasel” out of it.
Your two last resorts: calling the police (with any luck, they’ll arrive as the nuisance is in progress) and suing your noisy neighbor in small claims court. Calling the police is most effective when you’ve reached the point where the noise has continued for a long period of time, and you’ve tried unsuccessfully to resolve the problem yourself.
If you head to court, you’ll have to prove that you’ve had to endure excessive and prolonged noise, that you’ve asked the neighbor to stop and he or she refused, and that you’ve suffered as a result (in terms of lost sleep and the ability to enjoy your home environment). If you’ve called the police in the past, bring any documentation as evidence. If other neighbors have complained about the same resident, ask them if they’ll serve as witnesses.
If you’re an apartment-dweller, you could find recourse in your lease. Locate your copy, and find out if the lease contains verbiage about noise. A neighbor in violation of that clause could be evicted. When you reach the point of writing your noisy neighbor a letter, include a copy of the lease with the noise clause circled.
Warn your neighbor politely but directly that if the problem continues, you’ll notify the landlord. If it comes to that, talk with other neighbors who share walls with the nuisance or who live within earshot. Does the noise bother them, as well? If so, there’s power in numbers.
Arrange a meeting with your landlord. A complaint from multiple tenants carries a lot of weight. Any landlord would be concerned about losing tenants and revenue due to the inconsiderate behavior of one. Your landlord is much more likely to confront the noisy neighbor — or even evict him or her — if a group of neighbors complained about excessive noise.
So keep your cool, and plan your strategy. Remember: If you maintain your composure, you’ll come across as the reasonable party in this dispute … and increase your chances of regaining a little peace and quiet (and perhaps even a few Zs).
By Jennifer Lai
Sublets, a.k.a. subleases, are perfect for those who need an apartment temporarily. Often, they come furnished, which makes moving a breeze. Sublets become available for many reasons: a roommate has moved out; the tenants are students who will be gone for the summer; or the tenant will be traveling for several months.
Subleases are easier to find in cities and near universities. So, if you need an apartment for less than a year–or even six months–look into subletting an apartment.
Time Required: Start early, at least three months before you need the sublet, preferably four to five months
- Figure out how long you’ll need to sublease the apartment.
- Get an idea of where you want to live. Do you need to live near public transportation? Which neighborhoods interest you? Begin forming in your mind what you need. This will help you search and ask the neccessary questions.
- Research the typical rent amount online by looking at current postings. You can then begin budgeting how much you might have to pay.
- Based on this research, come up with the preferred amount of rent and maximum amount you can afford to pay for the sublet. It’s always a good idea to go in knowing what your limits are to avoid overspending.
- Go to a site, like Craigslist, where postings are frequently added and removed. Watch how many postings are made each day and how quickly they leave. This will give you an idea of how much time you’ll need to find the sublet. If you’re looking for a space for the summer, know that students often post for sublets starting in early spring up until the last minute (though your choices may be limited if you wait until the last minute, too).Another site to check out is Sublet.com.
- Once you’ve determined what you want, and postings for the time period you’re looking for start appearing, begin regularly checking sublet postings online and telephoning or e-mailing the poster. If you live in a large city, where roommates move out year-round and people need to fill those rooms, your chances of finding a sublease will increase.
- Check sublet postings through universities. College students sublet apartments when they leave for the summer or during the year to study abroad. Call the residential office and ask them the best way to find out about available sublets.
- Telephone or e-mail the person to arrange a time to view the sublet. If you’re looking in another city, consider setting aside a week to visit and view different subleases. If this is not feasible, ask a friend in the area to check out the apartment and meet the sublessor. Don’t know anyone in the area? You can still learn a lot through a phone interview and ask them to e-mail you pictures of the place.
- When viewing sublets, ask about:
- the move-in and move-out dates
- cost of utilities
- Be more flexible about the criteria for choosing sublets than you would be for year-long apartment leases. Finding a sublet that is available during the dates you need is hard enough. Unless you’re looking in an area teeming with sublets, you should consider these as the most important criteria:
- duration of the sublet
- rent amount
- safety of the neighborhood
- furniture availability
- Ask whether there is a security deposit and contract that you will need to sign.
- You may have to find more than one sublet, if the dates don’t match what you need.
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Top Provisos to Watch Out for in an Apartment Lease
by Jennifer Lai
In Rapunzel, while pregnant with her, Rapunzel’s mother craved rapunzel. So the husband stole some from the garden of the witch next door. When caught, he agreed to give her his unborn daughter. Sometimes, signing an apartment lease feels like you’re Rapunzel’s father, signing away an unborn child — you have little bargaining power and may be agreeing to unknown conditions (assuming her father didn’t know she’d be imprisoned in a tower). Avoid finding yourself in a similar situation by researching alternative living options in case a lease falls through. Also be on the lookout for the following:
1. The Monthly Due Date for Rent Checks
I highly recommend knowing when your landlord expects to receive your rent check. Timely payments ensure a favorable impression — something which you may need in the future if you apply to an apartment that requires references from previous landlords. It’s also a good idea to know the due date, so you can avoid —
2. Penalties for Late or Missed Rent
[p]I once had a landlord who insisted that, if his tenants were late on rent even once — or if the check bounced — all subsequent rent payments would have to be made with certified checks. This would mean a trip to the bank every month and the bank’s fee for issuing the check.[/p] [p]Fortunately, my roommate and I caught this in the fine print prior to signing and persuaded him to change the proviso to two late payments before dropping the axe, so to speak.[/p] [p]You, too, should take note of the penalties for missed and late rent. Is there a fee? Will they report you to the credit bureau? Also, is there a grace period? [/p]
3. How to Break the Lease
Sometimes and oftentimes unexpectedly, we need to break the lease. So, always be on the lookout for the clause in the lease that explains any penalties for breaking the lease. Be wary of any conditions that require you to pay rent until the landlord finds a replacement. If your lease has this clause, be sure to find out if your state requires landlords to make all efforts to find a new tenant. And if they don’t, you’ll definitely want to know what limitations, if any, there are to [link url=http://apartments.about.com/od/glossary/g/subleasingDef.htm]subletting[/link].
Don’t assume that you’re allowed to sublet freely to anyone you want. The building belongs to the landlord, so it’s ultimately up to him or her whether their tenants can sublease the unit to a third party. If you think you may want to sublet in the next year, then be sure to find out if you’re allowed to.
5. Unusual Fees
Some landlords charge fees for special circumstances or the use of building facilities. There are pet fees, key deposits, gym fees and parking garage fees. So your budget doesn’t start blowing up, I recommend finding out about these beforehand and questioning any that seem unreasonable to you.
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