Attorney Tara Knight was featured on WTNH’s “Ask the Lawyer” segment talking about renters’ rights. Whether you rent from a homeowner or from a large complex, your rights and responsibilities as a renter are the same.
Read Attorney Knight’s answers to the most frequently asked questions about renters’ rights below and watch her WTNH segment here.
The landlord must provide a clean apartment when the tenant moves in and make sure the common areas are clean as well. Landlords also have a duty to keep proper lighting on the premises and keep plumbing and heating systems working. They are also expected to comply with state and local housing, fire, and environmental codes.
The security deposit is a payment given to the landlord that is used to protect the landlord from damages to the apartment caused by the tenant. A security deposit is not for rent. It is separate and must be kept in a separate interest-bearing account in the tenant’s name for the benefit of the tenant.
A security deposit cannot be more than the equivalent of two months rent and if the tenant is over the age of 62, it cannot be more than one month’s rent.
A landlord must return the security deposit plus interest to the tenant within 30 days after the tenant moves out—if the tenant has not caused damage to the property and if the rent has been paid on time and in full. If the landlord fails to return the deposit within 30 days, he or she could be liable for two times the amount of the security deposit. If there is damage to the property, the landlord can use the deposit to cover the cost of fixing the damage. The damage must be more than just normal wear and tear. The landlord must provide an itemized list of what was charged.
A landlord could also use the security deposit if it was necessary to do major cleaning because the apartment was left in a very bad condition or if the tenant owes money for rent.
If a landlord fails to return the security deposit, the tenant can sue the landlord in small claims court. Small claims court involve disputes that do not exceed $5,000.
A landlord has the right to raise the rent, but the rent cannot be increased during the period of a written lease unless the lease says it can. Also, the landlord is not required to give a certain amount of notice to the tenant of a rental increase unless the lease says otherwise.
A landlord can remove the tenant from the property only through an eviction process which is called summary process. Some reasons for an eviction include: the lease has expired; nonpayment of rent; violation of a term of the lease; nuisance; etc.
To start the process, the landlord must first serve legal papers on the tenant including a document called a notice to quit. This notice is usually served by a marshal on the tenant and provides a date when the tenant must voluntarily move. It also specifies the reason for the eviction.
If the tenant doesn’t move out by the day on the notice to quit, a formal lawsuit can be brought against a tenant in housing court.
The housing courts in the various courthouses throughout the state of Connecticut are very user-friendly. The tenant and/or landlord can often handle the case by themselves. These courts provide a lot of information as well as the relevant forms. The clerks of the court are also extremely knowledgeable and helpful to both tenants and landlords concerning their rights and responsibilities.
If the tenant loses in court, he or she may be able to get a stay of execution from the judge—meaning permission from the judge to stay on the property for a certain amount of time. After the stay of execution is over, the landlord will be able to obtain an execution which means that he or she will be able to remove the tenant and their belongings from the apartment.