MONEY home improvement

$209 Created This Office Alcove

After: Opening up the closet helped give the family access to more precious floor space. Planked walls and a desk finished with bin pulls fit with the home's Craftsman cottage look. Six drawers and two upper cabinets offer plenty of room for stashing school supplies and paperwork. Courtesy of This Old House
Tight quarters often inspire creative solutions. Just ask Carrie Gray, who dreamed up this charming office nook after years of having only a single drawer in which to store supplies and lesson plans for homeschooling her four children.
To create a workspace in their small 1914 bungalow, in Chardon, Ohio, veteran DIYers Carrie and her husband, Mark, cleared out a wide catch-all closet in the family’s dining room and cut away the wall beside the door to open up the recess. Finding the closet’s plaster in rough shape and not wanting to invest the time or money for a redo, Mark used a nail gun to attach 6-inch planks of plywood to the walls, ceiling, and floor; then Carrie painted them white. Mark added an area rug underfoot, cut to fit the space.
To make a perfect-size desk from a secondhand dresser, he cut out the middle drawers to create knee room; Carrie painted the base white, and Mark added new cottage-style bin pulls and reattached the top. After wiring in a new sconce, Mark installed two wall cabinets made from old cabinet boxes, leftover lumber, and 100-year-old glass taken from their kitchen in a previous remodel. To finish the nook, he trimmed the opening using leftover plywood, baseboards, and MDF. Now, Carrie says, “It’s the one space that I have to myself in the house, and I love it.”

 

Before: The wide closet had a narrow doorway, making it a tricky storage spot with a lot of wasted space. Courtesy of This Old House
The Project Tally:
• Removed the closet wall to make an open nook $0
•Covered the walls, ceiling, and floor with plywood cut into planks $60
•Added an area rug underfoot, cut to fit the shape of the space $15
MONEY renting

Moving in Together? Here’s How to Make it Work

Following this advice should lower the chance you'll be paying to move out sooner than expected.

You’ve done it. You’ve decided you’re ready to take the next step in your relationship … and move in together.

You’re simultaneously excited and a little terrified. That’s totally normal.

Sharing a space with someone can test whether or not you’re a good fit for each other. It can also cause some awkward and potentially testy situations if you don’t handle it correctly.

Follow these basic dos and don’ts to increase the chances you’ll live happily ever after in the same home, and won’t be paying to move out in a short amount of time.

DO: Brace for an adjustment period

Even if you’ve gotten along flawlessly up to this point, things change when you start living with someone. After all, you’ll be around them (and their quirks) 24/7.

Be prepared for a little awkwardness and getting to know each other all over again— it’s natural and bound to happen. Even the strongest couples in the world (whoever they are) experience moments when they irritate the heck out of each other. It doesn’t mean your relationship is in trouble; it just means you’re going through an adjustment period.

DO: Keep an open line of communication

If you have a disagreement or misunderstanding, the worst thing you can do is keep quiet. Even seemingly little things — like her tendency to leave dirty clothes on the floor or his failure to check with you before inviting friends over — can balloon into huge fights if you secretly stew over them.

There are very few problems that can’t be worked out or compromised in some way. The key is to stay open and communicative about what bugs you. Open the conversation with an “I” statement, such as “I feel stressed out when …,” and you’ll be on the road to domestic bliss.

DON’T: Feel like you have to spend every second together

Living with someone doesn’t mean you have to spend every waking moment with them. In fact, doing so can drive even the closest couples crazy.

In order to stay happy (and keep your relationship healthy), enjoy some “me” time at least a few times a week. Whether that means reading a good book, going out with your friends, or pursuing a hobby your partner isn’t interested in, make sure you’re allowing yourself some physical and mental space to relax, unwind, and recharge.

DO: Be willing to sacrifice a little

Yes, you hate doing the dishes. We all do. But living together successfully means that each of you needs to be willing to do the “un-fun” stuff that needs to get done. If you can go one extra step and occasionally do more than necessary, that will go a long way towards keeping things harmonious.

Surprise your significant other by relieving them of dish duty every once in a while. Offer to walk the dog tonight even though it’s your s.o.’s duty, because you can tell she’s had a long day at work. Think of little ways you can make your partner smile, and (hopefully) they’ll return the favor.

DON’T: Insist on doing things “your way”

Maybe the toilet paper was always spooled from the top in your household, but your boyfriend grew up with it reversed. Maybe your girlfriend always loads the dishwasher from the back to the front, and you’ve always done the opposite.

These little things are not worth getting upset over. As long as you’re both pulling your own weight, it shouldn’t matter if your techniques are a little different. Be willing to let go of “the way you’ve always done it” and find a new way that works for your combined household.

DON’T: Get stuck in a rut

After you’ve lived with someone for a while, you can start to feel more like roommates than a couple. Even if you both enjoy spending every weekend in your PJs watching Netflix, make a point of setting up some nice, official outside-the-house dates now and then to keep the spark alive.

Get dressed up and go to a fancy restaurant you haven’t been to before. Book a room at a B&B and enjoy a romantic weekend. During date time, no trivial roommate-related talk is allowed — don’t mention you’re running low on milk or that you need to call the plumber in the morning about that leak. Focus instead on what you love about each other and how much fun you have together.

 

To read more from Paula Pant of Trulia, click here.

 

Related:

Should I buy or rent?

 

MONEY Housing Stocks

Smart Ways to Play the Uneven Housing Recovery

Home Depot shopping cart in store aisle
Jim Young—Reuters

While shares of homebuilders remain iffy, there are other attractive stocks in the broader real estate recovery.

The U.S. housing market roared in July, but investors may want to tiptoe rather than jump into the sector.

That’s because much of the 15.7% increase in new home construction in July, the first gain in two months, came from apartment buildings, which tend to attract lower income renters and do not generate as much overall economic activity as single-family homes.

The appeal of apartments to millennials, a generation laden with student loan debt that may make it difficult to afford a down payment on a home, is one reason why some noted investors, such as DoubleLine Capital’s Jeffrey Gundlach, have said they are betting against the shares of homebuilding companies.

Fannie Mae on Monday downgraded its outlook for home sales and construction, estimating that 1.4 million single-family units will be constructed during 2014 and 2015 combined, compared with an earlier forecast of 1.6 million units.

“From an investment standpoint the homebuilder trade has been one of the most hotly anticipated trades over the past few years. Yet it continues to be nothing spectacular,” says James Liu, a global market strategist at J.P. Morgan Funds.

Fund managers, as a whole, are not taking a rosy view of the homebuilding segment. Actively managed U.S. mutual funds, on average, devote just 1.06% of their portfolio to companies such as Toll Brothers TOLL BROTHERS TOL -0.5887% and KB Home KB HOME KBH -0.5355% , according to Lipper. That was unchanged from the end of 2013.

Yet analysts and strategists say there are some attractive pockets of the housing market.

Housing-Related Retail

Phil Orlando, chief equity strategist at Federated Investors, built up positions in select retail stocks throughout the summer in expectation that a slowly improving housing market would help retailers such as Home Depot THE HOME DEPOT INC. HD -0.2414% and apparel and home fashion company TJX TJX TJX 0.2377% , parent of TJ Maxx and HomeGoods.

Both companies should benefit not just from new home construction, which accounts for approximately 8% of the housing market, but from rising home prices, which could spur homeowners to upgrade their appliances or otherwise put more money into their homes, he says.

“I’m very comfortable that when the dust settles we will see a resurgent consumer in the back-to-school season,” he says.

Home Depot on Tuesday reported a higher-than-expected 6.4% increase in same-store sales in the United States and raised its full-year forecast. Shares of the company are up nearly 8% for the year, or nearly one percentage point more than the broad S&P 500 index.

Apartment Buildings

To be sure, some investors have already done very well betting on a 2014 multi-family housing market. Exchange-traded funds focusing on residential real estate investment trusts, which typically hold apartment buildings and other multi-family developments, have been on a tear this year. The iShares Residential Real Estate Capped ETF is up 22.3% year-to-date, while the Vanguard REIT ETF is up 17.6%.

Those gains raise the possibility that shares of the companies in the multi-family sector already reflect the boom in apartment buildings and have little room to run, analysts say.

“The data remains inconclusive and uneven, says Dan Veru, chief investment officer at Palisade Capital, “and that’s the nature of the housing recovery right now.”

MONEY Ask the Expert

One Thing Dog Owners Shouldn’t Waste Money On

Chocolate lab puppy in browning lawn
Even adorable dogs may turn your lawn brown. John Crum—Alamy

Q: We love our dog, but she’s wrecking our lawn. It’s totally brown in the area where she “goes”—right next the patio, of course. Is there anything we can do that doesn’t cost a fortune?

A: Let’s start with a little, ahem, urine science. Your pooch’s pee is extremely high in nitrogen. And although nitrogen is an ingredient in lawn fertilizer, at intense doses, it’ll chemically burn the grass. There’s nothing your $800-a-year lawn fertilizing company can do about it. Brown-outs can be particularly problematic with female dogs, since they typically release a single, huge puddle each time they go outside, whereas male dogs often like to relieve themselves in many small batches on trees, fences, and any other vertical surface they can find.

Any supplement or medication that promises to resolve your dog-induced lawn problem—and there are many available, from $12 boxes of treats to $30 bottles of vitamin supplements—is either not going to work or not going to be healthy for the dog. “High nitrogen content is a sign of a healthy dog,” says New York City veterinarian Ann Hohenhaus. Thus, don’t waste your money trying to change the composition of your dog’s waste.

Some vets suggest adding water to your dog’s food in order to get her to drink more and dilute her urine, a perfectly safe approach, but Dr. Hohenhaus says it’s often impossible to get a dog to drink more water than it wants to. Adding it to her food, or giving her fun-to-chew ice cubes, is likely to just make her drink equivalently less from her water bowl. Still, there’s no harm in trying to lead your dog to water, so to speak, just be prepared to let her out more often if it works.

For most mutts, though, the best solutions happen outside the house. Some of Dr. Hohenhaus’s clients—who tend to have small, urban lots—keep a watering can in the backyard and immediately rinse the grass right after their pets do their business, an effective way to dilute the nitrogen before it does any damage, as long as you’re on scene to do it every time.

A better solution for the larger yards of suburbia is to train your dog to go in a designated, out-of-the-way spot, such as behind the garage or on an open mulch bed. Like any training, this is a matter of positive reinforcement. Walk the dog on a leash to where you want her to go, and immediately give her verbal encouragement and a treat when she does. Keep it up, eventually without the leash, and then from across the yard, and you may just teach your old dog a great new trick—keeping your lawn lush and green.

Related:
Smart money advice for rookie gardeners
Get your laundry room out of the basement without spending a fortune

 

 

MONEY buying a home

Turns Out Millennials Are Buying Homes. But Another Key Group Isn’t

Contrary to what you may think, twentysomethings are becoming homeowners. It's middle-aged folks that are forgoing it.

The latest Census data shows homeownership is still falling for young adults, and the National Association of Realtors (NAR) reports that the share of first-time home-buyers is slipping. While the housing market is clearly improving, with four of the five key indicators of the housing recovery from our Housing Barometer at least halfway back to normal, it looks like the recovery is happening even without much improvement in first-time homeownership.

Not so fast. The official homeownership rate published by the Census gives a misleading picture of homeownership trends. In fact, homeownership among young adults is both on the rise and not too far off from where demographics say it should be.

The “true” homeownership rate disagrees with the published homeownership rate, and shows that homeownership among young adults increased between 2012 and 2013 after hitting bottom in 2012. Once we adjust for the huge demographic shifts among young adults – far fewer young adults are married or have kids than two or three decades ago – homeownership in 2013 was roughly at late-1990s levels. That means that the demographic shifts among young adults account for the entire decline in homeownership for 18-34 year-olds over the last 20 years. In other words, if the late 1990s can be considered relatively normal, than today’s lower homeownership rate for young adults might be the new normal, thanks to demographic changes.

But that doesn’t mean all’s well. There may be longer-term damage to homeownership from the recession – but to the middle-aged, not millennials. Homeownership among 35-54 year-olds is lower today than before the housing bubble, even after accounting for demographic shifts.

Is Today’s Millennial Homeownership Rate the New Normal?

The demographics of 18-34 year-olds have changed dramatically over the past 30 years, between 1983 and 2013, such as:

  • The percent married fell from 47% to 30%
  • The percent living with their own children fell from 39% to 29%
  • The percent non-Hispanic white fell from 78% to 57%

Each of these demographic shifts is a headwind for homeownership. Young people who are married, have children, or are non-Hispanic white are more likely to own a home than young people who aren’t.

One way to quantify the total effect of these demographic factors on homeownership is to predict what might have happened to homeownership with these demographic shifts if none of the changes in behaviors or circumstances that evolved during the bubble, recession, and recovery took place.

Turns out that although the share of young adults who actually own a home remains considerably lower today (even with the uptick in 2013) than at any time since 1983, it is roughly at late 1990s levels after taking demographic shifts into account. Unless those long-term demographic trends reverse, there might be little room for young-adult homeownership to increase. You’d have to ignore demographic trends that pre-date the bubble to believe that young-adult homeownership will eventually return to its unadjusted pre-bubble levels.

This also implies that there probably hasn’t been a huge shift in millennials’ attitudes toward homeownership, either, since today’s millennials are roughly as likely to own homes as people with similar demographics two decades ago.

Worry Instead About Middle-Aged Homeownership

Here’s the surprise: it’s the middle-aged, not millennials, whose homeownership rate today looks lower than before the bubble. Using the same demographic-baseline analysis, the 2013 homeownership rate for 35-54 year-olds is below the “demographic baseline” (which barely budged over the past 20 years for this age group). Furthermore, homeownership for the middle-aged has not yet begun to turn around as of 2013, unlike for millennials.

Whereas the 2013 homeownership rate for millennials, after adjusting for demographics, is at 1997 levels, the 2013 demographics-adjusted homeownership rate for the middle-aged is at its lowest level in at least two decades (and probably in almost four decades).

And that’s the point: the rise and fall of homeownership during the housing bubble and bust is about people who are middle-aged today. The millennial generation was still in their early 20s or younger in the mid-2000s – too young to have bought during the bubble and then to have suffered a foreclosure: Only the oldest among the 18-34 year-old group in 2013 would have been of home-buying age during the bubble.

Turning more millennials into homeowners, therefore, may not be the missing piece of the housing recovery after all. Long-term demographic changes mean that homeownership among young adults is roughly where it should be. The real missing homeowners are the middle-aged.

To see the full article, including the analysis and charts, click here.

To read more from Jed Kolko of Trulia, click here.

Related:
MONEY 101 Should I rent or buy?
MONEY 101 What should I do before I buy a home?

MONEY Kids & Money

The Most and Least Expensive Cities to Raise a Child

Where you choose to raise your child can have a huge impact on your parenting costs. Here are the cities that will run up your spending the most—and the least.

Having a child today will set you back close to a quarter million dollars by the time your offspring reaches 18, an annual study released Monday by the U.S. Department of Agriculture found. A middle-income family can expect to shell out on average $245,340 (or $304,480, when adjusted for projected inflation), with the biggest chunk of the budget going to housing, followed by child care costs.

Of course, your bottom line could be very different depending on where you live. According to data from personal finance website NerdWallet, child-rearing costs can vary by more than $340,000, based on local housing market prices and the cost of daycare (which exceeds the cost of college in 31 states).

Families living in cities in more rural areas can expect to pay the least to raise a child to adulthood, but those living in the urban Northwest and on the West Coast should expect to pay far above the average.

Here are the cities where you’ll pay the most and the least to rear your child.

Most Expensive Cities to Raise A Child

Rank City Cost of raising a child
1 New York (Manhattan), NY $540,514
2 Honolulu, HI $429,635
3 San Francisco, CA $402,112
4 New York (Brooklyn), NY $400,951
5 Hilo, HI $369,559
6 San Jose, CA $363,807
7 Orange County, CA $353,081
8 Washington, DC $342,552
9 Oakland, CA $337,477
10 Fairbanks, AK $334,562

Least Expensive Cities to Raise a Child

Rank City Cost of raising a child
1 Norman, OK $199,298
2 Harlingen, TX $199,694
3 Ashland, OH $206,793
4 Salina, KS $207,525
5 Pueblo, CO $208,155
6 Memphis, TN $208,322
7 Temple, TX $208,593
8 Richmond, IN $209,522
9 Jackson, MS $211,309
10 Hattiesburg, MS $211,451

 

Related: Why the $245,000 Cost of Raising a Child Shouldn’t Stop You From Having One

MONEY Housing Market

POLL: What’s the Best Thing About Where You Live?

There are probably lots of great things about your town. But if you had to pick just one, what would it be?

 

MONEY Education

You’ll Never Guess the City Where Private School Is Most Common

Ben Affleck, Randall Batinkoff, Matt Damon, Brendon Fraser, Cole Hauser, Andrew Lowery, Chris O'Donnell in SCHOOL TIES (1992).
Paramount—Courtesy Everett Collection

Whether a family sends its children to private or public school can be influenced by a number of factors, and it's not always about money.

Private school versus public school isn’t an option for most Americans. The average annual cost of a private education is $10,940, and only about 20% of students have parents willing or able to pay that freight.

Knowing that, one would expect the city that sends the highest percentage of its children to private school to be among the richest in the country. Manhattan perhaps? Somewhere in Connecticut? Wherever the prep school in School Ties was located?

Nope. According to a new study by real estate website Trulia, the city with the highest proportion of private school enrollees is New Orleans. A whopping one-fourth of all students in the Big Easy attend a private institution—and it’s not the only Louisiana city in the top 10 for private school enrollment. Baton Rouge ranks fourth, with just under 20% of all students going the private route.

Many of the cities you might expect to see don’t even make the list. While the East Coast generally sends a higher than average percentage of students to private school, its only cities to place in the top 10 are Philadelphia (18.4%) and Wilmington, Del. (17.6%). The rest of the list is dominated by Midwest cities in Ohio, Wisconsin, and Missouri, as well as outliers like Honolulu and San Francisco.

Why do some areas choose private school at a higher rate than others? According to Trulia, metros that are largely more wealthy, more educated, more white, and more Catholic are the most likely to have their children privately educated. Faith is especially important, because most private schools are religiously affiliated, and half of those schools are Catholic. New Orleans, Philadelphia, and Cleveland all have a large Catholic population.

Dr. Jan Daniel Lancaster, superintendent of Catholic Schools for the New Orleans archdiocese, was surprised to learn that her city led the nation in private school enrollment rate, but had no doubts about why New Orleans’ Catholic schools were so popular. “New Orleans is a very Catholic area,” said Lancaster. “People want a very strong academic education that is embedded in the catholic faith, and Catholic schools are so strong academically.” Another reason might be the example set by prominent members of the community. Lancaster says two state senators, the mayor, and the local district attorney, among others, all received a Catholic education.

Courtesy of Trulia

Screen Shot 2014-08-12 at 7.43.23 PM

Public school quality matters too. After adjusting for neighborhood demographics, Trulia found that students in areas with the worst public schools were four times as likely to attend private schools than their peers in areas with the best public education. Areas with high income inequality also showed an increased percentage of private school students, which the study speculates could be caused by more affluent families wanting to keep their children out of public schools with greater income diversity.

Screen Shot 2014-08-12 at 8.03.41 PM

Some public schools are so good that even the wealthiest families choose them over private options. However, those areas aren’t exactly cheap to live in. After looking at affluent Zip codes where over 90% of students received a public education, Trulia determined these areas had housing prices that were more than twice the national average on a square-foot basis. In fact, housing prices were directly correlated with the quality of local public schools.

Home prices in the worst school districts were 41% lower than the national average, while areas with top-tier instruction were 32% more expensive. That means anyone hoping to move from a terrible district to a great one could face a 73% price increase.

Screen Shot 2014-08-12 at 8.07.17 PM

 

It’s interesting (and a little depressing) to see how expensive living near a good school can be. Where families ultimately decide to send their children “really depends on the specific neighborhoods you’re considering, how much house you need, and the type of private school you’re considering,” says Jed Kolko, Trulia’s chief economist. “But I think a larger point is that both private and public schools can cost a lot of money.”

MONEY Ask the Expert

Here’s One Good Reason To Borrow From Your 401(k)

140605_AskExpert_illo
Robert A. Di Ieso, Jr.

Q: Should I use my 401(k) for a down payment on a house?

A: Let’s start with the obvious. It’s rarely a good idea to borrow from your retirement plan.

One major drawback is that you’ll give up the returns that the money could have earned during the years you’re repaying the loan. Your home isn’t likely to give you the same investment return, and it’s difficult to tap real estate for income in retirement. There’s also a risk that you’ll lose your job, which would require you to pay back the loan, typically within 60 days, though home loans may have a longer repayment period.

Still, 401(k) borrowing has undeniable advantages. For starters, “they’re easy loans to get,” says Atlanta financial planner Lee Baker. You don’t have to meet financial qualifications to borrow, and you can get the money quickly. Interest rates for these loans are generally low—typically a percentage point or so above prime, which was recently 3.25%. Another big plus is that you pay yourself back, since the rules generally require you to fully repay within five years; 10 years if you buy a house. (Otherwise, the amount will be taxable, plus you will pay a penalty if you’re under 59 1/2.) So you eventually do replace the money with interest. Be aware, most plans limit your borrowing to $50,000 or 50% of your account balance, whichever is less.

Given how easy it is to get a 401(k) loan, it’s no wonder many workers tap their plans for home buying, especially Millennials. About 10% of home buyers borrow from their 401(k) and another 4% use funds from IRAs, according to the National Association of Realtors. And overall some 17% of Millennials report borrowing from their company plan, according to a 2014 Ameriprise study, Financial Tradeoffs. “It is where they have accumulated most of their savings,” says Baker.

All that said, when it comes to buying a home, a 401(k) loan can make sense. If you can put together enough cash for a 20% down payment, you may able to avoid avoid mortgage insurance, which can your lower monthly bill. And with interest rates still low, having a down payment now can enable you lock in a good rate compared with waiting till you have more money when mortgage rates may be higher.

If you go this route, though, take a close look at your financial resources both inside and outside your plan. Will you have to tap all your savings, leaving you vulnerable if you have a financial emergency? Do you have enough cash flow to meet your monthly payment and pay the loan? Is your job relatively secure or do you have to worry about a layoff that will trigger the automatic repayment provision?

And if you borrow, don’t forget to keep saving. A common mistake people make is halting regular contributions during the pay back period, which puts you further behind your retirement goals. At the very least, says Baker, contribute enough to get your employer match.

More on Home Buying:

Should I Pay Off Loans or Save for a Down Payment?

Single and Thinking of Buying a Home? Here’s Some Advice

“At 27, I’m the First of My Friends to Own a Home:” A Buyer’s Story

MONEY Rentals

This Is How to Deal With Even the Most Hellish Landlord

You shouldn't have to suffer when your landlord neglects your home.
Simon Winnall—Getty Images

Many landlords neglect their rental properties. Here's what to do if the owner of your home fails to maintain it.

Perhaps you’ve called, texted, and emailed your landlord to tell him your heating is broken, your toilet is leaking, and the sink is making an interminable drip-drip-drip sound that’s driving you nuts.

But your landlord doesn’t seem to have any interest in fixing these issues.

What should you do if your landlord isn’t doing his job? Let’s look at some specific scenarios to give you an idea of your rights and options.

When Time Is of the Essence

Example: I haven’t had any hot water in my apartment for three days. Showering is awful and I’m having trouble getting my dishes clean—it’s so gross. What can I do?

Solution: Your landlord is obligated to repair anything deemed “essential” to the health and safety of his tenants. This includes dealing with heating, water and electrical issues; remediation of mold or fungus; battling bug infestations; and keeping the roof in working order.

Make sure that, in addition to calling, emailing or texting, you also send your repair request in writing to your landlord. This written proof could be necessary down the line if you get into a dispute with him.

Tip: Emailing and texting might not constitute “official written notice.” Your lease may specify which forms of communication qualify as “written notice,” so refer to that first and foremost. However, in the absence of any specific communication method stipulated within the lease, you should snail-mail your landlord a letter. Why? It’s the most commonly accepted legal definition of “written notice.”

Paying a little extra for registered mail is also a good idea if you’re worried your landlord is actively ignoring you, as your landlord will have to physically sign and date the receipt when he accepts the envelope. Plus, you’ll have documentation to prove that you sent the letter. (Save the registered mail receipt!)

In addition, keep detailed records of all important dates (when you first noticed the problem, when you left voice mails, etc…) and take plenty of pictures of the problem (with a date-stamp on the photos, if possible) to show the extent of the issue.

If your landlord does not respond to your request, you are within your legal rights to take any of the below steps:

  • Alerting state or local health and building inspectors
  • Suing your landlord in small claims court
  • Breaking your lease for breach of lease terms (it’s best to consult an attorney before doing this to make sure you have a solid case and haven’t failed to do anything you needed to do under the lease terms)

Should you withhold rent payment until its fixed? Not advisable. Your landlord might use this as grounds for eviction. It’s better to keep your situation simple.

Should you repair the problem yourself (or pay to have it repaired) and then deduct that amount from your rent? Again, that’s not advisable. You’re best off doing your job (paying rent and sending written requests) and urging your landlord to perform his job.

When Your Property Has Been Damaged

Example: A pipe burst in my wall, sending water all over the place. A ton of stuff in my closet was ruined. I called my landlord yesterday and he still hasn’t shown up. What now?

Solution: If your personal property is damaged due to negligence on the part of your landlord — e.g., he hasn’t been maintaining the pipes properly, which caused the burst pipe — then you may have a case against him for reimbursement.

This is only if you’ve taken all steps within your power, including moving your property out of the way of the water (if possible) and alerting your landlord to any plumbing issues that might have signaled there was a problem.

If the pipe simply burst and it wasn’t anyone’s fault — e.g., due to an “Act of God” such as weather — your landlord is not responsible for the damage. You should always pay for renter’s insurance to cover your own personal property if calamity strikes.

When It’s Not Life-Threatening

Example: My kitchen sink has been dripping for the past three weeks. It’s driving us all crazy and keeping us awake at night, but my landlord doesn’t seem to care. Help!

Solution: Unfortunately your landlord is under no specific legal obligation to make repairs that are not deemed “essential.” Non-essential or cosmetic issues are up to his discretion, including changing light bulbs, fixing leaky faucets and patching a hole in your window screen. These things are annoying to put up with, but they don’t pose any immediate risk to your health and safety.

How can you determine whether or your not you have the right to minor repairs? First, examine your lease agreement. Some leases specifically state whether a landlord will make only essential repairs, or whether he’ll conduct non-essential repairs that you bring to his attention.

You’ll also want to consider if your repair request is the sort of thing your landlord would be concerned about from a business standpoint. Your hole-ridden window screen is something he may not care about (until he needs to rent the apartment out again), but a leaky faucet could wind up boosting the water bill, which many landlords cover themselves — giving you added arguing power.

When the Problem Is Your Fault

Example: I had a party and things got a little crazy. My ceiling light fixture got knocked off and now it’s hanging by a thread. Why won’t my landlord take care of it?

Solution: A landlord is only required to make repairs necessitated by normal wear-and-tear or by a defect in the property (appliances not installed correctly, etc.).

If the issue is a result of damage, misuse or negligence on your part — or on the part of any guests, children or pets staying with you — your landlord does not have to take care of it. For instance, if your cockroach problem is a result of your failure to keep the kitchen clean, good luck talking your landlord into ponying up the money to take care of it.

In cases like these, you’ll have to take care of the issue yourself, on your own dime, or risk having the damage deducted from your security deposit when you move out.

To read more from Paula Pant of Trulia, click here.

Related:

MONEY 101: Should I Buy or Rent?

 

 

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