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Steps tenants can take to protect themselves

As a renter, whether commercial or residential, it can often feel as though you are at the mercy of your landlord, even when he or she is not always reasonable. While this is an understandable feeling, this does not have to be the case in practice. There are a number of steps you can take even before you sign a lease that can help protect your rights as a renter throughout your lease and beyond.

One of the key things you can do to avoid a toxic tenant-landlord relationship is to research your potential landlord before you enter into an agreement with him or her. You may find that other renters have something to say about their experience, either positively or negatively, that may influence your decision. It is also wise to confirm through public records who actually owns the property you intend to rent. If you begin digging and find a number of similar complaints, it may mean that this is not the right lease for you.

But, let's say that you are already in a lease agreement and the relationship is taking a turn for the worse. It is wise in cases like these to consult with an attorney who can help you understand the nuances of tenant rights in your specific area. These kinds of rights can vary wildly from state to state, but also may fluctuate from one city to the next, in some cases. Often, a landlord will use his or her position of authority to claim he or she has rights he or she does not legally have or may claim that you are legally obligated to pay some expense that you are not.

Whatever you do, be sure that you read and understand your lease agreement and obtain renters insurance. Any landlord with an ounce of sense will provide a lease that strongly favors his or her interests, but that does not mean that you have to agree to all the terms. In some cases, the terms may not even be legal, and if you identify some term that does violate your rights, you may successfully have it removed. Also, renters' insurance is very affordable and can take the sting out of many kinds of loss that renters regularly face. A landlord usually cannot insure your belongings, because this creates a conflict of interest.

Source: NBC Local, "5 lies your landlord may tell you," Jana Lynn French, July 05, 2017

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