Previous Rental Resource columns have addressed landlord obligations and how tenants may choose to exercise their rights in certain situation.
To round things out, it’s important to note the aspects for which tenants are responsible, both under the law and as part of their lease agreements.
Paying the rent and any assigned utilities should always be a tenant’s first priority. Failure to pay the rent and/or utility costs on time may result in an eviction — a scenario best avoided for preserving the ability to find a rental home in the future.
If rent is paid after the due date, be prepared to pay late fees. Informing the landlord in advance that rent will be late, and when you can pay, can go a long way toward mitigating late fees and maintaining a level of trust.
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After the rent, the next most important responsibility is keeping the unit in good condition. Even the most affordable of rentals are worth the value of a high-end luxury vehicle, and the responsibility of maintaining that asset shouldn’t be taken lightly.
The proper use of safety devices and appliances supplied in the rental unit, responsibility of having a pet in the unit, and reporting damages in the unit all fall on the shoulders of the tenant. Ensuring that all items supplied are working properly is the first step toward alleviating costs to repair damage or replace items.
It is also the tenant’s legal responsibility to periodically check and maintain smoke and carbon-monoxide detectors, including battery replacement after move-in.
Bringing a pet into a rental unit introduces new responsibilities, and can add costs for a tenant. Before adding a pet, read the pet policy carefully and ask if there are any additional fees.
Any damages that occur to the unit and are not fixed by the end of the tenancy will be charged to the tenant and taken out of the security deposit. Notifying the landlord of damages up front can, in some cases, allow for negotiations.
Of course, tenant responsibilities don’t begin and end with keeping the unit in good shape. Adherence to lease terms related to guests, noise and behavior, and criminal activity are the first things a landlord will considered when it comes time to renew a lease.
Most leases require landlord approval before adding or removing tenants, so always approach the landlord first in such circumstances. Guest clauses may allow a person to stay for shorter periods of time, but there are usually rules for how long, so read your lease. Tenants are always responsible for the actions of their guests.
Respect for the property extends to respect for other tenants and neighbors, as well. In multi-family-living environments, one will inevitably hear his or her neighbor on occasion, but care should be taken not to unduly disturb others.
Noise issues can grow into more serious disputes, and attempts should be made to resolve those issues among tenants. Ultimately, a complaint to the landlord may be necessary to keep a problem from escalating.
When a tenant decides that it’s time to move on, proper notice of termination must be provided in writing to the landlord.
Sean Martin is the director of external affairs of the Rental Housing Association of Washington, a not-for-profit association of more than 5,000 landlord members statewide. Rental Resource is the organization’s biweekly column. For more information for landlords or tenants, visit rhawa.org.