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Your Responsibilities as a Tenant

When you sign a lease you're promising not just to pay the rent but also to maintain the condition of the unit and report anything that goes wrong.

Some state laws are extremely, bizarrely, specific about what you're required to do as a tenant, while others are more vague. For example did you know that in California if you decide to use your living room as a dining room or vice versa it's actually illegal? True story.

In all states, as a tenant you are responsible for paying the rent on time and keeping your rental unit in good condition. You can also expect to be held responsible for maintaining the unit in good condition and reporting any issues as soon as you notice them. If you don't and your landlord finds fault with you then it will be harder to make demands for important repairs or negotiate your rent down when it comes time to renew your lease - so make sure to request repairs!


Your rental will come in good working condition and you're expected to keep it clean and avoid damaging it beyond the normal wear and tear. Here are some examples of things that you are probably responsible for:

  • Keep your unit and the area around it clean and sanitary
  • Throw away trash in the way that the building or your landlord tells you to
  • Fix anything you break
  • Don't overuse or misuse any attribute of the rental, like the plumbing, electric fixtures and any appliances provided by the landlord

Most landlords will also require that you get an insurance policy. Renters' insurance covers your belongings and protects you in case you lose access to the unit for any reason, like a fire.


It's also your job to notice when something goes wrong, report it as quickly as you can and cooperate with the landlord when they try to fix it.

If you're reporting a problem and you suspect the landlord might ignore then it's best to send a formal demand letter. If, on the other hand, they have been responsive in the past then you can get in touch with them using whichever channel is normal for you.

Moving out

When you move out of your unit you're obligated to bring it back to broom clean condition, which is a weirdly specific term that you'll find in a lot of leases and just means that you should leave the unit just as you found it. For starters, you're obligated to repair any holes in the wall that you made for hanging pictures, fix scratches or dents that you made and paint over these things Generally you're not expected to put a whole new fresh coat of paint on unless you painted the walls a different color.

If you leave a bunch of stuff in the unit you should be prepared to lose your security deposit. It's better to get rid of anything you don't want anymore either by selling it, donating it or leaving it on the street at the right time.

Next steps

Find out what your landlord's responsibilities are and get to know your state's definition of habitability.

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

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