Tenants: Keep Your Landlord in Check

how to keep your landlord in checkThe landlord tenant relationship is a notoriously difficult one. More often than not, it's an unbalanced struggle of power. But there are measures that tenants can take to keep the peace at home.

shouldn't live in a place that barely passes code, but rather a place of comfort and safety lasting more than a 12 month lease. With 2011 in motion, here are a few details worth battling with your landlord before their apathy, laziness and frugality drives you to seek the next rental.

1. Know that you deserve to live in a habitable property that is properly repaired.
Be aware of your "implied" warranty of habitability. It's in your lease and it requires the landlord to keep the apartment in a habitable condition, says Michael Kozek, a real estate attorney with Jeffrey S. Ween & Associates in New York.

"If there is a condition in the apartment that requires repair, the tenant should inform her landlord of it, and request a repair," says Kozek. "If the landlord refuses, the tenant (in this case a New York tenant) should
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contact the New York State Department of Housing Preservation and Development, which oversees housing standards, by dialing 311 and lodging a complaint.

HPD will send an inspector to inspect the complained-of condition. If the inspector issues a violation, the landlord is required to repair the condition within a certain time frame, and will be subject to civil penalties if it does not comply." Apply this chain of command depending on what city or state rules apply.

2. Use the free resources that cities and states afford to tenants.
As difficult as landlords can be, take comfort in knowing that as a tenant, there are a bevy free resources available. Many cities have websites dedicated to housing issues, and provide links and forms specifically designed for filing complaints and lawsuits, says Michael Heyse, a trial attorney for the Justice Department in Washington, D.C. Familiarize yourself with them, and use them.

3. Try to keep a stable rent and maintain some control over rent increases even when you don't have a rent-stabilized apartment.
Tenants don't have a lot of leverage when it comes to controlling rent increases, so the best way to keep the rent down, particularly during a recession, is to early on work out a mutually beneficial arrangement between the landlord and tenant for a longer term lease.

"The landlord will usually agree to a lower rent if their rental income is secured for a longer period of time," says Kozek. "The tenant gets the benefit of a lower rent for the longer period, and doesn't have to worry about a rent increase after, say, one year."

4. Always do due diligence in protecting yourself from landlords who unfairly practice security deposit docking.
The best way to protect yourself form any unfair charges is to leave the apartment in the best possible condition upon vacating it. But also important is to take photographs of the apartment in its vacant state.

"Inform the landlord that the photos exist," says Kozek. "A landlord will feel a lot less comfortable about claiming that the apartment was not left in an adequate condition upon vacating if they know that the tenant has evidence that the apartment was in good condition."

5. Don't let the developer cheat you out of a rent-stabilized home.
Be wary of developers who act illegally by taking tax benefits for converting commercial buildings into residential ones, only to fail to submit the converted units to rent stabilization, which is required by law.

"[There are] landlords [who] take these tax benefits, which subsidize their conversions, and then knowingly charge illegal levels of rent to the tenants, who are supposed to be rent stabilized," says Kozek. "There are large formerly commercial buildings, advertised as "luxury rentals," that were converted under the tax benefit programs. The tenants have no idea that they are entitled to rent stabilization or that their landlord is screwing them. The apartments are subject to rent stabilization, the tenants are entitled to any amount that they have been overcharged, and the landlords are potentially subject to severe penalties for their deception."

6. Don't rely on withholding rent as a means to get back at your landlord can backfire.
Oftentimes this type of action ends with a landlord commencing an eviction case against the tenant for failure to pay rent, says Kozek.

7. Represent yourself well in a courtroom, if that's where you end up taking things.
If you've had to take it far enough where you're in a courtroom over your home, don't mess it up now. Arrive early, be prepared to spend all day there, and dress respectfully, says Heyse. You don't want to start off on the wrong foot, when you're in the right.

"The docket will likely say your case starts at 10am; but that's really your case and about 150 others," says Heyse. "In D.C., they run roll call starting about 9 or 9:30. If you miss your name being called, they will dismiss your case; or, if the landlord is suing you for unpaid rent, they will grant a judgment to the landlord."

Want to know how to deal with other rental issues? Here are some AOL Real Estateguides that can help:
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