Beware of illegal provisions that absolve the landlord of liability for negligent acts, waive the landlord's duty to repair the building or its systems, or allow the landlord to seize the tenant's personal property if the tenant fails to pay the rent. Weatherstone warns of general leases that some landlords use, such as those available "at Staples or other office supply stores or even on the Internet," which often contain terms that contradict state law and thus are void. One common error in Washington is "requiring the tenant to provide more than 20 days' notice prior to the end of a regular rental period to terminate a month to month agreement."
Understand your rights to privacy
While the general rule is that your landlord cannot enter your home without advance warning, notice requirements to enter the rental property vary from state to state. Landlords don't have to give notice in cases of emergency or when there's a court order. Check your state's privacy statutes or contact a lawyer or tenants' rights group to find out how much privacy protection you can expect.
Consider an eviction notice seriously
An eviction costs more than money; it damages tenants' credit scores: "The eviction will stay on their credit history basically forever," said Elizabeth Rankin Powell, an attorney based in Tacoma, WA. "And it gets there the day the landlord files the action, win or lose." However, some states have safety nets. In Washington, evicted tenants have five days to "pay off the judgment and be restored to their tenancy, if they have a lease that has not expired," said Powell.
Buy rental insurance
Rental insurance offers an affordable form of protection from a range of hazards, from theft to fire damage. While you'll need to sift through insurance policies with a fine-toothed comb to see what protection will and will not be included, rental insurance is a good bet, especially when it can cost as little as $10 per month.