Life Skills for Homeowners and Renters
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LIFE SKILLS FOR HOMEOWNERS AND RENTERS
Whether you own your own home or rent a house or apartment, there are a number of things you need to know and do to protect yourself from things like eviction, foreclosure, or overpaying for services. This guide sets out a number of life skills that you need to keep in mind in your daily business.
BEFORE MOVING INTO A HOME OR APARTMENT
Carefully inspect (or have inspected) the house or apartment to make sure it is in good condition. Make a list of all items that need to be fixed and have the owner or landlord sign the list. Arrange with your landlord how the repairs will be made. Don't close on the house or sign the lease and move in until the necessary repairs have been made or you have an agreement in writing signed by the owner or landlord that repairs will be made by a certain date.
READ ALL DOCUMENTS BEFORE SIGNING THEM
Read your housing contract or lease and all loan documents carefully and make sure that you understand them before you sign them. If you are not sure whether you understand everything in the documents, get a lawyer or housing counselor to review these documents with you before you sign them. Your signature on these documents means that you understand everything that the documents say, and that you agree with the terms of these contracts. For instance, sometimes landlords will assume that tenants don't read their leases before they sign them, and they try to include unnecessary or hidden charges in the agreement. The tenants then end up having to pay more than they thought they had agreed to pay.
Make sure that what the contractor, lender, or landlord has promised is actually in the written contract and that the agreement does not include fees or costs you do not understand. Make sure any later agreements are also put in writing. Make sure that you get copies of all documents that you sign and keep them in a safe place.
MAKE PAYMENTS ON TIME
Pay your mortgage or rent on time every month. Even if your mortgage company accepts a late payment, if you do not pay on time as agreed, you have breached your contract and the mortgage company could choose to accelerate your debt and attempt to foreclose on your property. Similarly, even if your landlord has repeatedly ignored your repair requests, continue to pay your rent and talk to a lawyer about your remedy. Georgia law requires tenants to pay rent, and if you do not pay, your landlord has the right to evict you even though he or she is not fulfilling the duty to keep your apartment in a suitable condition.
Follow the "buddy system." If you have a friend or neighbor in your apartment complex, go together to pay your rent. That way, you can act as witnesses for each other if your landlord claims that either of you never paid. After paying, make sure that your landlord gives you a rent receipt. Do not pay in cash unless the landlord gives you a receipt. Keep copies of all cancelled checks and receipts showing that you paid.
If you are a tenant, make repair requests in writing, and keep copies of the requests. Make sure you put your name, address, and date on the letter. You should also hand deliver the letter if possible and have the person who received it sign your copy. If you mail the request, send it by certified mail. Sometimes landlords conveniently forget that tenants have requested repairs. If you make your requests in writing and keep copies, you will have proof of the attempts that you made. If you follow up your written request with a phone call to the landlord, write down the date, time, and name of the person with whom you spoke about repairs. Tenants are only required to repair damages they made themselves.
Take pictures of your conditions and problems. Pictures provide evidence of conditions and problems.
If your landlord fails to make repairs, call the Housing Code Department. Most counties and cities have inspectors who evaluate whether or not apartments meet a suitable conditions standard. If the apartment does not meet the standard, the Housing Code Inspector will warn the landlord that he or she needs to abide by the Code and could be prosecuted for not making necessary repairs. The number for your local Housing Code office is included in the Housing Code flyer, or check the blue pages in your telephone directory.
Do your homework when hiring a contractor. Here are some things you should do before hiring a contractor:
- Ask friends or relatives for recommendations.
- Ask the contractor for his complete business name, street address, and telephone number and verify them.
- Ask to see the contractor's business license and proof of personal and property liability insurance; check with the county to verify that the license is valid and check with the insurance company to make sure the insurance policy is still in effect. Do NOT do business with a contractor who does not have insurance coverage.
- Ask the contractor for a list of 3-5 references who were satisfied with his or her work and then visit those people to take a look at the contractor's work.
- Get written, itemized estimates from several contractors and compare costs.
- Make sure you have a signed contract before the contractor starts any work.
- Make sure all verbal agreements are included in the written contract.
- Make sure the written contract contains all the terms of the agreement and that you have read the contract carefully and understand everything in it before signing it. If you have any questions about the contract or do not understand something, ask to have it explained to you before you sign it. Keep a signed copy of the contract in a safe place.
- Never sign a contract that has any blank lines in it. Fill in or draw a line through any blank spaces.
- Do NOT give the contractor any money upfront before any work is done. If the contractor cannot pay for supplies upfront and begin the work, then find another contractor.
- Inspect the contractor's work thoroughly for any defects to ensure that the job is completed satisfactorily before you make the final payment.
USEFUL NUMBERS TO CALL FOR ASSISTANCE
- Dekalb Metro Housing Counseling Center (404) 508-0922
- United Way Help Hotline 211
- Task Force for the Homeless (404) 589-9495 or 1-800-448-0636
- Atlanta Emergency Aid Ministry (404) 875-3556
- The Sullivan Center (404) 753-0535
- Fulton Atlanta Community Action Authority
- Buckhead Christian Ministry (404) 239-0038
- Gwinnett Impact Group (678) 808-4477
ATLANTA LEGAL AID SOCIETY LOCATIONS
246 Sycamore Street, Suite 120
Decatur, GA 30030
30 South Park Square
Marietta, GA 30090
151 Spring Street, N.W.
Atlanta, GA 30303
South Fulton & Clayton Counties
1514 East Cleveland Avenue
East Point, GA 30344
(Wagon Works Building)
Clayton County Pro Bono Project
1000 Main Street
Forest Park, GA 30050
Gwinnett County Pro Bono Project
180 Camden Hill Road, Suite A
Lawrenceville, GA 30045
For TT/TTY users, call the Georgia Relay Center