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Posted by attorney Faye Cohen

My Firm has apparently risen to the top of some Internet referral sites offering lawyers' names for landlord/tenant matters, as we have been deluged with calls and e mails about this area of the law in recent months. There appears to be genuine confusion on behalf of both tenants and landlords about the legalities of what they can and can't do, and often this confusion leads to litigation. So, for the purpose of assisting people I am offering the following general tips. The landlord/tenant relationship is not an informal relationship. It is quite often governed by stringent rules and regulations and laws both at the local and state level. Therefore, it is a good idea to enter into a Lease, or at the very least, draft up some sort of written and signed contract as to the duties and responsibilities of each party, and what the remedies are if problems arise within that relationship. Quite often common sense is ignored in the haste to rent a property. The following illustration may appear extreme, but I assure you it is not, as it represents some of the more common situations we are presented with: Two girlfriends attending college leased a furnished house. The boyfriend of one of the tenants was going to move in with them temporarily, but he didn't plan to pay rent as he was only going to stay for a short while, and his name wasn't on the lease. They learned about the availability of the house because they saw a "for rent" sign posted with a number. A man who answered the phone walked them through the house, said he was the agent for the landlord who lived out of town, and that all rental payments were to be made payable to him and sent to a post office box. As they walked through the house, they noticed a lot of stuff piled in it, which the agent said would be removed before they moved in. They also noticed a couple of cracked windows, a loose door handle which made it difficult to lock the door, a sink that didn't drain properly, and a water stain on a bedroom ceiling. They didn't have a lawyer, or even a parent, review the lease the landlord's agent prepared because they trusted him as he seemed like a nice young guy. They didn't take photos of the condition of the house, they didn't have a contractor test the systems (like plumbing or electricity) of the house, and they didn't add to the lease the things the agent said he would take care of. The agent said they could get a pet, but that didn't have to be mentioned in the lease. After their check cleared for the first month' rent, the last month's rent, and one month's security deposit, the agent left a key for them under front door mat. This is what happened after they moved in. After the first two weeks the roommate with the boyfriend had a fight with him and moved out. She told her roommate that she wasn't going to pay rent for future months, and her roommate could sue her, but she wasn't going to get anything as she didn't have any money, and the deposit monies were loans from her parents. Her boyfriend stated that he planned to stay longer than he had anticipated, but he couldn't pay rent as he was living off of student loans. Besides he said he had "squatter's rights" and she could try and evict him, but he wasn't leaving voluntarily. He also permitted a friend to share his room with him and pay him rent to assist with his expenses. The friend brought a puppy into the house which wasn't housebroken. The remaining paying tenant noticed that none of the repairs had been made, but some of the stuff in the house had been moved into a corner of the basement. The tenant contacted the agent several times who insisted that the repairs were going to be made but didn't have a timeframe. After 3 months of paying the rent herself the tenant decided to withhold rent and was told that she had to "escrow" her rent in a specific manner. She began to escrow her rent, but nothing changed. In the fifth month a man came to the door and stated he had been out of town on business for six months, and when he tried his key he noticed he was locked out. He stated he never had an agent, and the house had never been available for rent. He asked to see a copy of the rental license the city required of the landlord, and the tenant said she had never been shown one. The owner said the cracked windows and other problems were caused by the tenant, and also, the dog had stained all of the carpets and he wanted all repairs made, or he would sue the tenant remaining on the lease. The moral of this story is cross your t's and dot your i's and be very careful when entering into a lease. Make sure the property is owned by the person renting it, make sure the agent is authorized to rent it, make sure the repairs are completed before you move in, make sure you don't let friends or relatives occupy the property for any length of time, make sure the list of repairs are noted on the lease and marked off when completed, and...., you get the picture. Landlords and tenants alike need to protect themselves.

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