Apartments causing headaches for some residents, BBB warns

Know your rights and responsibilities as a tenant


 

Apartment complex

Know your rights as a tenant before signing an apartment lease.

Better Business Bureau is advising consumers to be aware of their rights and responsibilities before signing an apartment lease. Apartment complexes are consistently on BBB’s top 25 list of most complained about industries.

Nationally, BBB received more than 8,000 complaints about apartments in 2012. Most allege consumers were billed incorrectly, had difficulty getting their security deposits back or did not get repairs handled in a timely manner.

San Antonio resident Eugene Rodgers said he went for months without working air conditioning while the management at his apartment complex dragged its feet.

“They told me stuff to pretty much get me out of the door, ‘Oh, I’m sorry. I’ll handle it,’” he said. “It’s very difficult to be calm and not talk at people like you’re crazy when it’s 90 degrees in your apartment every night.”

He said since it was his first apartment, he had no idea what he could do about the situation. He threatened to move, but the employees at the complex told him breaking the lease would affect his credit.

“I just kept on going to them and telling them and asking them and pleading with them,” he said. “At first I tried to be really nice, and then I tried to be mean to get it done. And then I would go back to my apartment and nobody would show up. I was kind of at the end of my rope.”

He said eventually a new management company took over, and repaired the air conditioning. However, he continues to have trouble with other repairs.

Samuel Tullos, an Austin resident, said that despite thoroughly cleaning his old apartment — including steam-cleaning the carpets — the complex charged him for a list of repairs and cleaning.

“I didn’t think it was going to be a problem,” he said. “Then I got a bill for $200 saying that I needed to get the carpet cleaned, fill nail holes and normal wear and tear.”

Tullos said he contacted the complex to dispute the charges. Under Texas law, landlords cannot charge repairs needed due to normal wear and tear to a tenant. Tullos said many of the other alleged damages had been there when he moved in — and were noted on his move-in paperwork.

“They did respond to that letter, saying that I should have met with the maintenance manager (prior to moving out),” he said. “I told them I made an attempt, but they were pretty busy since they have 400 units and only one person managing it.”

He said he even agreed to pay some of the charges, but he alleged the complex soon stopped responding to him. He said the company sent his account to collections.

“I tried in good faith to settle with them and the lack of response is what really got to me. I made every effort to try and reason with them,” he said. “Pretty much, as soon as I turned in my keys, all my rights are pretty much out the window.”

According to the Texas Attorney General, tenants have a number of rights under Texas law, including peace, quiet, health, safety and security. Should the landlord not fulfill his or her obligations, tenants may end the lease, repair the problem themselves and deduct the cost from their rent or get a court order to force the landlord to make the repairs.

In addition, the Attorney General reminds tenants that they have certain responsibilities under the law as well, including paying rent in full and on time, proper upkeep of the property, giving notice before moving out, and supplying a forwarding address after a move.

BBB also suggests renters:

  • Check out the apartment with BBB first. Go to bbb.org to see the BBB Business Review of the apartment you are considering. This will show its BBB rating, any history of complaints, as well as contact information.
  • Visit each complex in person before putting down a deposit. Tour all amenities to be sure they meet your needs (swimming pool, work out center, parking, etc.). Websites often use pictures taken only from the best locations on the property or of promotional units.
  • Keep a signed copy of the lease. Keep your lease in a safe place in case you need to refer back to it.
  • Consider renters’ insurance. When a tenant’s belongings are damaged or stolen, the apartment complex is very rarely held liable. Renters insurance would cover your losses in the event of fire, burglary or other damage. Pay attention to deductibles and coverage limits when choosing a policy.
  • Read the lease thoroughly. Check what normal maintenance you’re responsible for, what your security deposit covers, when payments are due and what fees are assessed if you’re late.
  • Document your unit’s condition. Most apartment complexes provide a move-in checklist to document any damage. Walk through the entire apartment and write down every flaw or defect.
  • Ask for repairs in writing. If you have trouble with maintenance requests, send the landlord a dated letter via certified mail. Keep a copy for your records. If the landlord does not address the issue in a reasonable amount of time (usually seven days), consult with an attorney. You may be entitled to terminate the lease, repair the problem and deduct the cost from your rent, or get a court to order that the repairs be made.
  • Continue paying rent. Do not stop paying your rent in order to force your landlord to make repairs. You could face eviction and the nonpayment may affect your credit report.
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