3 Ways to Explore
Renting and Leasing
If you’re relocating to the Dallas-Fort Worth area, you may not be ready to purchase another home. In that case, renting or leasing may be the perfect solution. In the area, you’ll find an abundant supply sure to match your preferences. Whether you’re looking for an apartment, a townhome, a mid-rise, a high-rise, condo or a single-family home, rental rates in the Dallas-Fort Worth area are very affordable. In Dallas and in Fort Worth, you can expect to pay approximately $700 to $1,200 for a two-bedroom, two-bath apartment, depending on the location. This reflects a slight decrease from 2008 rates, so now is a great time to start looking.

While purchasing a home offers many distinct advantages, especially here in the Dallas and Fort Worth region, it’s not always the right solution. The Texas Apartment Association (taa.org) offers these considerations when determining if you should rent or own.

Cost – Buying a home usually requires a substantial investment of cash for a down payment, closing costs and points paid to lenders. You may also need to buy appliances, additional furniture, window coverings and other items.

Additional Costs – With a home, you may possibly have a yard, a community pool or other amenities and more space. You'll also be responsible for maintaining the yard, heating and cooling a larger space as well as perhaps paying homeowner association dues to maintain the pool and other amenities.

Reduced Flexibility – If your company relocates employees frequently, or you're not interested in staying somewhere for more than a year or two, you may want to think twice about buying. The costs you incur to sell a home (realtor's fees, closing costs, costs to market the property) may outpace any gains in the property's value or selling price.

Not Ready to Commit – How likely is it that your life and your needs will change?
Is your family growing, or do you have children who are getting ready to leave home or go to college? Is divorce or separation a possibility in your near future? Will there be other demands on your income or savings?

Return on Investment – Most people believe property always appreciates or gains value, but that's not always the case. A change in the neighborhood or the economy can affect the value of your property, which is certainly an issue currently. Sometimes you'll make money as a result, but you may lose money on your investment if you haven't owned the property for long. You'll also need to consider any additional money that you put into the property for improvements or upkeep while you live there.

Maintenance Responsibility – Home ownership requires being responsible for making the repairs or hiring others to make them, being available when repairs need to be made and paying for the repairs.

Lifestyle Factors – Is the neighborhood you’re interested in affordable with an adequate selection? Is it close to your work or school? Can you find rental housing where you would like to live, or is a home you buy the only option?

Tax Advantages – If you itemize your income tax, you can deduct interest you pay on a mortgage and property taxes that you pay. You can also deduct points paid to lenders in the year that you incur that cost. If you don't itemize, you won't get these deductions.

Peace of Mind – Ultimately, you need to decide if you'll be more satisfied and comfortable in a home you own, or in a home you rent.

If renting is the best option, here’s a basic checklist:
• Set a reasonable budget you can afford. Don't forget that you may need to pay for utilities and other items not included in your rent. Many properties will not approve you as a resident if you'd have to spend more than a third of your gross income on the rent.
• Check out your credit record with a report from a consumer reporting agency (credit bureau), and clear up any problems or mistakes on your record before you fill out a rental application.
• Make a list of what you are looking for in your new home or apartment, including the kinds of features that will make you feel comfortable with your choice. Use your list to check out the rental housing you're considering.
• Look over any property you're considering and see how well it is maintained. That will give you some indication of how well the property is managed and cared for.
• If you're considering an apartment or multi-unit property, talk to some of the existing residents about their experiences with the property. Ask how satisfied they are with the property, how repairs or other problems have been handled, and if they would recommend the property to their friends.
• Visit the places you're considering at night, to see if they look well lit. Compare them to similar properties in the neighborhood.
• Drive around the neighborhood you're considering, and look at the other rental properties available.
• Ask the leasing agent or the owner or manager of the property how emergencies are handled and how any crime or safety concerns are communicated to residents.

Before you start looking and comparing properties, determine your needs. Do you need a place with lots of space, good closets, proximity to work or school, or near to shopping or public transportation? Are you looking for a neighborhood with a suburban feel or prefer being closer to higher density, urban areas?

Then, of course, determining how much space you need and whether you’ll need a storage space for extra furniture. Are you interested in a specific school district for your children? Is there a washer dryer in the rental? How is the traffic leaving your neighborhood in the morning and at night?

Types of Housing Available
The region offers many lifestyle choices leaving you with the main task of determining where you want to live.
Houses – From a high-rise overlooking Turtle Creek, to an executive home in Plano, to quaint homes near the Museum District in Fort Worth, there are many homes available. While you’ll expect to pay more, you will get more, including a fenced yard.
Duplexes and fourplexes – These are multi-property, non-apartment properties and, while available, are not as numerous.
Apartments – There are more than 650,000 apartment units in the greater Dallas-Fort Worth area with many choices of amenities and locations. These can include garden-style apartment with three levels or less and usually have staircases access. Mid-rise apartments are four-to-six levels and are more dominant in urban areas.
Townhouses and condos – Ideally suited for busy professionals who require more amenities, including concierge services, maid service, shuttle services and valet parking.
Temporary/Corporate Housing – This option best suits people in these situations: homebuyers encountering various delays; homeowners who are renovating their homes; new residents or visitors searching for an apartment or house; tourists or business people on an extended stay; personnel who are relocating; visiting executives; or corporate clients. Search online using key words such as temporary or corporate housing for companies in the Dallas-Fort Worth region.
Furnished short-term housing – Offers fully furnished apartments that include amenities similar to your own home, including artwork, electronics, linens, towels, cable TV, local phone service and high-speed internet access. This short-term option usually offers more square feet and privacy than an extended-stay room. You may also appreciate that furnished corporate housing is typically located in residential settings that are close to all of the amenities that you have come to expect while living at home.

Renter Resources
Part of your rental-search tool kit should include helpful resources, online and printed. You’ll also want to cruise neighborhoods of interest to you and look for signs on front lawns. While you’re at it, stop by the local grocery store and peruse the free publication racks. There you’ll find any local resources that may include listings in a specific neighborhood. Ask if there is a regional newspaper as well. Your company’s relocation representative can also help you with availabilities in various Dallas-Fort Worth neighborhoods.
• Craig’s List (craigslist.org) is free to landlords and apartment hunters.
• Dallas Apartment Association (HAA) – This professional trade association can provide information about renting and leasing resources (www.aagdallas.com).
• Apartment Association of Tarrant County – Professional trade association that represents members who own, manage or provide services for 165,000 apartment homes in north central Texas. (www.aatcnet.org)
• Texas Tenant Advisor – offers general information about tenant rights in Texas. www.texastenant.org.
• Relocating to DFW advertisers – The pages of this book contain helpful information on many reliable and quality resources for renting or leasing in the Dallas-Fort Worth region.
• The Dallas Morning News – Dallas’ major daily with aparment classifieds. (www.dallasnews.com)
• Star Telegram – leading newspaper in Fort Worth and Tarrant County. (www.startelegram.com)
• Star Community Newspapers – 17 newspapers that serve Dallas and Northeast Texas, including Mesquite, Plano, Frisco and Flower Mound. http://www.planostar.com/
• Apartment.com – a national online apartment guide and relocation resource distinguished by its highly customized searches, superior visual ads and affiliation with more than 180 newspapers and strategic partners across the country, including The Dallas Morning News and the Fort Worth Star Telegram.
• AptFinders.net – free service assisting renters to find apartments in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. (www.aptfinders.net)
• Apartment locator services – These are independent companies that have access to databases containing information on as many as 2,000 apartment communities. Apartment locators can help prospective renters focus their apartment search based on information such as preferred location, budget, size requirements, lifestyle preferences and desired amenities. In most cases, this service is free to prospective residents because apartment owners or management typically pay referral fees after leasing. Use the Internet to search for apartment locator services in the area.
• The Apartment Guide – This free publication features information on hundreds of apartment communities throughout the Dallas area. It includes photographs, descriptions, features, rates, floor plans and maps. Copies are available at most grocery and convenience stores (www.apartmentguide.com).
• For Rent Magazine – Another free publication, For Rent Magazine is the largest apartment rental publication in the nation. Published every two weeks, it provides up-to-date, comprehensive information on more than 250 apartments in the area. The magazine contains information on communities for senior citizens as well as employment opportunities within the industry. It is available at more than 2,000 locations, including most grocery and convenience stores. On its Web site, apartment hunters can search by location, price amenities or alphabetically (www.forrent.com).
• Dallas Observer – Free, weekly tabloid covering the local scene and also apartments and other rental options. (www.dallasobserver.com.

Amenities Galore
In addition to affordable rents in the area, amenities provided by many apartment complexes are considered luxuries in other U.S. cities. Expect to find amenities such as disability access, some paid utilities, balconies or patios, cable-ready outlets, emergency maintenance, laundry facility, outdoor pools, hot tubs and spas. Many have tennis courts, basketball facilities, billiard rooms, playgrounds and fitness facilities outfitted to rival private gyms. Also available at many complexes are limited-access gates, dry cleaners, lush landscaping and basic cable television. Some apartments have luxurious clubhouses with big-screen televisions, executive business centers, parking garages, sundecks, gazebos, elevators and video-monitored limited entries.

Interior features considered standard for most apartments include heating, air conditioning, mini-blinds, ceiling fans, fully equipped kitchens with a dishwasher and multiple phone lines.

Other features might include nine-foot ceilings, crown molding, oval garden tubs, bay windows, fireplaces, or garages and/or covered parking. In addition, some communities have resident programs that include free and optional services such as maids, concierges, aerobic classes, guest suites for visitors, free shuttle services and car detail centers.

Renter’s Checklist
Refer to this list to help you customize your own version that you can take with you when looking at properties. You can also take a photo of key features that you can clip to the checklist as a reminder.
• Activities: Many places will have at least a few of the following available: basketball court, swimming pool, gym, tennis courts, fitness center, walking trail, picnic areas, pet areas and maybe even a play area for children.
• Appliances: Which appliances do you require? Some older buildings might not come with the basics, whereas others will have everything you need. You just need to decide which appliances are important to you: washer and dryer (or just a hookup), microwave, dish washer, oven/stove or garbage disposal.
• Who pays the utilities? It can vary from place to place.
• Bathrooms: How many bathrooms do you require? Do you need a tub in every one, or can you get by with shower stalls? Don't forget to turn on the shower to check water pressure.
• Cable or Dish: Many complexes will include some sort of cable package, but if you need every channel there is, do your research. Some apartments might not let you put up a dish, so keep that in mind if you're using services such as DirecTV or Dish Network.
• Phone/Internet: If a particular service provider is important to you, ensure that provider services your area by asking the landlord or going to the provider’s Web site and entering the zip code in the service area box.
• Ceiling fans: This may not be important to some, but others want a ceiling fan in every room. These are especially useful in homes here in the region and helps keep air circulating, even with air conditioning on.
• Kitchen space: Is there adequate counter space and is the space laid out well? Are there enough cabinets and is there a pantry to store foods? Does the kitchen look clean and smell okay?
• Living Space: It's better to have too much than too little. If you go too small, you'll either be living with clutter, or spending extra money to put some of your belongings in storage.
• Parking: Don't overlook parking space, especially if you have more than one vehicle. If you check during the day, there could be plenty of available parking spaces, but how about at night when everyone is home from work?
• Pets: Many rentals will have strict policies when it comes to pets. Some might not allow them at all, while others might just require an additional security deposit. In some cases, the deposit can be pretty high and may not be refundable. Ask plenty of questions if you're unsure. Keep in mind that even when pets are allowed, a big dog that growls at children or barks all night long, will probably be asked to leave.
• Renter's insurance: Even if the landlord doesn't require renter's insurance, it's usually pretty cheap and worth having.
• Storage: Many apartments will at least have a small storage closet, usually accessed from the porch or balcony. Some offer storage buildings for an additional fee. If you require a lot of storage, make sure there's a storage facility nearby. See page XX in Chapter 4 for more about storage.
Source: apartmentreview.net

What To Expect
After deciding on a place to live, you’ll be asked to complete a rental application. Make sure you’re prepared and have the following information available.
• Current and former addresses
• Current and past employment with dates
• Credit references
• Copy of your credit report (if available)
• Bank information

Most apartment communities use standard leases endorsed by the Texas Apartment Association (512-479-6252 and HAA 713-595-0300). You'll also find that most apartment communities will require a security deposit, which generally averages $200 to $400 depending on apartment size and other considerations. Standard leases cover six or 12 months, though some communities now offer seven and 13-month terms.

Many apartment communities have strict policies regarding pets, often limiting them to 20 pounds and requiring a pet deposit. When outside, a pet must be kept on a leash and walked only in designated areas.

Apartment communities employ full-time maintenance people to handle repairs and perform preventive maintenance, with some offering 24-hour emergency repair services. If leasing from an owner, be sure to establish responsibilities for repairs and maintenance.

Tenants’ Rights in Texas
The relationship between Texas landlords and their tenants is governed by several statutes, particularly Chapter 92 of the Texas Property Code, and by various court rulings. However, the most important source of information about your relationship with your landlord is your rental agreement, whether it is written or oral. More information can be found at the Attorney General of Texas Web site at oag.state.tx.us.

Peace and Quiet
Your rights as a tenant include the right to “quiet enjoyment,” as it is called in the law. This means the landlord cannot evict you without cause or otherwise disturb your right to live in peace and quiet.

If other tenants in your building are disturbing you, you should complain to the landlord. The landlord has a duty to see that you are protected from other tenant's wrongful behavior. Of course, you may not disturb other tenants, either.

Except under certain circumstances and subject to certain conditions, a landlord may not interrupt utilities to a tenant unless the interruption results from bona fide repairs, construction or an emergency.

Health and Safety
You have a right to demand that the landlord repair any condition that materially affects your health and safety. Under Texas law, by renting you the property, the landlord guarantees that the unit will be a fit place to live.

Under certain conditions, you and the landlord may have a written agreement that you will make needed repairs. The landlord does not have a duty to pay for or make repairs if you or your guests cause an unsafe or unhealthy condition through negligence, carelessness, abuse or accident – unless the condition resulted from “normal wear and tear.” Also, the landlord must provide smoke detectors. You may not waive that provision, and you may not disconnect or disable the smoke detector.

Security
Although there are some specific exceptions, under Texas law, a dwelling must be equipped with security devices such as window latches, keyed dead bolts on exterior doors, sliding door pin locks and sliding door handle latches or sliding door security bars and door viewers. These devices must be installed at the landlord's expense. If such devices are missing or are defective, you have the right to request their installation or repair.

Addressing Problems
If the landlord won't make repairs needed to protect your health, safety or security, and you follow the procedures required by law, you may be entitled to:
• End the lease;
• Have the problem repaired and deduct the cost of the repair from the rent; or
• File suit to force the landlord to make the repairs.

These steps must be followed:
Send the landlord a dated letter by certified mail, return receipt requested or by registered mail, outlining the needed repairs. You may also deliver the letter in person. Keep a copy of the letter. Be sure that your rent is current when the notice is received. Your landlord should make a diligent effort to repair the problem within a reasonable time after receipt of the notice. The law presumes seven days to be a reasonable time, but the landlord can rebut this presumption.

If the landlord has not made a diligent effort to complete the repair within seven days and you did not have the first notice letter delivered to your landlord via certified mail, return receipt requested, or via registered mail, you will need to send a second notice letter regarding the needed repairs.

If the landlord still has not made diligent efforts to repair the problem within a reasonable time after receipt of the notice letter sent by certified mail, return receipt requested or by registered mail, you may be entitled to terminate the lease, repair the problem and deduct the cost from your rent, or get a court to order that the repairs be made. You should consult with an attorney before taking any of these actions.

Under Texas law, it is illegal for a landlord to retaliate against you for complaining in good faith about necessary repairs for a period of six months from the date you made such a complaint. Of course, you can always be evicted if you fail to pay your rent on time, threaten the safety of the landlord or intentionally damage the property.

You do not have a right to withhold rent because the landlord fails to make repairs when the condition needing repair does not materially affect your health and safety. If you try this method, the landlord may file suit against you.

If you experience these additional problems:
Recovering Your Deposit. Most landlords require you to pay a security deposit to cover any repairs needed when you move out or to cover your failure to pay the last month's rent. By law, landlords cannot refuse to return the deposit without a valid reason.

Deductions for damages. Under Texas law, you must give the landlord a forwarding address and the landlord must return the deposit – less any amount deducted for damages – within 30 days. If the landlord withholds part or all of your deposit, he or she must give you an itemized list of deductions with a description of the damages.

Normal wear and tear. The landlord may not charge you for normal wear and tear on the premises and may only charge for actual abnormal damage. For example, if the carpet simply becomes more worn because you and your guests walked on it for a year, the landlord may not charge you for a new carpet. If your water bed leaks and the carpet becomes mildewed as a result, you may be charged.

Advance notice requirements. You should check your rental agreement to see if it requires you to give the landlord advance notice that you are moving. Many leases require 30 days notice as a condition of returning your deposit.

If you give your landlord your new address in writing, and you do not receive your deposit or an explanation within 30 days of your departure, contact the landlord. If you cannot resolve the problem satisfactorily, you may wish to consult an attorney. You can also contact the Better Business Bureau or your local tenant's council. You can also file a complaint with the office of the Attorney General of Texas.

New Real Estate Laws – Tenant Leases
In 2008, new state real estate laws governing residential leases went into effect governing residential leases. Tenants’ relationships with their landlords are largely controlled by their lease or rental agreements.

Tenants should always request a written agreement and review it very carefully with the landlord to ensure they fully understand the contract terms before signing any documents. Renters may ask the landlord to make changes to the lease before it is signed, though the landlord does not have to accept the proposed amendments. In many cases, landlords ask prospective tenants to fill out a rental application, which tenants must submit along with an application fee.

Under a new law that applies to all leases and contract renewals submitted after January 1, 2008, application fees are considered non-refundable payments to offset the cost of screening rental applicants. In the event an application is refused, the landlord must either explain why the tenant was rejected or refund both the application fee and any application deposit. In this way, the new law protects applicants by guaranteeing that they will learn why they were rejected – or get their money back.

Tenants also enjoy the right to “quiet enjoyment” of their rental property. When other residents are being disruptive or disturbing the peace, tenants may complain to the landlord. Once notified about a problem, landlords have a duty to remedy behavior that disturbs tenants’ ability to quietly enjoy their rental residence.

Texas law also requires certain security devices to be installed at the landlord’s expense, including window latches and keyed deadbolt locks on all exterior doors. Landlords also are required to provide at least one smoke detector on the ceiling or wall of the apartment. Renters who discover that required safety devices are either defective or missing have the right to demand that the landlord resolve the deficiency. The law gives landlords a reasonable amount of time, usually about seven days, to install or repair the devices.

Landlords also have a legal obligation to ensure their rental properties do not pose a threat to the tenants’ health or safety. However, landlords are not required to repair uninhabitable circumstances that result from damage caused by renters or their guests.

If a landlord fails to repair problems that impact their tenants’ health, safety or security, the tenants must follow specific steps to seek a remedy. First, they must make sure that their rent is fully paid and no payments are delinquent. Then, tenants should outline the
necessary repairs in a written complaint.

To prove that the landlord received the complaint, tenants should send the letter via Certified Mail with a return receipt. When the complaint arrives in the landlord’s mailbox, the U.S. Postal Service will require that the landlord acknowledge his or her receipt of the letter by signing a form. If the problems are not resolved and the tenant is forced to take legal action, the signature form will be helpful evidence during court proceedings.

Tenants who want to avoid going to court have a couple of additional options. First, if they’ve provided the required notice and the landlord still refuses to make repairs, the tenants can move out – even if their lease has not expired. Alternatively, tenants may make reasonable repairs themselves and deduct the repair costs from the rent they owe the landlord. The law also provides protections for tenants who are asked to leave their property after a landlord serves them with a “Notice to Vacate.”

When landlords ask a tenant to leave, the renter is not legally required to depart by the date indicated on the eviction notice. In fact, tenants cannot be evicted from their rental property unless the landlord obtains a court order granting the landlord permission to remove the renter and the renter’s personal belongings from the premises.

Landlords may insert specific language into their lease agreements to circumvent the eviction process. Landlords now have the authority to change the door locks on rental properties when tenants’ rent payments are delinquent, if they included that authority in the rental agreement. Although the law effectively allows landlords to lock out tenants who fail to pay their rent, tenants cannot be legally evicted unless the landlord obtains a court order allowing the eviction.

In Texas, legal disputes between residential landlords and tenants are typically heard in small claims courts. If a landlord files an eviction suit to remove a tenant, the tenant will be served with an eviction notice. Tenants may appear before a justice of the peace, present their version of the facts and explain why they should not be evicted. Tenants who lose in small claims court may appeal their loss to a county court.

These are additional resources:
Attorney General of Texas -- www.texasattorneygeneral.gov
State Bar of Texas 800-204-2222 -- www.texasbar.com

 
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