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 bought a two-bedroom house last year. In January, a "friend" of mine was (which I found out later) evicted from her condo. She had nowhere to go. I said she could stay for a limited time in my second room, under a verbal contract. She gave me $200 for January, nothing for February. We agreed she’d pay $400 in rent for March, and her “lease” was ending March 30th. It seems to me that will not be the case, since she has not removed any of her belongings (three UHauls worth). Every time I ask to speak about it, she becomes irate, yelling at me not to worry, that she will be out on the 30th. I had the police come out at one time because of her escalating behavior after I said she needs to go and to give me the keys. The police said they could do nothing because of the verbal agreement. Now what do I do?

- Tucson, Arizona

I’ve got good new and bad news. The good news is that you can, legally, get her out. The bad news is that you’re probably going to have to evict your so-called friend, and the process is pretty involved. Did she pay the agreed-upon rent for March? If not, you can start eviction proceedings now based on nonpayment of rent. Otherwise, you'll need to wait till March 30th. If she doesn't leave, as stipulated by your verbal lease, you can begin the eviction process. You might also see if she's willing to sign a written sublet agreement that states her lease is up on that date, as well. It'll make things more clear-cut when it comes to the eviction process.

I was evicted in 2014, but I have rented an apartment since then. Will that eviction still show up on my rental history?

- Bellwood, Illinois

Evictions should fall off your public records, including credit and rental history, after seven years. You can request a free copy of your credit report from each of the three main credit reporting agencies to see if your eviction is still showing up, or from one of the many companies that offer rental history report services.

I am planning on moving out of my apartment in two months, when my lease is up. Can I withhold rent and use my deposit to cover the last month’s rent? The owner lives out of the country, and I am afraid he will not return my deposit. This past winter, we were without heat or hot water for two weeks before he came back to the USA and fixed it. What would be the repercussions if I did this?

- New York, New York

Using your deposit to cover the last month's rent is illegal, so we can't recommend going that route. All New York landlords are required to return security deposits within two weeks of you moving out, though. If he doesn't, you can take him to small claims court (even though he lives out of the country) because he owns property in the state.

As for withholding rent, you would be within your rights to do so if you didn't have heat or hot water for two weeks. However, keep in mind that your landlord could then turn around and sue you for not paying the full month's rent—and you'd have to make a case that conditions were so bad you deserved a reduction in rent (also known as a "rent abatement"). Do you have proof of the lack of water and heat? Do you have written communication with your landlord that documents when the problem began and how long it took him to repair it? If not, proving to a judge that you're in the right may be difficult. Also, courts typically don’t allow tenants to withhold their entire rent payment. Usually, they calculate how much an apartment would be worth without the essential services it was missing, and base the rent abatement on that.

Being a first-time home buyer, can I get out of my apartment lease without a penalty?

- Birmingham, Alabama

No, sorry! There are only a handful of reasons you can get out of a lease automatically, and buying a home isn't one of them. Try negotiating with your landlord to see if you can come to an agreement to end the lease—or, if that doesn't work, consider another way of getting out of your lease early.

Can my landlord ask me now for a security deposit after living in the same apartment for 40 years?

- Brooklyn, New York

It depends. If you're renewing your lease, then yes, the landlord can legally ask you to put down a security deposit—assuming that the amount is mentioned in the lease. It can't be more than one month's rent, though, according to New York’s recently-passed laws about security deposits. But if you're in the middle of a lease term, and your current lease doesn't mention anything about a deposit, then your landlord can't require you to put one down right now. They’ll have to wait until your current lease term ends and you sign a new lease with a clause about security deposits.

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


Abigail Cain

More from Caretaker

August 10, 2022

Pre-screened tenants, less evictions

Trying to avoid a problem tenant, or worse, an eviction? Your best opportunity is before move-in day. In fact, before...

Read more

Alex Hance

August 10, 2022

We replaced rental brokers with software and filled 200+ vacant apartments

My team and I recently had the opportunity to work on automating the process of finding a high-quality renter. Over a...

Read more

Roger Graham

Want to read more?

Share your email with us and we’ll send you updates when new articles are posted.

Try out Caretaker, risk-free

Contact us any time to learn more about how we work and get a hands-on demo of Caretaker.

Request a demo