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Complete Guide to a Tenant Responsibilities List

By Jarrod Heil

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The relationship between tenants and their landlords is a strange one in most instances. A stranger is allowing you to live in their home for a previously agreed-upon sum of money each month, and they must sign legal documentation stating how long they’ll be there.

But when it comes to determining tenant responsibilities and those duties the landlord is responsible for, the weirdness gets a little deeper. There are many grey lines with a tenant responsibilities list because the answer to who’s responsible for which tasks isn’t exactly black and white.

But let’s take a look at the clear-coated responsibilities and duties that every tenant should be aware of. These are the eight most universal ideas tenants should consider.

1. Renters Insurance

So many renters have no idea that landlord insurance doesn’t cover their belongings or their livelihood. But it doesn’t. It only protects the landlord’s belongings they keep on the property, the home’s structure and a few other things.

For renters to properly insure their personal belongings, they must purchase their own renters insurance policy. That policy is what protects their belongings if they’re damaged, destroyed or stolen, as well as their livelihood if someone sustains an injury on the property and they’re deemed liable.

While renters insurance isn’t required by law, some stipulations allow landlords to require their tenants to purchase and maintain an adequate policy through the entirety of the lease. But even if your landlord doesn’t require it, you should still invest in it.

After all, you never know when an accident is going to occur. And, especially for apartment renters, you’re typically not the one you have to worry about — although the odd kitchen fire does cause lots of damage.

2. Sanitation

You want to live in a clean place and your landlord wants you to keep their place clean. In doing so, tenant cleaning responsibilities help keep the rental unit in good condition so you don’t move out leaving the place looking like a pigsty.

Tenants are responsible for general cleaning to keep dirt, grime and dust away. Plus, they’re responsible for preventing mold growth, which regularly builds up in bathrooms and damp kitchens. In addition, tenants are also responsible for cleaning rust and grime buildup on faucets, showerheads and things like that.

While your landlord may not be able to require you to clean the property regularly, not doing so may result in the loss of your security deposit or, even worse, being taken to court due to excessive filth in the home when you move out.

3. Damage

While some landlords include a snippet in the lease agreement that tenants are responsible for any damage that doesn’t constitute as general wear and tear, it’s always good practice to keep the rental unit in as good of condition as when you moved in.

That means you must get your landlord’s approval before painting walls and hanging up large items like a TV mount. Plus, you must keep the fire and smoke alarms in working condition, not violate any laws while living at the property and not destroy anything at the home.

If you damage the property in any way, shape or form that doesn’t constitute as general wear and tear, your landlord has the legal right to use your security deposit to repair any damages you leave behind when moving out.

4. Utilities

If you’re lucky, your landlord may include utilities in the lease, but this is a dying practice that’s usually reserved for off-campus housing and other student- or professional-designated living. If you live in a large apartment complex, they may include water, sewage and trash in your lease because it’s easier to do that than have to calculate the amount everyone is using.

But if you’re renting a house, you’ll likely be responsible to pay for water, sewage, trash, electricity and the internet. It’s always good to factor in the cost of utilities and adds it to the base rent when you’re deciding how much you can comfortably afford for rent each month.

5. Reporting Issues

One of the best things about renting versus being a homeowner is that the cost of most repairs and maintenance issues don’t come out of your pocket. But just because you’re not responsible for paying the bills, that doesn’t mean you can neglect the issue altogether.

Tenants’ responsibilities for repairs include reporting issues promptly. That’s about it. Whether that’s mold growing due to a leaking sink, reporting to the landlord that you believe the home’s pipes have frozen, the hot water heater has quit working or any other issue that may arise.

By reporting the issues to the landlord in a timely manner, you’re getting the items fixed as quickly as possible so you can go back to living comfortably.

Plus, you may be saving your landlord a ton of money in unnecessary maintenance bills if the problem would’ve persisted and had a negative effect on other parts of the unit.

6. General Maintenance

If you live in an apartment, you won’t be responsible for much — if any — general maintenance on the property. But if you live in a rental house, the tenants responsibilities may include mowing the lawn, trimming plants and maintaining the landscape, shoveling snow, replacing air filters and putting down salt on icy walkways.

While many lease agreements will clearly state these responsibilities, some leases may be unclear as to who maintains the lawn and shovels snow.

A good rule of thumb is, especially for the snow, if you can get in trouble or someone could be injured by not doing something like putting salt on an icy pathway, you should step up and do it yourself.

But just know that if a lease doesn’t state who needs to mow the lawn and you feel it’s not your duty, landlords can make addendums to the lease and try to have you sign them. However, you don’t have to sign anything that adds to the lease if you’re mid-lease.

7. Pets

Landlords who don’t have many rental properties can actually prohibit certain dog breeds from moving into your home, as long as they don’t qualify as a service or emotional support dog. But they can charge you extra deposit fees and monthly rent to offset the cost of potential damage caused by your pet.

Ultimately, you’re responsible for any damage your pet may cause to the rental unit, including stained or damaged carpets, chew marks on doors and walls and any other pet mischief that may occur while you’re living there.

8. Lease Termination

If you wish to terminate the lease early, the ultimate decision is up to your landlord. Since signing a lease is a legally binding agreement, there’s no guarantee your landlord will allow you to break the lease early.

There’s a chance they could make you pay all the remaining months upfront or, if you’re lucky, you may be able to simply forfeit your security deposit as an early termination fee.

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