Cross-Posted from NC State University
BEFORE YOU SIGN THE LEASE:
Before you sign a lease on an apartment there are several things you should do:
- Ask to see the actual apartment which you will be renting. Often, the apartments which are leased bear little resemblance to the model.
- Check out the neighborhood around the apartment. Be sure you are moving into an area where your personal safety and that of your belongings and automobile are not at risk. Call the Raleigh Police department to request the crime statistics for the area. There may be a nominal charge for that.
- Check out the parking situation. Does the apartment complex have a written parking policy? Is the parking policy posted by clearly marked signs, parking spaces etc? Is there adequate parking for residents and visitors? What is the towing policy?
- Speak with other tenants to find out if they have encountered problems with the landlord. Does the landlord respect the tenants' privacy? Does the landlord undertake needed repairs in a timely manner? Does the Landlord seem to try to charge the tenant for every repair? Is the Landlord or their management company respectful of tenants after they sign the lease?
- Check out your prospective neighbors . Do you have a compatible life style with the tenants who live around you? Many of the apartments near campus are poorly insulated. Therefore, it can be disastrous for a tenant who likes to have parties or play the stereo loudly to move next door to a tenant who is sensitive to noise, goes to bed early or has small children, and visa versa.
- Check to see if the Landlord has written rules and regulations in addition to the lease. If so, review a copy before signing your lease. Many of the area Landlords will assess fines for "noise violations", trash violations etc. Many times there are Homeowner's Association Rules which will also apply.
- Read over your lease carefully, even the fine print. Ask to take a copy of the lease home so that you can review it without being rushed or so that our office can review it with you. If you do not understand all of the provisions in the lease, or if you have questions concerns, have an attorney review it with you before signing it . Remember to read all the attachments and addendums .
- Do not sign a lease with blanks in it.
- Make sure all of the dates and dollar amounts listed in the lease are correct.
- Failure to comply with your obligations under a lease can be costly. If you breach a lease you can be sued and your credit damaged.
- An oral lease for less than a three (3) year term is legal and enforceable in North Carolina. However, it is advisable to get a written lease if possible. It is hard to prove the terms of an oral lease.
- If a landlord agrees to allow you to do something which is prohibited by your lease i.e. have pets, terminate your lease early, or if he/she makes promises to do certain things i.e. undertake repairs or replace appliances or carpet, be sure that all these agreements are included in the lease document itself or have the landlord put those promises in writing and sign them. If a landlord makes promises which he/she is unwilling to put in writing, chances are he/she does not intend to keep them.
- Sign a long-term lease only if you plan to stay the entire lease term or only if there is an acceptable early termination clause . Do not take the Landlord's word that you can move out early. There can be some severe financial consequences from doing so. Make sure the early termination policy is in writing and that the written policy states what the Landlord has stated to you. Negotiate a shorter lease term if there is no written early termination clause.
- Be careful of leases that automatically renew for another year if you do not give proper written notice.
- Be sure to obtain a signed copy of your lease and attachments for your records. Make sure that all your roommates are listed as occupants on the lease and that they have signed the lease or they will not be liable to the landlord. They will be liable to you, but not the Landlord. They will be considered to be subletting which is prohibited in most leases without the Landlord's written permission.
- Be very careful about taking over the lease from someone else . If you do, without written provisions that state otherwise, you are responsible for the condition of that apartment as if you had lived there from the very beginning of the lease. That means that if there is any damage in the apartment caused by the person you are replacing or if that person owes the landlord any money, you will then be responsible once their name is removed and your name added to the lease.
- Once the lease has been signed, it is a binding contract. Lease provisions can be changed only if all of the parties who signed the original lease agree to the change in writing.
- It can be a material breach of your lease if you keep a pet on the premises without the Landlord's permission, even if only for a few days or weeks i.e. visitors bringing pets over. Doing so could subject you to eviction and damages (i.e. fumigation, costs for new carpet, nonrefundable pet deposits etc.). Make sure that if the Landlord gives you permission that the permission is also in writing. Follow-up with a letter outling the permission if the Landlord does not put anything in writing.
- Be sure to do a thorough inspection of the premises when you move in. Some landlords will provide you with a move-in inspection sheet for you to complete. If not, prepare one of your own. A sample move-in inspection sheet is provided at the end of this information.
- Be very detailed in you inspection. List everything that you find wrong with the apartment and anything which is damaged or missing. Completing an inspection sheet when you first move in will help to minimize the likelihood that your landlord will make deductions from your security deposit or sue you for damages when you leave. Turn in a completed form to your landlord and keep a copy for your records.
- It is a good idea to have a parent or a friend check out the apartment with you when you move in. Be sure to select someone who will be willing and available to go with you to court in the future to testify about the condition of the apartment when you moved in, should that become necessary. Take photographs of any problems that you find and/or of the condition of the apartment when you first move-in. Be sure to have the film developed so that you can establish a time frame for the condition.
If any rental payment is five days or more late, a landlord can assess a residential tenant a late fee which does not exceed fifteen dollars ($15.00) or five per cent (5%) of the rental payment, whichever is greater. Read your lease carefully to determine the due date of your rent. (NCGS ¤42-46)
- Generally, a landlord will be held responsible for repairs necessitated by ordinary wear and tear , sudden emergencies i.e. hot water heater breaking, fires etc., natural forces (e.g. weather), and matters of which they have been notified previously. Tenants will be responsible for paying for damages resulting from their own negligence or the negligence of their guests.
- Generally a landlord has a "reasonable" time in which to correct a problem or undertake repairs. What is a reasonable time will depend on the particular problem.
- Often calling your landlord is the best way to obtain prompt repair work and many times your Landlord will instruct you to do that. However, many North Carolina leases require that all repair requests be in writing, as do the North Carolina statues in instances other than emergencies. Therefore, always follow up oral repair requests with a letter. Your letter should be reasonable and polite. Describe the problem, reference any previous conversations you have had with the landlord or maintenance and commitments, if any, which the landlord or maintenance has made to fix the problem. A sample Repair Request letter is provided at the end of this information.
- Keep a written log of the date and time of any conversations you have with your landlord regarding repairs. Make notes of those conversations and keep copies of all written repair requests or follow-up letters you send to your landlord. Without proof of repair requests, the Landlord will many times charge the tenant for the repair because there is no proof that the tenant requested a repair.
- Generally a landlord is not responsible for damages to a tenant's personal property, with certain exceptions . Therefore, you should check to see if your belongings are covered under your parent's homeowner's policy or obtain a personal renter's insurance policy.
- Tenants may not unilaterally withhold rent payments in order to force a landlord to fulfill his/her duties under a lease unless there is a prior court order allowing you to do so. Partial payment of the rent is a breach of the lease and could subject you to eviction. If your landlord refuses to make needed repairs, you should seek legal advice.
- Landlords are required to comply with the current applicable building and housing codes . If you think a violation of the Raleigh City Code has occurred, you can contact the City of Raleigh to do an inspection. The city can then make a demand for repair of the Landlord if their inspectors find a violation of the code.
- Take photographs of any damage caused by the needed repair.
- Tenant to maintain the premises in good condition.
- A residential landlord in North Carolina may not legally evict a tenant from the rented premises unless he/she first obtains an order or "writ of possession" from a court. A residential landlord may not use "self-help" such as locking tenants out or turning off utilities in lieu of a Summary Ejectment proceeding. If a landlord threatens you with eviction or if you receive court papers, you should seek legal assistance.
- Grounds for Eviction:
- Non-payment of Rent
- Breach of the Lease (i.e. illegal pets, noise, excessive damage or alteration to the premises, illegal activity etc.)
- Holding over after the lease term has ended
- Desertion of the premises
eviction for criminal activity
- A tenant cannot be evicted for pursuing their rights under the lease or for complaining to the Landlord, the city or other government entities about needed repairs or hazards. This is retaliatory eviction . If this occurs, you should seek legal assistance.
- If the Landlord commits a material breach of duty as defined by the lease or North Carolina Law so that the breach renders the leased premises uninhabitable (i.e. no heat, water, etc.) this is known as constructive eviction and the tenant should seek legal advice for their remedies.
- A residential landlord may collect a security deposit from a tenant to secure the payment of rent and bills and to pay for damages. How much of a security deposit a landlord can assess depends on the length of the tenancy. The deposit cannot exceed 2 weeks rent if a tenancy is week-to-week, one and one half month's rent if a tenancy is month to month and two months rent for terms greater than month to month (i.e. a year's lease). (N.C.G.S. 42-51)
- A Landlord can request a security deposit to hold an apartment for a tenant at the time the tenant fills in the rental application. Read the application carefully concerning the refundability of the deposit. If the tenant changes their mind about leasing the premises, (before the lease is signed) the deposit may not, in certain instances, be returned if the Landlord has not found a replacement tenant before your move-in date.
- Most application fees, which are not deposits, are nonrefundable.
- A nonrefundable "redecorating fee" or "cleaning fee" , in addition to a security deposit, is appearing more and more in leases. It is questionable as to the validity of these fees as they appear to be an attempt to circumvent Landlord Tenant Law. Ask questions about these fees and their refundability.
- A landlord who receives a security deposit from a residential tenant must deposit the money in a trust account at a bank or savings and loan located in North Carolina, or obtain a bond from a leasing insurance company to secure its repayment. (NCGS 42-50). The Landlord must notify the tenant in writing of the location of the deposit within 30 days of leasing the premises.
- A landlord has thirty (30) days after the end of the lease term to either refund the full amount of the security deposit to the tenant or to give the tenant a written justification for the deductions. If the landlord does not have an address where a tenant's security deposit refund can be sent, he/she must hold the balance of the security deposit for at least six (6) months. (NCGS 42-52)
- Landlords in North Carolina are not required to place security deposits in an interest bearing account.
- A landlord may only apply security deposits to actual damages such as:
- Past due rent and late fees.
- Damages to the rental property.
- Nonfulfillment of Rental Period, i.e. the tenant leaves before the end of the rental term or
without proper notice. A Landlord cannot keep the deposit as a penalty but only to offset actual damages.
- Costs which the landlord incurs in evicting a tenant or re-renting the property, i.e. costs of removal and storage of tenants property after a summary ejectment proceeding, court costs and advertising expenses.
- Unpaid bills (N.C.G.S.42-51)
- A landlord should not make deductions from the security deposit for ordinary wear and tear .
- If your landlord fails to timely refund your security deposit or if you feel that the deductions from the deposit were unwarranted or excessive, you should seek legal advice. Landlords can charge more for damages, cleaning and unpaid rent/bills than is covered by the security deposit you paid. In other words, you could still end up owing the landlord money even thought the Landlord retained your full deposit.
- Landlords may also collect deposits for such things as pets and keys . Unless designated as non-refundable, all deposits should be refunded to the tenant at the conclusion of the lease less deductions made for actual damages. (Pet deposits are usually designated as nonrefundable).
- Many students live with a roommate(s) to help with expenses. Choosing a roommate(s) is an important decision and should be done carefully. Take into consideration a prospective roommate's study habits, neatness, personality, dependability and their financial situation . Make sure that they are going to be able to pay their portion of the rent and expenses. Do they have a job or are they depending on parents to pay their portion of the bills? Be sure to reach an understanding with a prospective roommate(s) about having overnight guests, smoking, pets etc. To avoid problems, it is a good idea to have all roommates sign a roommate agreement. A sample roommate agreement is provided at the end of this information.
- Inability to get along with a roommate is not grounds for breaking a lease. Your landlord is not responsible for arbitrating roommate disputes and the court is not very sympathetic to roommate personality conflicts .
- All tenants who sign a lease are bound by its terms and are jointly and severally liable to the landlord for damages caused by breach of the lease provisions. This means that if one tenant breaches the lease or damages the premises, all tenants may be liable. A landlord may file suit and seek to obtain a judgment against anyone or all of the tenants on the lease with joint and several liability. This would include any cosigners on the lease, such as parents. If each of the roommates have separate leases, then there is not joint and several liability.
- Tenants are also responsible to the Landlord for any damages caused by their guests .
- Keep in mind that with parties , if the police are going to cite anyone with a "Nuisance Party" or a "Noise Violation" , they will cite all of those listed on the lease, if they are present. Copies of the "Nuisance Party" Ordinance and "Noise Ordinance" are attached at the end of this information. Keep in mind that a violation of the Raleigh City Code is a misdemeanor and will give you a criminal record. Many leases, in their rules and regulations, will set out the allowed number of guests allowed on the premises at any one time and fines for violations. This can be grounds for eviction.
If you wish to move out of the leased premises before the expiration of the lease term, you will need to do one of the following:
- Check the early termination provisions and requirements in your lease. Do not rely on the Landlord's oral representation.
- Speak with your landlord and see if he/she will agree to release you from your lease. If he/she agrees to do so, be sure to get this in writing.
- Comply with the early termination provisions, if any, as set out in your lease i.e. give proper notice and/or pay the specified termination fee. However, most leases are for a set term and cannot be terminated early.
- Attempt to locate someone to take over your lease . If the replacement tenant(s) meet with the landlord's approval, have them sign a new lease or have the landlord add their name(s) to your existing lease and remove your name. This is known as assignment . You are then no longer liable on this lease.
- You also have the option of subletting your apartment. After first obtaining written permission from your landlord, locate someone to sublease your apartment. However, you should be leery of subletting because of the risks involved. As a tenant, you remain liable to the landlord for the payment of rent for the remainder of the lease term and for any damages which the sub lessee(s) may cause to the leased premises. If you decide to sublet an apartment, have the sub lessee(s) sign a written sublet agreement. A sample sublet agreement is provided at the end of this information.
- If you break your lease and move out, you do so at risk of a lawsuit and damage to your credit.
Summary Ejectment-court process by Landlord to evict.
Before moving out you should do the following:
- Give your landlord written notification of the date you plan to move out. Put in the notice an address where you can receive notice about your security deposit. Keep a copy of this notice for your files. Most leases require that tenants give (30) to (60) days written notice before the end of the lease term of their intention to vacate the premises. However, some leases will require more notice. If you fail to give proper notice you can be assessed additional rent and/or your lease may be automatically renewed for a whole new year. This is true even when you have a lease for a set term or period of time.
- Many of the leases require that all of the tenants must give notice to terminate for the termination notice to be effective.
- Contact the utility companies to let them know when service should be discontinued and give them your forwarding address.
- Complete a change of address form with the Post Office.
- Clean the leased premises thoroughly. Be sure that you clean the baths, kitchen, stove, refrigerator and cabinets. Vacuum, remove all of your belongings, and trash, and do whatever else may be necessary or required by your lease. Failure to do so could be costly. Attached is a sample cleaning and damages cost sheet used by a local landlord. Take Photographs of everything . Save all receipts for cleaning supplies, for the rented steam cleaner, for filter replacements, for the aluminum cups replaced on the stove, light bulbs etc. Take photographs with the cabinet doors and closets open to show there was no trash. Do the same with the oven and refrigerator doors to show that those appliances were clean. Take photographs with the lights on in all the rooms to show that all the light bulbs were there and functioning. See this office for a detailed list of what to do when leaving to help insure you are entitled to receive your full deposit back.
- If you have damaged your apartment , consider having the damage professionally repaired. Some leases, however, prohibit the tenant from making repairs so please seek legal advice before proceeding. If repairs are needed, save your repair receipts and take detailed pictures of the repair.
- Make sure all outstanding bills are paid in full including rent and late charges. You cannot use your security deposit toward your last month's rent without your Landlord's permission.
- Try to arrange a time with your landlord for him/her to inspect the premises for damages while in your presence. It is rare that any Landlords will do a move-out inspection even though many local leases indicate that they require it. Allow yourself time to correct problems that the landlord finds or to do additional cleaning if warranted. If he/she will, have your landlord complete a move-out inspection sheet. Keep a copy of that sheet for your files.
- Turn in all keys . Retention of your keys (including copies) is considered to be continued possession obligating you to pay rent. North Carolina law requires that you give your landlord an address where your security deposit refund or itemization of damages may be sent. Save a copy of this notice for your files.
NC State University Campus Police
- You should maintain a file on your tenancy and keep in it a copy of the following documents:
- The signed lease, a copy of the rules and regulations, and all other documents the landlord may have you sign.
- The Move-in Inspection Sheet.
- All utility bills.
- All canceled rent checks, rent receipts or money order carbons.
- All letters or memos sent to you by the Landlord.
- All repair requests and notices you sent to your landlord.
- Your Termination Notice.
- The Move-out Inspection Sheet
- There are federal, state and city laws prohibiting the following discriminating practices based on race, color, sex, religion, national origin, age, handicap or marital status.
- refusing to sell, rent sublease or negotiate for, or otherwise refusing to make housing available
- discriminating in the terms, or privileges of a transaction (e.g., by charging higher rent)
- representing that housing is not available for purchase or rent, when it is available.
- advertising that there is an intention to discriminate.
- Students are not a protected class. Complexes may refuse to rent to students. Seek legal advice or call the Fair Housing Office in Raleigh at (919) 890-3190 if you have a problem with discrimination.
Students are not a protected class. Complexes may refuse to rent to students. Seek legal advice or call the Fair Housing Office in Raleigh at (919) 890-3190 if you have a problem with discrimination.
NC Human Relations Commission
1318 Mail Service Center
Raleigh, NC 27699-1318
NC Fair Housing Act and Complaint Form
NC Human Relations Commission
This is a general overview of North Carolina's Landlord/Tenant statutes. It also contains suggestions to help you avoid Landlord/Tenant problems. Your rights, responsibilities and remedies may vary depending on the terms of your lease and the facts of your case. Therefore, you are advised to consult an attorney to obtain advice on the law as applies to your specific situation.
The letters found at the end of this information are only samples. You should review the letters with an attorney so that they can be modified to fit your circumstances.
NC Attorney General 3-28-05
North Carolina Bar Association 3-28-05
Sample Repair Request Letter:
Date: April 4, 2004
Re: Tenants Name
102 Oak Street, Apt. A
Raleigh, NC 27606
I spoke with you by telephone earlier today and notified you of the problem, which I am having with the heat in my apartment. The thermostat does not appear to be working properly and my apartment is very cold. You told me that you would arrange to have a repairman come by this afternoon fix the problem.
The weather service is predicting several more days of freezing temperatures, therefore I will have to move into a hotel if the heat in my apartment is not fixed soon. I am also concerned that the pipes in the apartment will freeze without heat.
Thank you for your prompt attention to this problem.
Sample Termination letter:
Date: April 4, 2004
Re: Tenants Name
102 Oak Street, Apt. A
Raleigh, NC 27606
We the tenants living in the apartment listed above are giving notice that we will be leaving our apartment on __________________. We will be turning in our keys on or before that date. Please consider this our termination notice. You can send notice of our security deposit to ________________________________. We are requesting that you do a move-out inspection with us on_______________, so that we can correct any problems we are required to in order to receive a full refund of our security deposit. Please let us know if you have any questions.