What Are My Responsibilities As a Landlord?

Before you rent out your place, you should know what your responsibilities are.

Being a landlord can be tough. On top of juggling taxes and investing your time and money into getting your place rented, you also have to keep your tenants happy.

Before you rent out your place, you should know what your responsibilities are.

The basics

Landlords are required to offer a dwelling in habitable condition. On the most basic level, this means a sound structure with hot water, heat, working locks, and sound plumbing and wiring.

Aside from the basic responsibilities, rental laws and landlord obligations vary by state. For example, in California all rooms require a window, but that’s not the case everywhere else. It’s your responsibility to read up on your local landlord-tenant laws.

Major and minor repairs

There are two types of repairs: major and minor.

As a landlord, you’re responsible for major repairs, which can include the following:

  • Busted pipes
  • Broken windows
  • Water heater or furnace issues
  • Broken toilet (particularly if it’s the only toilet)
  • Inoperable security features
  • Pest infestations

As long as major repairs are not the tenants’ fault, you have to foot the bill. However, if the tenants broke a window when moving furniture or left the house so dirty it becameinfested with mice, you can send them the bill.

Minor repairs are things such as stained carpets, holes in screen doors, creaky floors, and noisy pipes. If a repair isn’t endangering the tenants’ health or safety, you don’t have to make it.

Paying for repairs

If you like, you can have your tenants make some repairs and credit the money toward their rent. Say a new deadbolt needs to be installed and it will cost $45. You can ask your tenants to do it; if they agree, you’d deduct $45 from their rent that month. Draw up a document that states the amount billed and have them sign it to protect yourself from future disputes.

Some repairs may become the tenants’ problem if they neglect to inform you. For example, if the tenants fail to report a central air unit upstairs leaks, causing water damage to the ceiling downstairs, your tenants might be responsible for the subsequent damage. Encourage your tenants to report any maintenance issues.

Add-on features

Some add-ons aren’t legally required to be fixed if they break. Refrigerators, dishwashers, washers, and dryers fall into this category. Make it clear in the lease that as long as the tenants properly maintain the appliance they can use it, but if it breaks, you don’t have to repair or replace it.

If you don’t make it clear, you can enter a gray area and tenants might believe you’re required to make the fixes, withhold rent, and create an adversarial relationship.

Security 

You have to offer your tenants basic security. The rules vary by county and state, but these are the most common security features:

  • Interior deadbolts
  • Lockable windows
  • Entry door peepholes
  • Working smoke detectors

In some areas you can be required to provide additional security features if requested. In New York City, for example, if a tenant requests window guards, the landlord has to install them.

Maintenance

Landlords aren’t responsible for all outdoor maintenance on single-unit dwellings. You don’t have to mow the lawn or shovel snow, although you’ll want to keep your property looking sharp. However, for multiunit apartments, snow removal is the landlord’s responsibility.

If you happen to own a rental in a homeowners association community, be sure to enforce your community’s rules for maintenance. If your tenants don’t abide by the rules, then you—not the tenants—will face a fine.

You may or may not have to provide trash removal for single-family units. In some counties, trash removal is rolled into sewage and water service—so if you’re not paying that, you don’t have to pay for trash removal. For multifamily units, it’s your responsibility to provide a dumpster and arrange for pickup.

If you own a multiunit apartment, you have to keep the stairwells, lobby, and communal areas reasonably clean.

5 Apartment Safety Tips for Students

Whether you’re living in an apartment now or planning to rent in the near future, here are five apartment safety tips to keep in mind.

Going away to college and living in an apartment for the first time can be a challenge. While having newfound freedom is a plus, keeping tabs on a place is yet another big responsibility for young students.

Along with this responsibility comes safety concerns. How can you keep your apartment safe while focusing on your studies? Whether you’re living in an apartment now or planning to rent in the near future, here are five apartment safety tips to keep in mind.

1. Always lock the door

Whether or not you’re in the apartment, the door should always be locked. We’ve all seen scary movies and laughed at the ineptitude of people who forget to lock their door, but it’s not funny if someone’s able to sneak in to your place.

2. Bring a safe or hide your valuables

If you can afford one, a safe is a great investment. It’s the perfect place to keep valuables while you’re out enjoying college life.

If you can’t buy a safe, make sure to hide your valuables out of plain sight. Checkbooks, credit cards, cash, electronics, and jewelry should be safely stowed away from prying eyes.

3. Have a fire extinguisher

This may seem like an obvious tip, but some apartments may not supply a fire extinguisher. If this is the case in your place, invest in one—without a second thought.

It’s common sense, and a fire isn’t out of the realm of possibility in a college apartment.

4. Stay on top of the thermostat

Pipe bursts are a factor that many first-time renters are oblivious to. If you live in an area with colder winters, it’s extremely easy for pipes to freeze and burst, causing major headaches for you and your landlord.

Don’t let your thermostat drop to a freezing point. If it drops below the 60-degree range, you run the risk of having some major plumbing problems. Keep an eye on it.

5. Don’t tamper with fire alarms

Rules against tampering with the fire alarm are typical in any lease agreement and should be common sense. However, many students will disable an alarm in order to either smoke or cook in the apartment without the nuisance of an annoying fire alarm. Don’t do this.

Fire alarms (and carbon dioxide detectors, which are also recommended if you don’t have one) are extremely important for your safety, so disregard them at your own peril.

We’ve scratched only the surface, because there are countless ways to ensure your apartment is safe. Even though life as a college student may make you feel invincible, keep safety on your mind when you’re on your own.

6 Mistakes Renters Make

When you hunt for your next rental, take care to avoid these six mistakes that could cost you time, money, and grief.

Rent prices continue to rise as new renters flood the market. If you’re a renter, this brutal arithmetic adds up to less pocket money and fewer rental options.

And while the rental crunch is real, it doesn’t mean you should rush into your next apartment. When you hunt for your next rental, take care to avoid these six mistakes that could cost you time, money, and grief.

1. Not reading the lease

All leases aren’t created equal. If you don’t have a firm understanding of the binding contract you sign, you may face serious problems down the road.

As an example, some leases—particularly with management companies that own lots of properties—may have an arbitration agreement clause, which forces you to settle all lawsuits in binding arbitration rather than court.

You’ll also need to study the renewal terms, subletting rules (in case a roommate moves out), utility agreements, lease terms, property rules, and late fees.

2. Thinking the landlord will fix it

Did the fridge break? No problem—just call the landlord. He’ll fix it, right?

Not necessarily. Most renters are unaware that the landlord doesn’t have to fix some appliances such as the washer, dryer, fridge, and microwave. Broken appliances aren’t considered major repairs (unlike heat, hot water, and security features), and in most counties the landlord is not legally obliged to fix them.

Of course, most good landlords will, but you should ask to make sure. Check the lease and make sure there isn’t a clause stating the landlord doesn’t have to fix any nonessential appliance if it breaks. If that’s the case, be wary of renting a place with that clause and old appliances.

3. Not documenting damage

Most renters don’t take the extra step of documenting what the place looked like before they moved in. Photographic, time-stamped evidence of previous property damage can be the best way to get back your deposit from a bad landlord (or one who is clueless).

Take photos of any damages, including carpet stains, holes in the wall, cracked tile, etc. It also helps to write down and document these damages and have your landlord sign off on it.

4. Going only with an oral contract

If your landlord says he’s going to do something, say, repair the air conditioner after you move in, don’t just take his word for it. Get it in writing—your landlord will be much less likely to forget about it.

The same is true for anything else your landlord says, such as renewing the lease at the end of the year or not raising the rent. You’ll have a hard time proving an oral contract in court if a resulting problem ever goes that far.

5. Not touring the neighborhood

Don’t make the mistake of thinking the neighborhood looks the same all the time. Unless you know your city or town as well as a local police officer, you should tour the neighborhood during the day and at night. If things look sketchy, you won’t have to find out from your front porch.

6. Not pulling your credit report

It’s definitely a landlord’s market and in many metropolitan areas, landlords want the best tenants—and they make sure to pull credit scores.

While your credit score isn’t as important when you’re renting (as opposed to buying), you should still pull your credit report, check for errors, and dispute any you find. It could boost your credit score enough to give you an edge over the competition.

5 Tips for College Students Filling Out Rental Applications

What do you need to know before you fill out a rental application for the first time?

You’ve gone away to school and you’re ready to embark on a new adventure—namely, renting your own place.

What do you need to know before you fill out a rental application for the first time? We have five tips to help you with the process.

1. Make copies

Many apartment complexes use a generic renter application form that doesn’t vary much from place to place. Make a few copies of a completed application to avoid filling out the same information every time you go look at an open house.

2. Don’t give out your Social Security number

Many applications have a blank space for you to enter your Social Security number. It’s best to wait to do this, because you might not get the place you’re applying for or the apartment manager could misplace or lose your application, which could expose your personal information. You can protect your identity by waiting to supply your SSN until you’re actually in serious consideration for the place.

If you like, you can add a note to your application form explaining that you don’t want to disclose your SSN just yet.

Most landlords will understand, and you’ll feel secure knowing that your identity is safe.

3. Contact the housing office at school

If you lived in the dorms, many landlords will ask your university to confirm this. They’ll want to check your record from dorm housing, to see if there are any red flags.

Because dealing with the university can take time (lots and lots of time), it would be wise to contact your school ahead of time and have your files ready to send to any landlords requesting the information.

Some landlords won’t even consider you until they’re able to see your records. This can lead to a missed opportunity if your school can’t produce the paperwork in a timely fashion.

4. Have references ready

Landlords can be persuaded to let you live in their place if you tell them a bit about yourself. Of course, you’ll be biased, so why not let others do the talking?

Procure letters of recommendation from your boss, your professors, or anyone else who can vouch for your goodness. Remember to ask people who will be honest and will ensure you shine.

5. Have co-signers

Have one of your parents be a co-signer for you, so your landlord knows that if you don’t send the check on time, he or she will be able to get the money somehow.

Some places won’t even let students rent without a co-signer, so make sure to talk it over with your roommates about which parents are going to co-sign. Each roommate could potentially add his or her parents on an individual application.

How Can I Evict a Problem Tenant?

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Not all tenants are created equal. Some pay the rent on time, others don’t. Some are high-maintenance, others aren’t. And some are just more trouble than they’re worth. Which brings up the unenviable question: How do you know when it’s time to say “happy trails” to a problem renter?

Rules and laws vary from state to state and city to city, but the spirit behind a lease is consistent. Because a lease is a binding contract, a landlord may be able to evict a problem tenant if the terms of the contract are not being honored.

Classic examples of cause include damage to the property, using the property for illegal purposes, or not paying the rent on time. If the lease states “no waterbeds” and the tenant has one, that could also be used to move the eviction along. But the contract cuts both ways. If a landlord is not living up to his or her end of the deal (not following through on needed repairs, for instance), the tenant can certainly bring that up in small-claims court.

Landlords who find themselves with a tenant they’d like to be rid of should be advised to follow the rules closely. We hope it goes without saying, but just in case: Don’t simply take the tenant’s stuff and throw it out on the street, turn off the heat, and change the locks. That’s illegal. Consult with local rent boards and follow the steps closely.

The Uniform Residential Landlord and Tenant Act is used by multiple states and offers landlords (and tenants) a look at the legality behind different types of evictions. Every case is different, but this is a good place to start for anyone who might be on either side of the process.

Avoid the Noise and Retire in Peace

An older boomer couple enjoy time with their dog.

iStock

If you’re planning to retire, one of the most important decisions you have to make is where to live. Many retirees opt to sell their oversize home, invest the profits of the sale, and rent a smaller, less-expensive place.

However, there’s a hazard: Rentals are also popular with young people who like to party at night and young families with noisy babies.

That’s not to say all seniors aren’t looking for an active social life—a party-friendly rental may be exactly what some retirees relish.

However, it’s crucial to find a rental with the atmosphere and location that suits you.

Socializing and support

Retirees are often very interested in finding a rental in an accessible location close to services such as grocery stores, pharmacies, doctor offices, and a hospital, says Teri Andrews-Murch, an agent with Lyon Real Estate in Auburn, CA.

“Seniors want a community that supports them and has the resources they need, particularly if they can’t drive or know they won’t be able to drive in the future,” Andrews-Murch said. “They want to be near people who they can ask for help if they need it and also for social activities, so a community with a clubhouse is appealing.”

Tips for finding the right rental

  • Establish your time frame. “Contact a Realtor® who can help you set up an email alert system if homes rent quickly in your area,” says Eddie Edwards, an agent with Century 21 New Millennium in McLean, VA. “In Northern Virginia, desirable rentals are leased within zero to three days, so you need to be ready to sign a lease fast.” Edwards says that once you decide on a time frame for your move, you should talk with an agent.
  • Listen for noise issues. Andrews-Murch says newer apartment buildings tend to have better insulation and soundproofing. She recommends touring apartments in the evening and on weekends when neighbors are more likely to be home. “High-rise buildings have more sound-conditioning than wood-framed midrise or garden apartments,” says Edwards.
  • Don’t forget a pet. Edwards says almost two-thirds of apartments accept pets, and the remainder will often make an exception for one small animal. In addition to making sure you can bring your companion to your new home, Andrews-Murch suggests looking at where you can walk your dog and where the nearest vet is located.
  • Think like a young person. To avoid places that appeal solely to a younger demographic, don’t look at places near a large university or in other areas that attract students or 20-somethings, says Edwards.
  • Talk to the neighbors. “Neighbors are the best source for the lowdown on the area and on the quality of the building,” says Edwards. Andrews-Murch adds you should also ask neighbors about the property management. “Some managers are overzealous and knock on your door all the time, but others ignore complaints,” she says.
  • Ask about the rental history. An owner-occupied home that is being rented for the first time tends to be better maintained than one that’s been a rental for decades, says Edwards. If you want a long-term home rental, find out if the owner ever intends to live in the house again before you sign a lease.

Approach a rental search just like a home-buying search: Narrow your priorities, explore different locations, and do your due diligence before signing your new lease.

The Late-Summer Rental Market Is Still Hot

Summer Apartment Hunting

With soaring rent rates and a ridiculously low occupancy rate—4.1%, according to real estate research firm Reis Inc.—apartment hunting isn’t much fun lately. And the late-summer timing might be making things even harder.

From the sweltering heat that’s keeping many tenants in their great apartments you could be renting if they’d just move already, to the college kids coming back and scooping up available rentals in droves, inventory in the dog days of summer is slim pickings.

That’s the bad news. The good news: You might be able to boost your luck with help from pro. Realtors® work in rentals, too, and they may be the key to your next pad.

They’ll get you VIP access

You might have that whole Craigslist apartment-hunting thing down, but Realtors still have you beat when it comes to finding new inventory. They have access to properties you wouldn’t normally see on your typical apartment-hunting website, and they often hear about new rentals as soon as they become available, before the ad goes up online.

Many Realtors can also easily set up an email notification system for you based on your preferences and price range that gives you VIP status over other apartment hunters.

“It is immediate access. The second a property comes on the market, you’ll be notified via email,” says Chandler Crouch, broker at Chandler Crouch Realtors, landlord and rental market survivor. “There’s nothing quite like that.”

They’ll reduce your stress level

Apartment hunting is stressful.

Scams abound on many of the popular rental websites. It isn’t always easy to tell if the landlord is legit, if the property is really available for rent, or if you’re about to get taken for a ride. When you work with a Realtor, “you can feel confident you’re dealing with a legit lead,” Crouch says.

You’ll also have an advocate, someone on your side who is willing to work out the tougher life questions with you that a landlord normally wouldn’t handle.

Say, for example, you’re apartment hunting with a roommate. “If you have a situation you want to talk about privately, like splitting the bills or finding a rental that matches two wish lists, your Realtor can help you with that,” Crouch says.

You’ll still have to do some legwork

Depending on whom you work with, you may end up doing some of the legwork yourself.

To make sure you don’t miss out on properties, you’ll likely end up doing at least some searching yourself. The reason is simple: Realtors don’t make a lot of money representing tenants.

“What most people don’t know, at least in my market area, the commissions the landlord or listing agent offers a tenant’s agent are supersmall,” says Crouch. “The maximum the listing agent or landlord might give is 60% to as low as 20% of one month’s rent. There really isn’t a lot of incentive, and the Realtor would be smart not to spend a lot of time on it.”

How to work well with a Realtor

Realtors have the best inventory and the fastest access to new leads, but you may end up feeling frustrated if you work with them exclusively. So what’s the solution? It might be as simple as trying a different approach: Ask a Realtor for help, but do the actual hunting yourself.

“I recommend finding a Realtor and just making a deal with them,” Crouch says. “Ask them to set up the automatic email notifications for a small fee—say $50, for example—and then go look at the listings yourself.”

The win-win alternative

You could also rent from a Realtor directly. Many Realtors buy and rent out homes and small apartment buildings, and the quality may be higher than that of other available rentals in your area.

“Realtors are held to a higher standard,” says Crouch. For you that means full disclosure on a prospective rental, such as if there’s lead-based paint. It also means renting from someone who knows what his or her legal obligations are when it comes to upkeep and maintenance on the property.

Realtor-owned properties might be cheaper, too. According to Crouch, a Realtor has to offer a fair market rate, while a private landlord might spike prices when a neighborhood becomes trendy or competition gets fierce.

“What it boils down to is, I would trust a Realtor-owned property more than someone else, because they have a reputation to uphold and know more,” Crouch says.

Renting Out Your Vacation Home? Here Are 4 Ways to Land 5-Star

five-star-vacation-rental

Getting a rave review and repeat customers on a rental site such as Airbnb or VRBO is a two-step process that will test just how well you’re able to present yourself to complete strangers—and maybe your recall of Psych 101, too.

You want to attract a certain caliber of renter (i.e., not crazy), so your ad needs to send out the right signals. But you also need to keep those renters coming back. And we’re here to tell you: It’s not quite as simple as throwing together some Ikea bookshelves and calling it a day.

There is a science to this, reveals psychologist Liz Chamberlain, with the Colorado Center for Clinical Excellence. Master it, and you’ll be on your way to some five-star reviews—and plenty of extra cash.

Here are four ways to ace the vacation rental market.

1. Target your ideal renter

Ask yourself first: Who do you want in your vacation home, guesthouse, or—gasp!—spare room?

“Think about what kind of energy—for lack of a better word—you want to invite in,” Chamberlain says. “A couple? A family? A group out for a party weekend?”

If you want to create the ultimate romantic getaway, for example, start setting the scene in your listing.

In your post, use pictures that present the space as warm and cozy, Chamberlain says. It will send a clear signal: Couples wanted.

And, of course,  it also shows that you’re a thoughtful host who’ll do everything to ensure your guests have a comfortable stay.

2. Don’t overdo the decor

Your guests probably sought you out because they didn’t want a sterile hotel. But beware of going overboard in the other direction. You’ll want to strike a balance: comfortable but depersonalized, so anybody might feel at home.

First, avoid the tendency to overload your couch with pillows and blankets—you’re aiming for cozy, not crazy.

“If there’s too much clutter, it suggests there’s no room for your guests and that you don’t really want them there,” Chamberlain says. “If it’s too sparse, it’s not a home—it’s little more than a hotel.”

It should go without saying, but that giant framed portrait of Ronald Reagan over the living room fireplace needs to come down, stat.

“Anything that shows a political or religious belief will make people uncomfortable,” she says. “Put away the crucifix or the big Buddha—anything that might cause feelings of conflict or dissonance.”

3. Welcome your guests with a surprise

It’s not imperative that you be there to greet your guests when they arrive, but there are a few ways you can make a good impression. Why bother? It’ll put your guests at ease and hopefully make them feel a connection to you and your space.

“People want to see a little of their host’s personality,” Chamberlain says. “There can be a disconnect, because you’re having guests in your home but you’re not there. So maybe leave something to serve as that symbolic transition.”

Sure, a bottle of wine is a terrific go-to welcome gift. But you can also consider leaving a special treat for them to discover (some cupcakes maybe?). Or give them something to think about: “Leave out a journal and suggest your guests leave a note about their stay before they leave,” Chamberlain suggests.

4. Simplify the stressful stuff

You may have inherited your mom’s constant state of worry, but there’s no need to project that onto your potential guests.

“If they see an earthquake kit or fire extinguishers while scrolling through the photos in your ad, it might put the wrong image in that person’s head,” Chamberlain says. “It’s all about when you show your hand. Don’t include those things in the pictures, but make sure they’re available and handy once the renters get there.”

Another thing: Avoid having an entertainment system that requires an advanced degree to operate. Most people will be traveling and not spending all day watching Netflix, so if you have to plop a 1,000-page instruction manual on the coffee table, consider simplifying.

Bottom line: There’s nothing to be gained by intimidating your guests or revealing your own mad scientist tendencies. Save it for your shrink. And thank us later.

5 Simple Ways to Green Your Apartment

Electronic thermostat on leaves

Renters, it’s time to green up your act!

We can all take steps to protect our planet, but apartment dwellers often don’t go beyond recycling. Perhaps you feel you don’t have a long-term stake in your home or a homeowner’s budget for sustainability features.

But there are some easy tricks you can use to help save resources—including money! Check these out.

1. Practice better climate control

Heating and cooling typically amounts to 50% or more of your energy bill. Even if utilities are included in your rent, do the right thing and moderate the thermostat whenever possible. Andrea K. George, director of the Sustainability and Environmental Management Office at Vanderbilt University, suggests a setting of 76 to 78 degrees in warm weather and 68 degrees in cold weather.

Also, ask your landlord if you can change out a traditional thermostat with a programmable type that you can manage remotely.

2. Don’t forget those other two R’s

If you’re like most apartment dwellers, storage space is always an issue—especially when you’re always tempted to buy even more stuff! (C’mon, you know who you are.) But one of the quickest ways to be environmentally conscious is to follow the hierarchy:reduce, reuse, recycle.

“So many people just skip right to recycle and think if they are recycling, then they are doing all they can for the environment, but that is so not true,” George says. “The first thought should always be to reduce. Do I really need whatever it is I am considering buying or eating?”

Also, think about what you can reuse. Reusable coffee cups and water bottles make a huge difference in garbage volume. On a larger scale, get your furnishings at resale stores or through Craigslist or freecycle.org (a network for people giving and getting good stuff for free to keep it out of the landfills).

“Any time you reuse something, it saves enormous resources in production, shipping/transportation, et cetera,” George says.

3. Watch the waterworks

According to the United States Geological Survey Water Science School, 4,000 drips from a leaky faucet equals about 1 liter of wasted water. You can calculate your personal “drip” potential here.

Fortunately, there is an easy fix—changing the washers on your faucet(s). Talk to your superintendent about doing it, or check out this how-to video.

Another wise way to save water? Replace your showerheads with low-flow alternatives. By installing an EPA-approved WaterSense showerhead, the average family can save 2,900 gallons of water annually, not to mention saving on energy by heating less water.

Or you could try taking shorter showers. George suggests setting a timer and gradually reducing your shower time. Also, turn off the sink while you shave or brush your teeth.

After all, every little drop counts.

4. Get rid of the energy vampires

Are you ready to see the light … with energy conservation? You should be, because 25% of your home utility bill is usually related to lighting, George says.

So pay attention to your lightbulbs! Renters can quickly lessen their energy usage just by choosing the right illumination.

Energy Star–rated compact fluorescent lights use 75% less energy than incandescent and last six t0 10 times longer—8,000 hours versus 1,200 hours, George says. Light-emitting diodes are even better, lasting 25% longer than the incandescent bulbs we are all used to—25,000 hours versus 1,200 hours—and use 80% less energy.

While these bulbs cost more upfront, they’ll save you money in the long run. Also, try to use natural light whenever possible.

Another massive drain? Leaving your electronics charging after they’re fully juiced. “Vampire” loads can account for up to 10% of your energy usage, George says. To reduce this, just unplug your computers, cellphone chargers, game systems, and other electronics when they’re not being used.

Keeping an empty charger plugged in is also not optimal. Studies from the University of California, Berkeley, indicate that cellphone chargers in this state consume an estimated$4 billion in energy annually.

5. Create a green team

One of the best ways to put green practices into play is to make it a group effort, saysMyria Allen, professor of communication at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville and author of “Strategic Communications for Sustainable Organizations.”

Allen—who works with companies to help them become more environmentally aware—suggests the first place to start is in your own apartment. That means recruiting family members and/or roommates to jump on the bandwagon.

“Perhaps start a jar where if someone in your home sees that you leave your cellphone charged all night you are fined a quarter. … Same thing applies for leaving lights on in an empty room and so on,” Allen says.

At the end of the month, the funds collected can be used to invest in even more ecologically sound items for your apartment—like power strips or LED lightbulbs.

Another idea? See if you can start a “Green Team” within your apartment complex—try posting in the laundry room or chatting with neighbors. Then you can approach management as a united front about making your building more sustainable—which will pay off for them, too.

“Use a business case for sustainability arguments,” Allen says. “More effective energy/water use can be used as a selling point to new tenants, or new tenants are attracted to buildings where residents share a concern for the environment.”

With a little creativity and awareness, you, too, can find yourself thinking green and saving green!

The Little-Known Ways Renters Insurance Could Save You Money

house wrapped in bubble wrap

Nearly all homeowners (95%) have homeowners insurance, but renters insurance isn’t nearly as popular, according to a 2014 poll from the Insurance Information Institute. In that survey, only 37% of renters said they had such policies, though that’s an increase from 29% in 2011, when the survey first asked about it.

What consumers may not realize, whether they have renters insurance or not, is how handy these policies can be. They’re generally pretty cheap—the national average for a renters insurance policy is about $15 a month, according to the National Association of Insurance Commissioners—and they can save you from being financially liable for pricey property damage.

The homeownership rate is at a nearly 50-year low in the U.S., meaning there are more renters out there. Whether you’re among the majority without renters insurance or unfamiliar with the benefits of your policy, there are a few things you may want to know about this type of insurance.

How much it costs

Renters insurance is quite affordable, especially when you compare it to averagehomeowners insurance premiums. The annual premium for homeowners insurance was $1,034 in 2012, the most recent data provided by the NAIC, while renters insurance premiums averaged $187 a year. That’s $86 a month versus $15.60.

Your premium will depend on a variety of things such as your deductible, level of coverage, and location, but you can get tens of thousands of dollars in coverage for about $15 a month.

“Consumers often don’t realize how much their stuff adds up to,” said Stacey Vogler, a spokeswoman for Protect Your Bubble insurance. “The average person has about $12,000 worth of things if you’re just looking at maybe four things per room.”

What it covers

Renters insurance covers the sort of things you’d expect, like anything damaged by a fire, for example, but it pretty much covers anything that happens to your stuff while it’s in your place. Of course, you need to go over the specifics with your insurer to know exactly what’s covered and what’s not. Vogler listed some of the possibilities:

“You could be protected if there’s injury or damage to someone else’s property while in your apartment, if some of your items are stolen while you’re traveling, if your apartment or your home is damaged from someone else’s fire or someone else’s water leak,” she said.

Personal property increasingly includes expensive items such as smartphones, home theaters, laptops, and tablets, not to mention what it might cost you if your entire wardrobe is damaged when a pipe bursts in your upstairs neighbor’s apartment. The potential cost of replacing your belongings is one of the biggest arguments for getting renters insurance, but it’s also something more and more property managers are requiring of their tenants. Vogler said that’s an emerging trend.

Deciding what insurance you need is always a tricky exercise in budgeting, because we all hope we never have to use things like renters, pet, or life insurance, and if we don’t use it, why would we want to pay for it? Of course, if an emergency happens, it can save you thousands of dollars and help you avoid going into debt, so you need to weigh the risk of going without insurance for the sake of making room in your monthly budget.

Getting insurance is a conversation that goes hand in hand with having an emergency fund, because both can help you avoid a financial disaster in the event of unexpected expenses. Emergencies often put people into debt, sometimes hurting their credit in the process and damaging their finances in the long term. Good credit can save you a lot of money over the course of your lifetime—we explain what a good credit score is here—which is why it can help to have protections in place in case of emergencies. You can check your credit scores for free every month on Credit.com.