We built Caretaker to make renting easier. To that end, we created a comprehensive guide to U.S. rental law to educate tenants and landlords about their rights and responsibilities. Now, we’re introducing Ask Caretaker: an ongoing series where we answer reader questions.

I’m moving out of my apartment. I’m not going to pay my last month’s rent, I am going to use my security deposit to cover the rent. Is this legally allowed?

- Queens, New York

Nope, not legal. Your security deposit is supposed to cover any potential damage you caused—and if you didn't damage the apartment at all, then you should receive it back, in full, 14 days after moving out.

Technically your landlord can sue you for skipping out on rent and assuming the deposit will cover it. Although the court likely won’t rule until you’ve already moved out of the apartment, there are other potential consequences. If your landlord does file a lawsuit, this could affect your credit report and make it more difficult for you to rent another apartment. But even if they don’t, any potential landlord will want to talk to your previous landlords as part of a routine rental history check—and you’re definitely not going to get a recommendation if you go this route.

I’m pregnant and I’m about to have a newborn in a couple of weeks. The apartment I’m living in is absolutely horrible. There was a flood a month ago and fans were used to dry it. I was told that mold would not surface. The room has a disgusting old smell and it’s not fit for a baby. The AC unit has been leaking and it took more than a week for maintenance to come and they left the water damaged wall as is. I’m continuing to have problems from pests to everything else and it has only been two months. I have pictures as evidence and I’m wondering if I should abandon the apartment and go to court?

- Tampa, Florida

The problems you're dealing with sound like they're probably a violation of the warranty of habitability, which is a legal guarantee that your apartment will remain in livable condition while you rent. More specifically, your landlord has to follow all of Tampa’s local health and building codes—you can report a code violation by calling the City of Tampa’s Code Enforcement office. As long as you follow the timeline laid out in the law, you also have the right to either withhold rent or move out completely. However, both those options are somewhat risky—if not done correctly, you can end up with an eviction on your record. In this case, I think your best bet is to find a local tenants’ aid organization or landlord-tenant attorney who can advise you. Florida's laws are not particularly tenant-friendly, unfortunately.

Is the tenant or landlord responsible for the carpet if a pipe burst? And what about fixing the pipe itself?

- Fort Collins, Colorado

Unless the pipe burst because of something the tenant did—like trying to flush a pound of kitty litter down the toilet, for instance—then it’s the landlord’s responsibility. Repairing the carpet from water damage is also the landlord's responsibility, since a unit must "be free of anything more serious than minor mold, or damp conditions that could create mold" according to Colorado’s warranty of habitability.

My landlord wants to renew my lease, which is up July 1st. If not renewed, she wants me out before then, which is only two weeks from now. Is this legal?

- Massachusetts

Yup, totally legal. If you're not going to renew a lease, you're legally supposed to leave by the end date included in your lease. If you stay past that date, you're considered a holdover tenant (sometimes referred to as a "tenant at sufferance") and your landlord can potentially begin eviction proceedings at any time.

Can a new owner require me to pay an additional amount of money for the deposit when I've resided in the apartment for over five years? I have a written month-to-month lease.

- Modesto, California

It depends on how much they’re asking you to pay. California caps security deposits for unfurnished apartments at two months' rent—so the new owner can never require you to put down more than that.

But if your current deposit is less than two months' rent, your new landlord can legally raise it. That said, they are still required to give you advance notice in writing. Check your lease—it may say how much notice a landlord has to give to change the terms of the lease (or to terminate it completely). If it does, then that's how much notice your landlord has to provide before changing the terms of the lease. If it doesn't, then your landlord has to provide at least 60 days' notice of the change, since you've lived in the unit for longer than a year.

The information provided on this website does not, and is not intended to, constitute legal advice.


Abigail Cain

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