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Q&A: Understanding landlord and tenant laws can help you avoid legal pitfalls

The Emerald interviewed attorney Tori Klein, who works for Access the Law, a Eugene nonprofit that provides legal services. Klein gives her opinion on things to keep in mind while renting an apartment or house. This is not legal advice, just tips for renters.

ODE: What is the most common problem first-time tenants have?

TK: Not documenting any issues they might have with the landlord or the rental property.

What should tenants take note of in a lease agreement?

Any nonrefundable amounts or prepaid amounts — some old lease agreements still contain language that is not up to new statutory standards (see ORS 90 for more information). Also, any addendum that documents the initial walk-through of the property must be accurate; otherwise landlords can rely on it to prove that the tenants damaged the property (and simply point to potentially inaccurate walk-through notes).

Why is it important to have a lease or rental agreement in writing?

Some contracts actually must be in writing, so depending on the length of the lease it actually has to be in writing to be enforceable. A lot of new renters are probably entering month-to-months or maybe year-long leases, and coming from a nonlegal standpoint, written agreements help people adjust their expectations and outline them in a way that both people can refer back to if necessary. It protects landlords and tenants, both of whom need help sometimes.

What kind of responsibilities do tenants have?

My number one recommendation is to treat the property with respect. It is someone else’s home, and it is crucial you respect them as a fellow society member and someone who is entrusting you with an expensive piece of their property.

Can landlords increase rent in the middle of a lease?

This depends on the lease. Most likely it is agreed to in a year-long lease that this cannot or should not be done.

How long can the landlord keep the security deposit?

Within 31 days after the term of the lease the landlord must give the tenant an accounting of what the security deposit was spent on (if it was retained). Otherwise tenants may have the right to seek damages.

Can the landlord enter the home at any time?

No. There are specific instances in cases of emergency that a short timeline is allowable. Otherwise there are specific notice requirements laid out by statute. Many landlords don’t know about these either.

What can be done against landlords who discriminate?

I have seen some civil rights suits stem from situations like this. Call Access the Law, legal aid, or the UO’s legal services if you believe this has happened to you.

Are there any other important things new tenants should know?

First, document, document, document. Anything that seems to be wrong with the property or an interaction with a landlord, write it down. Let the landlord know about issues with the home in writing. Even interactions that seem okay, but alter some understanding or appear surprising should be noted in writing. Keeping a record of concerns in writing can be the best way to protect yourself in the future.

Second, read the statutes! And the Oregon Bar’s information on landlord and tenant rights.

Third, as a landlord myself, I respect my tenants who come to me with concerns, and I appreciate it when they come in a prepared and respectful manner. Keep in mind that this is a business transaction, and it is a great opportunity to practice your communication skills that you will need when working in whatever profession you select upon graduation (or before).

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