An illustration of a house. Housing and renting can be a complicated process for first-time tenants. (Teresa Aguilera, OMN Illustrator)
An illustration of a house. Housing and renting can be a complicated process for first-time tenants.

Teresa Aguilera, OMN Illustrator

Essential renters’ rights, according to Oregon lawyers

A guide for first-time renters

April 25, 2023

Becoming a new or first-time renter is a big deal and there is a lot you should be aware of before signing a lease and becoming a tenant. Before renting your first apartment, here are some of the main tips you can follow. 

Noah Chamberlain, the executive director and attorney for Associated Students of Oregon State University student-funded legal service: Access the Law, said his biggest piece of advice is to: 

– Read the entire lease agreement before you sign and look at

  • What amenities are included
  • What happens if you need to terminate the tenancy early
  • What are your tenancy obligations

– Understand the provisions that deal with other fees such as smoke detectors, unauthorized pets or occupants, having a barbeque on the deck, etc.

  • Know the rules you agreed to and fees that might come with any violations

– Find out your responsibilities as a tenant in the agreement

  • Mowing the lawn, leaving trash out, keeping up the property
  • Late rental fees

“Perfectly normal behavior from a landlord can feel like you are being taken advantage of if you don’t fully understand the terms of the agreement,” Chamberlain said. 

Steven Crawford, a staff attorney with Legal Aid, said his biggest tips before renting are to:

– Check landlord google reviews

  • Be aware if they a lot of eviction cases

– See the unit before you pay any money

– Before moving in, take pictures of any and everything in the unit

Both lawyers emphasize the importance of seeing the unit before you rent anything– “you should always do a walk-through before you sign the lease,” Crawford said. “If you see the house is a mess when you tour, try not to rent there unless you are desperate.”

“Don’t fall victim to high-pressure tactics, without reading the full lease it is probably not as good as it seems,” Chamberlain said. He emphasized that this is especially true when it comes to large apartment or student housing complexes that try to get you to rush into a lease. 

Agreeing to sign a lease and move to a new apartment or house is a decision that will impact you for a long time, so be thorough before you sign anything and don’t rush through the process, Chamberlain emphasized.

Crawford explains that his firm most commonly deals with evictions and habitability cases. 

“Your landlord is legally required to keep your rental ‘habitable,’ which is legal jargon for livable,” according to Oregon Law’s handbook on renters’ repairs. “That means that your landlord must make any repairs necessary to keep the unit within legal standards for rental housing.”

When it comes to repairs once you are living in the rental unit, the two lawyers give some important advice.

First, Chamberlain advises that no matter what the repair is, make the request as soon as possible and communicate everything in writing. When it comes to filling out a maintenance request through an online portal, keep a physical record of that request as well.

Crawford noted that texts are okay, but email is best. Everything you have should be time stamped in case the repair request is not completed, the time stamp is your only evidence that you have communicated these issues with your landlord. 

In addition, Crawford explained that when it comes to signing your lease, if your landlord makes you sign something that gives the tenant responsibility for maintaining habitability, the habitability law overrides your signature and the landlord is still the responsible one. 

When it comes to evictions, something all renters should know is that by law, only the courts can forcibly remove you from your rental unit. Landlords cannot change locks, or turn off the water, power or heat. Always reach out to a lawyer in the case of an unwarranted eviction notice.

It is also important to know that in some cases, evictions can be ordered for instances as small as leaving trash outside for a day, not mowing the lawn, or having frequent and long-term guests, including partners. 

Crawford suggests renters always be upfront with their landlord about significant others and most of the time, landlords will be accommodating.  

The main strategies new tenants can practice to protect themselves from being taken advantage of by a landlord is to document everything including pictures before you move in, rent receipts, and any and all communication. 

“Your landlord might not have your best interest in mind, so you have to look out for yourself,” Chamberlain said. 

Before signing a lease, all students can use the ASOSU legal services to look over a lease before they sign it, or get representation.

Renters can also lean on the Legal Aides Albany offices’ services at (541) 926-8678 or visit for a cheap consultation. 

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