Nashville, TN – As classes at colleges and universities across Tennessee get underway, students will be renting apartments and houses—some for the first time.
To help all tenants be prepared and stay fire-safe, the Tennessee Department of Commerce and Insurance (TDCI) urges renters of all ages and backgrounds to be aware of their rights as tenants and to always practice fire safety in their homes.
“It’s important that first-time renters do their homework before signing a lease,” said TDCI Interim Commissioner Carter Lawrence.
“We encourage renters to always inspect the property they plan to rent thoroughly before moving in and always check for working smoking alarms, and when inspecting fire safety features to always discuss fire safety features and practices with the property’s owner in advance of moving into the property,” Lawrence stated.
Consider these consumer tips provided by TDCI’s Division of Consumer Affairs when renting or living in a rental property:
- Before you rent, make a budget and save for your security deposit. Many experts suggest spending no more than 30% of your gross income on rent.
- Walk through the actual unit you will be renting. If the landlord won’t let you see the unit, think twice. Remember: Renter beware!
- Make a list of repairs. If important things don’t work, ask the landlord to fix them before you sign your lease or move in.
- Take photos before moving into your place. Carefully read your lease before you sign and make sure all things owed to you prior to move in are properly documented. After you sign the lease, keep the paperwork somewhere safe!
- Pay your rent on time. If late, the landlord can charge up to a 10% late fee. Do NOT withhold rent for a repair. All repair requests should be in writing and the repair should be fixed within 14 days. (If not, call Legal Aid Society or a private attorney.) Keep a copy of the request you made.
- Friends coming over? You are responsible for your guests. They must follow the rules, too!.
- Landlords may not treat you differently because of your race, color, religion, national origin, sex, disability, or having children. Reasonable accommodations must be made for people with disabilities. Need help? Call Legal Aid or a private attorney.
- Never assume your landlord’s insurance policy covers your possessions. More often than not, you will have to acquire renters insurance to protect your belongings.
- Read the lease 3 months before it ends. Inform your landlord in writing that you’re moving at least two months in advance.
- When your lease expires, the landlord may/may not renew it. If your lease expiration date is approaching, talk with your landlord to discuss month-to-month or lease extension options.
- Before you move out, schedule a walk-through. Before leaving, remove ALL belongings and take photos of how you left the unit.
- Leave your unit in broom-clean condition. Make a list of things to be fixed. If you and your landlord agree, sign the list. (If you disagree, make separate lists.) Forward your mail to your new address. Request return of your security deposit in writing. Make sure the landlord knows where to send it.
The State Fire Marshal’s Office, a division of TDCI, shares the following tips to help Tennessee always make fire safety a priority in their rented space:
- If possible, select an apartment or house that has a fire sprinkler system installed. Fire sprinklers offer the best fire protection currently available.
- Ensure that working smoke alarms are installed on every level of your home. Alarms 10 years old or older should be replaced as they may not function properly. The date of manufacture can be found on the back of the alarm.
- It’s a law in Tennessee that landlords must provide a working smoke alarm in 1 or 2 family dwellings . When you move in, ensure there is a working alarm installed. After move-in, it is the tenant’s responsibility to ensure the alarm is working and maintained.
- Have a fire escape plan. Identify two ways out of every room in the space if possible. Establish an outside meeting place where all occupants and guests know to go in the event of a fire.
- Check windows and doors to ensure they can be opened and used as an exit should an emergency arise. If the home has security bars, ensure that the bars have a quick release mechanism that allows them to be easily opened from the inside. Make sure that everyone staying in the home knows how to operate the release.
- If you smoke, smoke outside. Use deep, sturdy ashtrays and fully extinguish cigarettes by dousing them with water or burying them in sand.
- After a party, check under cushions for smoking materials—furniture burns fast.
- Stay in the kitchen when cooking. Cook only when you are alert, not sleepy or drowsy from medicine or alcohol.
- Inquire if the home’s heating equipment has been inspected recently.
- Do not overload extension cords, power strips, or electrical outlets.
- Consider battery-operated candles as a safer alternative to real candles.
- Ensure the home’s address is clearly posted to allow emergency services to find you quickly in the event of an emergency.