Before you agree to rent an apartment, house, duplex, mobile home, or any other place to live that you do not own, look it over carefully. Make a list or take pictures of any damage, missing items, or uncleanliness. If you want to rent the apartment, make a copy of this list for yourself and give a copy of the list to the landowner or manager. Ask your landowner to sign your copy as an agreement to repair problems, damaged items, and to certify the condition of the rented dwelling. If the landowner will not agree with what is on your list, you should seriously consider not renting that apartment. A typical checklist might read: "carpet has large worn spot in living room by front windows; kitchen wall has six nail holes over sink; bathroom basin's hot water faucet is missing." Many large apartment complexes now offer a printed checklist so that the property owner or manager and renter can agree on the condition of the apartment before you move in and when you move out. Another option is to video the premises in the presence of all parties to establish its condition.
When you rent an apartment, you may be asked by the landowner to sign a lease. A lease is a contract, usually in writing, which legally binds both the owner and the renter for a specific length of time to what the lease says. You should read the lease carefully and be sure you understand the rights and responsibilities of renting. Many leases in Louisiana use a "standard form." A "standard form" lease is a contract the landowner gives everyone who rents an apartment in that apartment complex. "Standard form leases" are usually adopted by trade associations and make you responsible for unreported damage and liability. That is why prior damage to the apartment should be mentioned, in writing, on the lease form's addendum section. If you have time, take the lease with you and read it carefully before signing. Always request your copy of the lease at the time of signing. Most landlords retain the right to inspect the premises at reasonable times during the term of the lease.
Co-signed Leases - If you sign a lease with roommates, you may be held responsible by the landowner or manager for any rent that is not paid, damage to the apartment, or other things done by your roommate. The landlord can collect all rent, late fees and damages from one tenant when the other tenants don't pay their share.
Automatic Renewal Clauses - When you sign the lease, you agree to pay rent for a certain number of months. Some leases contain automatic renewal clauses. This means that if you do not tell the landowner you want to move out within a certain number of days before your lease ends, your lease goes on again for the same number of months. Another kind of automatic renewal clause renews the conditions in the lease on a month-to-month basis. If you want to move, you may have to give your landowner a letter, at least 30 days before you move out, stating when you will leave. With this kindof lease, the landowner can raise your rent with only 30 days’ notice as well. When there is no written lease, if either the landowner or renter wants to change the lease, each must tell the other in a letter 10 days before any change is made. For example, you can move out or the landowner can raise the rent, as long as the other is told about it in writing 10 days before it happens.
Late Fees - If you do not pay your rent on time, your landowner cannot make you pay a late fee unless you agreed to pay one in the lease. If you do not have a lease, the landowner must tell you ahead of time if there will be a fee charged for paying the rent late. There may also be NSF charges for checks returned to the landlord by the bank.
Ask if there is a list of written rules for the apartment. Apartment rules are usually included in the body of the lease. Read your lease carefully to understand the rules before signing the contract. If you do not want to follow the rules, find another apartment.
An oral agreement is a contract you make with the landowner or manager by talking about it instead of writing it down. Avoid oral agreements. You may forget what the deal was later - or your landowner or manager may not recall the agreement. To protect yourself, have all agreements and promises written and signed by both you and the landowner.
If you ask a landowner to hold an apartment for you, you will usually be asked to leave some money, called a "holding deposit." If you do not take the apartment on the day you promised and sign the lease, you may lose all or part of your deposit, depending upon damages the landowner suffers as a result of your not taking the apartment. On the other hand, if the landowner does not have an apartment ready for you on the date you agreed upon, you get your money back, and you do not have to take another apartment. The landowner may even have to pay you extra money called damages.
A security or damage deposit is money temporarily given to the property owner when you rent an apartment in case you damage the apartment or the area around it. When you move out, the apartment should be left in the condition stated in the lease or the checklist. If it is not, the landowner will keep your deposit. If that is not enough to pay for the damage done, you are responsible for paying the rest. If a property owner or manager withholds any part of your security deposit, the expenses incurred must be itemized or justified. In order to avoid an additional 30-day delay in receiving your security deposit, send a demand letter for your deposit to arrive by registered mail on the day you vacate your apartment. You may want to contact the Monroe City Court to file a lawsuit for the return of your deposit if the landlord fails to return the deposit. Always try to be present at the time of final inspection by the landlord and get your deposit refund at that time.
If your lease says that you are allowed to have pets, you usually need to pay an additional deposit in case your pet does any damage. Sometimes you cannot get the pet deposit back when you leave, because apartments have to be specially cleaned after a pet has been in them. Some pet deposits are non-refundable.
Some landlords also require key deposits. If you leave without returning all keys, this deposit can be used to re-key the locks. If you add locks or change locks, give the landlord a copy of the new key.
There are state and local laws about how the landowner has to take care of the apartment building, the parking lots, the lawn, and other areas. Sometimes the landowner has to pay for repairs to the apartment, and sometimes the renter must. Before you sign the lease, be sure you understand how repairs will be paid. If the landowner does not perform necessary maintenance within a reasonable period of time, you may have the right to end the lease. Although you may feel the landlord has violated your lease, it is unwise to vacate the premises until the dispute is resolved through negotiation or litigation. Keep a record of all maintenance problems and repairs (or things that do not get repaired). It will help you if you want to end the lease. You are responsible for paying for things damaged by your abuse, misuse, or negligence. If major repairs are not done by your property owner or manager after three days, you can have the work done yourself - up to one month's rent - provided you have a receipt to prove your expenses. A major expense might include a broken air conditioner in the summer, a refrigerator that is not working, a burst pipe, etc.
Never make changes - like painting or removing carpet - in the apartment without written permission from the landowner. The landowner can consider any alteration as damage and deduct from your security deposit. If you install anything, for example, a ceiling fan, it becomes the property of the landowner. If you are able to restore the apartment to its original condition, you may be able to take the installed item with you when you vacate. While obtaining written permission from your landowner, be sure to clarify ownership and responsibility to avoid problems at the time of moving out.
For a good cause, like not paying your rent, a landowner may file suit to evict you. You must be given legal notice that you are to be evicted. If you do not move out, you can be required to go to Court and explain why you should not be evicted. You must respond to the official notice to appear in Court within three days. While it is a good idea to have a lawyer, it is not absolutely necessary. It is important that you have your reasons prepared before you go to Court. The judge will listen to your side of the story, and then make a decision. If you do not appear in Court, or if the judge finds in favor of the landowner, the Court will render an immediate Judgment of Eviction ordering you to leave the apartment. If you don't pay all of the rent on time, damage the premises, vacate the premises or violate your lease in any way, the landlord can file suit against you and have your property on the premises, including vehicles, seized and held pending the outcome of the lawsuit. The landlord can sue you for all rent remaining due for the full term of your lease if you have violated your lease. If you lose you can also be held liable for all expenses of the lawsuit, and the landlord can have your wages garnished and property sold to satisfy the judgment against you.
Before you leave (or "vacate") your apartment, you must notify your landowner in writing when you will leave. Most leases tell you how far in advance you must notify the landowner, usually 30 days for a yearly lease and 10 days for a month-to-month lease.
If there is nothing written in the lease which requires specific cleaning, they you are obligated only to return the apartment in the same condition it was in when you took possession. There should be some room for normal wear. If the apartment is not in the same condition, the landowner may keep all or part of your deposit with proof of expenses. However, if the lease requires that the apartment be cleaned when the renter leaves, the original condition does not matter. You have to clean it, no matter what it was alike when you moved into it. The landowner may keep all or part of the deposit if the apartment is not cleaned.
On the day that you actually move out, you must return the keys to the property owner or manager. You should ask to be there for the final inspection. If you can't get your deposit at that time, leave forwarding address with the property owner or manager so that the deposit can be mailed to you, or arrange to have your demand letter delivered on the day you vacate the apartment.
There is a law in Louisiana called the "Lessee's Deposit Law," that says a landowner must return your deposit within 30 days of the date you move out. If any part of a deposit is not returned, the landowner must send you a list of the things you are being charged for and the rest of the deposit. A deposit may be kept for unreasonable wear to the apartment. The act penalizes the willful failure of the landowner to obey the law by permitting the tenant the right to recover actual damages or $200, whichever is greater. Failure to remit within 30 days of a tenant's written demand for a refund shall constitute willful failure. The judge may award costs and lawyer's fees to the side that wins if you take the landowner to Court. The law says you cannot give up, or waive, this right, even in a lease.
If you desire to file suit, you can do so at the Clerk's Office at Monroe City Court, 600 Calypso Street, Monroe, LA (318) 329-2580.