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Web Sites Help Renters Learn About Their Rights

April 04, 1999|LETA HERMAN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

With laws as complicated as our landlord-tenant laws, it's no big surprise that tenants in this country are confused and ill-prepared for any disputes that arise with their landlords.

How long until you get your security deposit back? Do you have to have your rent in by the first, or is there a grace period? Can your landlord just barge in without asking first?

These and many other questions can be answered with a little bit of research.

There are several good books renters can find in most bookstores, such as "Every Tenant's Legal Guide," a Nolo Press ([800] 992-6656 or http://www.nolo.com) self-help law book by Janet Portman and Marcia Stewart, and "The Savvy Renter's Kit" by Ed Sacks, available in many bookstores.

But sometimes you need to do more thorough research and actually read the laws yourself. Well, the good news is that even if you're not a lawyer, you can read the laws.

And though they can be quite obtuse at times, it's generally helpful to scour them yourself when you're having a dispute with your landlord.

If you have a computer, tenant law research is easier than ever. There are a number of Web sites that will help you on your knowledge quest.

New Hampshire Property Owner's Assn. (http://www.tiac.net/users/nhpoa/index.htm)

The founder of this site claims to have started the first comprehensive landlord-tenant legal site with links to virtually all the state and local landlord tenant laws.

Though this site was designed for landlords, it can be immensely valuable to tenants. And the site seems fair and unbiased in its approach.

Click on the "Other States, Laws and Landlords" link on the bottom of the home page and select your state. All but a few states are represented on this Web site.

Unfortunately, the portions of the statutes included are usually just about security deposits or evictions. So if you need to read another part of your local law, you'll have to visit another legal site.

TenantNet (http://tenant.net/main.html)

Even if you're not a New Yorker, you'll find this New York City site very useful. Check it out for links to local tenant organizations.

Have a burning question that needs an answer right away? Ask it on the TenantNet Message Board. Answers to your questions are posted quickly, if not the same day. Make sure you indicate where you're living, because most will assume you live in New York City.

Rental Housing On Line (http://www.rental-housing.com/)

This site is packed with rental information. Unfortunately the majority of articles speak directly to the landlord, not the renter. And the really good stuff isn't free. For a $25 fee, you can search the member area for summaries of landlord-tenant state and local laws as well as court decisions.

Still, the Tenant FAQ (frequently asked questions) and many other topics available to nonmembers are worth checking out.

Nolo Press (http://www.nolopress.com)

This Web site contains in-depth instructions on how to search for your local laws on Web sites like http://www.findlaw.com or http://www.alllaw.com. The site also has clips from some of the Nolo self-help law books.

The Legal Information Institute's Landlord Tenant Law Materials Site (http://www.law.cornell.edu/topics/landlord_tenant.html)

Sponsored by Cornell Law School, this site provides information about federal and state statutes and judicial decisions, with an emphasis on New York state. The judicial decisions are sometimes difficult to read but extremely important if you're looking into an area of law that's not clearly defined in any statute.

*

Leta Herman is a syndicated columnist based in Alameda, Calif. Questions on any aspect of apartment living can be addressed to lherman@ccnet.com, or Leta Herman, care of Inman News Features, 1250 45th St., Suite 360, Emeryville, CA 94608. Distributed by Inman News Features.

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