Parting Words of Wisdom, Part 2

From April 2001

This article by Leta Herman of Inman News ran April 9,2001 in many US publications.


By: Leta Herman April 09, 2001

In my last column, I summarized many of the things I think renters need to understand to be content in the rental world. In this column, which marks the end of my tenure as your rental columnist, I will address a number of other important tenant issues and provide a list of tenant resources you can use whenever you find yourself in a difficult situation in the future.

Know your roommates

Living with a roommate is probably even harder than living with your neighbors. You can shut your neighbors out, but your roommate is in your life and in your face.

Many roommate relationships are doomed from the start simply because the renters are naïve enough to think the relationship will be problem-free.

Smart renters plan for the worst and discuss all that can go wrong before moving in together. This includes:

Discussing financial responsibilities — making each other equally responsible for the apartment and not putting all the utility bills on one person’s shoulders.

Assessing the risk — making sure the roommate is reliable and has a good rental history.

Creating house rules that works for everyone and discussing what to do when someone violates those rules — this includes smoking, guests, use of common areas, cleaning tasks and how food and supplies will be shared.

Preparing for the day you end your roommate relationship — especially if one person wants to keep the apartment.

After you’ve done the hard work of communicating, write it down.

Know when to rent and when to buy

Folks in the housing industry often debate whether renting or owning is better from a financial perspective. I’ve often advocated that folks need to consider renting as a viable option for saving and investing money in something other than real estate.

Even so, I have to say any investment is risky. A house may depreciate rapidly due to a change in the surrounding area. And as we’ve seen lately, you can only be on the winning side of the stock market for so long before the bear appears to pounce on your dreams.

I truly believe that you should leave finances out of your decision to rent or own. I think you need to consider your life style and how it relates to your happiness.

If you’re the kind of person who’s on the move a lot, going from city to city, you’re not going to be happy owning your own home. Buying a home and reselling it in a short period of time is a lot of work, whereas moving from rental to rental is much easier, especially if you can time it so you don’t have to break a lease.

On the other hand, if you’re the type of person who loves to stay in the same place for a long time, renting can be infuriating. First of all, you’re often subject to the whims of your landlords. One landlord may decide to not renew your lease. Another may raise the rent so you’re forced to move. In this case, owning your own house or apartment guarantees you can stay put as long as you want.

Other renters like to rent because they don’t want to take the time to care for their homes. They don’t have to worry about calling the plumber or caring for the grounds. They’d be miserable doing all the work it takes to own your own home. On the flip side, other renters love to putter around and really invest something of themselves into their home.

Many renters who really fall into the owner category are afraid to make the leap into home ownership. They worry they can’t save the down payment or that the hidden expenses of home ownership will be too much.

It’s true that making the leap into home ownership is tough, especially the first couple years. But after that, owners usually have a much easier time as their costs stabilize over time while rents continue to rise every year. It certainly takes a keen vision of the future to see that a couple years of hardship is worth the effort over the long term.

Know your rights

When you’re having a disagreement with your landlord, don’t waste any time in getting help. You can’t and shouldn’t do it alone. You’ll only get yourself into trouble.

Protect yourself by researching the laws or talking to a lawyer or tenant’s rights group if you have one nearby. Also keep copies of any communication you have with your landlord and by all means take pictures of your apartment before you move in and when you move out.

Here are some important resources to help you protect yourself:

Nolo books — (800-992-6656 or has a number of tenant books that can help you out when you need to know your rights.

Renters’ Rights by Janet Portman and Marcia Stewart — good when you’re just starting out and want to understand the basic rules of renting.

Every Tenant’s Legal Guide by Janet Portman and Marcia Stewart — an essential reference when you’re in a sticky mess with your landlord.

Everybody’s Guide to Small Claims Court by Ralph Warner — a must when you need to take your landlord to court.

The Savvy Renter’s Kit, a Dearborn Press book by Chicago Tribune rental columnist Ed Sacks, is chock full of savvy renter tips (ask for it in bookstores)

The Tenants Resource Directory ( Web site at the Tenants Union in Washington State can help you find a tenant group in your area. ( and the New Hampshire Property Owner’s Association ( — useful for researching state landlord/tenant laws.

TenantNet ( — primarily geared toward New Yorkers but useful for all tenants.

The Legal Information Institute’s Landlord Tenant Law Materials site ( — when you can’t find a state law elsewhere, this site, sponsored by Cornell Law School, may have what you need.

The Tenants Legal Center in San Diego, CA ( is an excellent resource for tenants, especially Southern Californians.

Inman News Features ( — Inman News Features has featured my columns for a few years now. The Web site will continue to have many interesting articles for renters.

Even with all these new resources for tenants, tenants are still often left helpless. While many cities in this country provide legal support for low-income people, very few cities have tenant organizations that can offer free advice to every tenant. So tenants make bad decisions, not knowing the law.

I’ve done what I can to fill in the knowledge gaps for renters over the years in this column. But until cities offer more support for renters in this country, many renters are on their own.

Take my advice: keep this list of resources handy and next time you’re in trouble, do something about it.

Copyright 2001 Leta Herman Distributed by Inman News Features

Real Estate

Copyright © The National Landlord Tenant Guide™ All Rights Reserved.