By: Lyman L. Jones, Jr; Edited by Gregory P. Nichols
In the TULAP civil clinic, the single most common problem encountered is landlord-tenant relations. Here are some helpful suggestions.
Louisiana law states that the lease agreement between landlords and tenants is a binding contract which obligates both parties to observe its specific terms and provisions. Always read the lease carefully before you sign it. The Lessee/Tenant is the person who rents the apartment; and the Lessor/Landlord is the person who owns the property or has been delegated leasing authority by the owner.
Please be aware that oral promises, not reduced to writing, are generally not enforceable. Be sure that any changes to the lease are written into the lease and initialed by both parties.
We recommend that you NOT accept any lease containing the following clauses, as they can severely restrict your rights.
· Lessee waives Lessor’s liability for any defects on the premises.
· Lessee is liable for attorney’s fees.
You should be aware that very large corporate landlords are totally inflexible about making changes in their lease forms.
Likewise you should insist that the following clauses be included, although they are often included by implication:
No deduction will be withheld from the deposit for normal usage and normal wear and tear.
Lessee’s deposit will be returned within 30 days after the expiration of the lease.
Be aware of the following clauses and their ramifications:
· An "automatic renewal clause" which states that at a certain time prior to the conclusion of the lease the tenant must give notice to the landlord in writing, if the lease is to expire under its stated terms. An automatic renewal clause generally provides that if the landlord does not receive written notice that you intend for the lease to expire, the lease will automatically renew. In some instances the lease automatically renews for the full original term of the original lease.
· Lessor waives lessor’s responsibility for making repairs to the structure of the apartment, or making repairs to the applicants.
Rent: find out how much the rent is; and also find out from the lease if it can increase for any reason during the term of the lease.
Utilities: find out who pays the utilities. Never assume that any utilities are included unless it is written into the lease.
Security Deposit: how much is the security deposit? Is there a "liquidated damages" clause, which allows the landlord to keep the security deposit if you vacate early?
Also beware of a lease arrangement which requires you to pay more than the first month’s rent and the security deposit, which normally is an additional month’s rent before moving into the apartment. A certain group of landlords with numerous uptown properties have made it part of their custom to require two months rent in advance together with the deposit. Please be certain that this is NOT the normal custom and you should be suspicious of anyone who tries to tell you otherwise.
Pets: are pets allowed? If so, is there a pet security deposit? Pet security deposits are very often non-refundable. Ask yourself whether the companionship of a pet is worth adding an additional $200 or $300 to the cost of your education.
Yard: If there is a yard on the premises, who is responsible for maintain it?
Subleasing: is there a subleasing clause included? Many leases state that sub leasing is not allowed at all. This means that any time the apartment is vacant, you do not have the right to rent out the apartment to someone else.
If you are going to share your housing with roommates, be sure that all of the roommates sign the lease. Only those people whose names are signed to the lease are ultimately liable for rent, damages, or other liabilities.
Louisiana Law states that roommates are considered as joint obligors, which means that each roommate can be held liable for the full amount of the lease, not just his/her individual share.
You may wish to ask the landlord to sign a separate lease with each roommate, reflecting the individual responsibility for the rent. This may, however, prove very difficult to accomplish.
Be sure that you obtain a signed copy of the lease at the time you and the landlord sign it.
Before moving in or immediately thereafter, walk through and inspect the premises, preferably with the landlord. Make a list of all defects, damaged fixtures, appliances, etc. Ask the landlord to sign it. This will protect you against charges for preexisting damage to the property. If you cannot get the landlord to accompany you or to sign the list, get a witness who has observed the damages to sign it and send a copy to the landlord by certified mail. Taking a few pictures, or even a video of the condition of the apartment at move in time is a worthwhile precaution.
Being a Good Tenant
Notify your landlord in writing of any major repairs which are required. If the repairs are "indispensable" and the landlord does not make the repairs within a "reasonable" time, you are entitled to make the repairs yourself and deduct the costs of the repairs from your rent, providing that you have first notified the landlord of your intention. If you have any questions, you should contact an attorney prior to undertaking to make repairs yourself. If you take it upon yourself to make a necessary repair, send a copy of the receipt for repairs with your rent check. Keep a copy of everything.
Unlike many states, Louisiana does not allow a tenant to withhold rent due to the failure of a landlord to make necessary repairs. This is only a ticket to getting evicted.
Leaving at Winter Break
Tulane students, undergraduate, graduate and professional, are blessed with approximately a one month vacation. Unfortunately this comes during the coldest time of the year for New Orleans. Tell your landlord the dates that you will be out of the apartment on winter break, and ask if the landlord wishes you to take any precautions against freezing pipes. Leave your landlord a telephone number where you can be reached in an emergency.
It is also a good idea to have a trustworthy friend who is staying in the City hold a key. The only real protection against freezing pipes is to leave the water running. Obviously, you do not wish to do this for an entire month; therefore, it is necessary that someone whom you trust absolutely be able to have access to your apartment during winter break.
At the End of the Lease
Except in extreme circumstances, give written notice when you intend to vacate the premises. Do not assume the landlord knows you are leaving just because the lease is expiring. As stated before, if you do not give proper notice to the landlord, the lease may become automatically renewed.
After you have moved all of your belongings from the apartment, it should be thoroughly cleaned, including the stove, oven, refrigerator and bathroom fixtures. After you have moved out and cleaned the apartment, ask the landlord or his representative to walk through and inspect the premises with you. After the inspection, ask the landlord if the apartment is satisfactory to have your deposit returned in full. If not, this will give you a chance to rectify whatever is still a problem. Prepare a document for the landlord to sign indicating that he is satisfied with the condition of the apartment and that he will refund the security deposit within 30 days.
Louisiana law provides that if your security deposit is not refunded in full, then the landlord must provide you with an itemized list of all damage which he claims you caused to the property, as well as the charges for each item. If you think the Landlord has unfairly kept any part of your deposit, you should make an appointment with the TULAP office (865-5515). We can write a demand letter to the landlord, and if necessary, give you advice about taking your claim to Small Claims Court.
There are many, many other landlord problems that arise. This is merely an overview of most of the common problems. If you have specific questions, please make an appointment to see the TULAP attorneys as soon as the problems arise. Ignoring problems or delaying action, will only cause the problem to be worse in the long run.
Good luck with your apartment life, and enjoy your stay in New Orleans!