Tenant and Renter's Privacy

  • Order your credit report before you apply for a rental. The prospective landlord will almost certainly require your credit report in the application process.
  • Learn about residential and tenant reports. Many landlords use tenant reports to screen rental applicants. These reports often include both credit history and non-credit information such as criminal history; landlord-tenant court cases; identity verification; past rent payments; references from former landlords; history of bad checks; treatment of premises of former rentals; and information from local, state and national databases.
  • Understand basic tenant rights and obligations. A good place to start is the website for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). There you will find information about your rights under federal law as well as links to all states for further information.
  • Carefully review any lease or rental agreement before you sign. Be sure that agreements incorporate any verbal conversations you have with the landlord or property management company. In addition to basic terms regarding rent payments, utilities, and time period covered, a rental agreement should cover any understanding about such things as pets, visitors, roommates, or sublets.
  • Do not hesitate to question any wording that limits your existing rights under state or federal law (such as your right to notice when the landlord wants to enter your space). If you have questions about wording in your lease, consult an attorney before signing.
  • If you are in the military, learn about the Service Members Civil Relief Act. It gives active duty members the right to terminate a lease when they are ordered to a new permanent location or any change of location that amounts to more than 90 days.
  • Keep a file that contains your signed lease or rental agreement and any other important documents. The file should include notes of any conversations you have with your landlord or apartment manager regarding repairs, disturbances, disputes, or any other event or incident that may affect your rights as a tenant. It should also include any correspondence, emails, repair orders, and even notes left on your door.
  • Know the warning signs of rental scams. Scammers are known to use sites like Craigslist to place phony rental listings or to hijack a valid listing to attempt to steal your money or identity. The surest sign of a rental scam is when you are asked to wire money. If you are asked to pay a security deposit and advance on rent before signing a rental agreement, you should consider it a red flag.
  • Be aware of foreclosure scams targeting unsuspecting renters and distressed homeowners.
  • Carefully review all notices you receive from your landlord or rental agency. For example, a landlord’s notice to evict you may give you only a certain number of days to respond. By not responding within the given time, the landlord may seek a court order to evict.
  • Know where to complain or seek help if problems arise. Understand that no single law covers all situations. Nor does a single federal, state, or local government agency have authority to investigate every type of problem you might encounter.