How to Prevent Landlord-Tenant Problems
There are a number of problems that are frequently encountered by soldiers and family members who are living off-post in the area surrounding Fort Riley. In order to avoid these problems, anyone living off-post or looking for a place to live should do their homework and document every contact with the landlord. The preventive acts described in this article can help you avoid problems and disputes with your landlord, and as a result save you money.
When searching for housing, take your time. Do not settle on the first place that you visit, because a better place may be just around the corner. Take the time to find out as much as you can about your prospective landlord before you sign a lease. Sit down and talk to the landlord, check with the housing office to see if any complaints have been filed against him, or talk to fellow soldiers and current residents to find out if this landlord is one you can trust.
Before you sign a lease, do a walk through inspection of the property with the landlord and document any and all damage that you find. Examine the property carefully. It is worth a few minutes of your time at the start of the lease to prevent a landlord from charging you for damages you did not cause at the end of it. Keep a copy of all paperwork for your records. If the landlord does not do a walk through inspection with you, then immediately do one yourself and bring someone along who can testify to the results of the inspection. If possible, have someone from housing or your platoon sergeant serve as the witness. Document all damage and have the witness sign the documentation. Other things that you can do to protect yourself include sending a copy of the inspection results to the landlord by certified mail so that he or she can not claim to have not received it, and to take pictures of the property as it is inspected.
In addition to doing a thorough inspection of the property before signing the lease, you should also do a thorough inspection of the lease itself before you sign it. Make sure you know everything that is in the lease, and that you understand all of it. Check to make sure that the lease has a military clause, and understand how the clause works. Most military clauses enable a soldier to terminate a lease early, if the soldier receives PCS or ETS orders within the lease term. The soldier is usually required to give the landlord written notice of intent to move out, and to furnish the landlord a copy of military orders thirty days before a rent paying date. Therefore, even if you comply with the military clause, you may still have to pay one more month's rent in order to give the required notice. Military clauses usually will not apply to TDY, deployment, or moving on post, and they may not relieve the non-military spouse from liability if his or her signature is also on the lease.
In addition to the military clause, make sure that you can live with each and every clause provided in the lease. Pay particular attention to the terms which dictate what your responsibilities are with respect to the property, such as amount of payment, payment dates, repair obligations, etc. If you don't understand any part of the lease or if you find any portion of it objectionable, do not sign the lease. Legal Assistance attorneys can review your lease and can help answer any questions you might have. Additionally, do not rely on promises the landlord makes unless they are written into the document. If it is not in the writing of the lease, then it is not worth the paper it's written on.
If problems with the rental property arise after you have moved in, be sure to notify the landlord of the problem in writing. Verbally telling the landlord of the problems will not protect you if he fails to do anything about them. Contact the Legal Assistance Office or the housing office for information about how to properly give this notice. If there is such a severe problem with the rental property that you feel it poses a threat to you and your family, you should contact your county health department. They will document any illegal conditions and take further appropriate action. Also, be sure to ask the housing office on post to document the problem.
Many other problems can potentially arise, as well. Be alert in all your dealings with your landlord. If you protect yourself to the fullest extent possible, your time renting will hopefully be relaxing and trouble-free. If you wish to speak to a Legal Assistance Attorney about any landlord/tenant problem, please make an appointment by calling 239-3117.