Dear RentConfident… (We Answer Your Questions about Renting Safely!)

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Every once in a while we get questions from our readers about the finer details of renting. Some are from tenants, others from landlords, and still others from parents, attorneys and agents. Today we thought we'd answer some of those questions in our first advice column!

If you have a question you'd like us to answer in a future installment of Dear RentConfident, leave it in a comment below, or send us a message through our contact form.

Dear RentConfident: The other day I saw an apartment that suits all of my personal needs. I filled out an application, but when I was driving off I saw that the landlord had numerous bumper stickers on his car supporting causes that I really don't like. I really don't want him using my rent money to support these causes. I know that fair housing law doesn't allow discrimination based on political beliefs. Will I be breaking the law if I decide to not rent this apartment because I don't like the landlord's politics? - Voting With My Wallet, Logan Square

Dear Voting: The fair housing laws are pretty comprehensive in protecting renters and buyers from discrimination. However, they are definitely one-sided. As a consumer you can use any criteria you like when it comes to choosing what companies get your money. If you don't like the political affiliation of a landlord you can choose to rent elsewhere without fear of breaking any fair housing law.

However, just because you can do something doesn't mean you should. Your rent payment doesn't just go to the landlord. Much of it goes towards taxes, utilities, staff paychecks and repair companies. Besides, while the landlord is certainly making some questionable choices by keeping those bumper stickers on their car, they will be setting those values aside as they consider your rental application. If they are able to set aside their prejudices but you are not, you need to give some thought as to what that says about you.

Dear RentConfident: I am an interior design student and I've spent a lot of time making my apartment look fantastic. However, my property management company is awful! I'm moving out when my lease expires. I don't want them using photos of my interior design to market their apartments. Is there anything I can do to keep them from profiting off of my hard work? - Fully Furnished, Pilsen

Dear Fully: If you're a design student you probably already know that interior decor cannot be copyrighted. If it could, someone would be making a mint off of that traditional two chairs, a sofa and a coffee table living room arrangement!

If your property management company wants to take photos of your setup, they can do so and they probably will. The only way you can protect your design is to take it down to the bare basics before any of them enter your apartment, or cover it up with blankets.

However, you may want to consider working with them to promote your work. Apartment listing photos are seen by a lot of people, and if your apartment looks great then agents will probably want to show it off a lot. If you're willing to handle the additional traffic, consider turning your apartment into a three-dimensional portfolio showcase.

Provide your property manager with watermarked photos of your apartment to use in marketing. Leave your business card in a prominent location for showings. Yes, your property manager may wind up making some money off of you, but they'll probably fill the apartment no matter how it looks. You might as well use the opportunity to build your own client book.

Dear RentConfident: Watching the coverage of Hurricane Matthew has made me wonder about storm protection in my apartment. I know it's farfetched, but if a hurricane were to hit Chicago, who would be responsible for doing stuff like boarding up the windows and putting out sandbags? Me or my landlord? - Weather Watcher, Edgewater

Dear WW: While hurricanes don't hit Chicago, we have definitely seen some serious flooding as a result of their remains making their way north. We also get some pretty severe winter weather, and from the looks of things on the climate change front it's going to get worse before it gets better.

As for who should batten down the hatches at your apartment building, the answer is pretty simple. Unless your lease says otherwise, your landlord or property manager should take responsibility for securing the property as a whole. However, renters are responsible for safeguarding their belongings and the inside of the apartment. So, while the landlord may secure loose items and put some sandbags around the lot, you should be ready to move important items away from the windows, get your patio furniture inside and board up your windows from the inside.

That being said, not every landlord will make the effort to secure a building against major weather events. If you feel like your landlord isn't taking sufficient steps to protect your building, it's your call if you want to step up with your neighbors and prepare the building yourself or just get the heck out of there. However, given that the only way for a tenant to recover damages is to sue (or have your renters insurance company sue on your behalf), you'll have a much better chance of winning your case afterwards if you can demonstrate that you made a good faith effort to protect your own stuff.

RentConfident is a Chicago startup that provides renters with the in-depth information they need to choose safe apartments. Help us reach more renters! Like, Share and Retweet us!

Published by

Kay Cleaves