Each state has a number of tenant rights organizations that provide legal assistance and advice to tenants. Whether you're renting a room, an apartment, or a freestanding house, you have certain rights and responsibilities that allow you to enjoy a safe, well-maintained property for as long as you pay rent and follow other leasing obligations. However, the legal rights you have when renting a short-term property -- such as a vacation or summer home -- are a bit less clear. Read on to learn more about your rights and responsibilities as a short-term tenant, as well as what you can do if you run into vacation property troubles.
What is your legal status when renting vacation or other temporary property?
When you rent a home or apartment, you will generally sign a lease agreement that sets out the cost of rent, the term of the lease, and other rights and obligations under state law. Once you've entered into a lease, your landlord must go through proper state eviction procedures to force you to vacate the property. And if you choose to leave the lease early, you may be liable for lease breaking fees, a security deposit, or other associated fees.
However, when you're temporarily renting a vacation home, your legal status is a bit different. Instead of being a tenant, you are usually classified as a sub-lessee or temporary tenant. Sub-leasing an apartment or home from an existing tenant or a tenant services company means that the original lessee is still responsible for making rent payments and maintaining the property. The natural corollary to this is that you don't have the same rights as traditional tenants. In order to enforce certain lease provisions, you'll need to go through the property management company or the original lessee, rather than straight to the owner.
What should you consider when renting a vacation home?
There are a few financial risks that may arise during the process of renting a vacation home. However, there are many things you can do to mitigate these risks and ensure a safe, fun, and hassle-free vacation.
One risk is that of an increased or withheld security deposit. If you are renting directly from the original lessee, he or she may charge you a high security deposit, or demand additional compensatory funds before you leave the home after your vacation. Some unscrupulous renters will even attempt to make you pay for damages that were already present when you began renting. Without documentation that these damages had already occurred, your legal case against the lessee will be difficult to win.
Before you sign a rental agreement, be sure to do an initial walk-through of the apartment or home to check for existing damage. Ensure that this damage is marked or explained on the lease agreement. You may even wish to take pictures with a camera or cell phone -- because these pictures will contain an electronic time and date stamp, it will be clear that you are not responsible for the damages.
You should also be sure that any signed agreement clearly sets out the term of the lease and other potential payments or fines. If you're renting a condominium or apartment, part of your rental fee may include a weekly cleaning or restocking charge. This charge should always be fixed, and not variable -- regardless of whether you leave the rental in messy or pristine condition.
Finally, if you're planning to leave valuables (including jewelry, cash, or credit cards) in your rental while you are gone, consider bringing along a small safe or other secured device for storage. Most rental agreements will disclaim any liability for lost or stolen items, even if it was the sub-lessee's own negligence that led to this loss.