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Being a Good Tenant (plus: learn how to tip)

By Julie Fishman
Quick Tips

  1. Befriend neighbors — You’re probably going to run into your neighbors pretty often whether you like it or not, so make every effort to be respectful and friendly. Just because you don’t think something is annoying and they do, that doesn’t mean they just have to deal with it. Compromise; it’s easier than getting the landlord or authorities involved.
  2. Deal with disturbances – If your neighbors are causing a ruckus, don’t be afraid to do something about it. First, bring it up politely. If that doesn’t work, talk to a landlord or even threaten legal action. Read your lease to see if you have any recourse, and be sure to save copies of communications with all parties.
  3. The super – While your super has a responsibility to do his job, he’ll always respond slowly if you’re a pain. Call him if something related to the building (i.e., not your TV) is broken, or if there’s a pest issue. But don’t abuse the relationship.
  4. Tipping – Around Christmas, give $50 to $200 to the super and $10 to $80 to each doorman you interact with (or check CNN’s tipping guide). Tips go a long way towards making sure that your toilet gets fixed asap. You can also “tip as you go,” handing over $5-20 each time the super helps you out.
  5. Unpaid rent – If you can’t pay the rent, don’t just hope the issue will resolve itself. Call the HUD first, and then your landlord to see if you can work something out. Before you do, read up on the eviction process so you know your rights.

Between a bastard boss, bountiful bills, and a bitching boyfriend, there is enough stress in life. There’s no need to exacerbate things by starting a cold war with your neighbors where you end up blasting “Sexy Back” to counter they’re all-night marathon of Paul Anka’s greatest hits, or by pissing off the super

to the point that he doesn’t fix that strange brown water dripping from the ceiling. Most people are wary of recent graduates as a rule of thumb, so you will probably have to try hard to get your neighbors and super in your side. That being said, once you lay the groundwork with some social niceties, you can be reasonably confident that you're not treated like an apartment pariah. Another good preventive measure is to actually read the lease before you sign—it may be exceedingly boring, but it contains all the minutia that will suddenly become essential if something goes awry.

Make Nice With Neighbors

Driveway, hallway, lobby...there are a lot of places to run into neighbors. Getting to know them will not only relieve elevator awkwardness, it will also provide someone to borrow a mop from or take in the mail when you’re maxing in the Caribbean.

Mind the Manners

Besides saying “hello,” establish a good relationship by being respectful. If you throw a party, warn neighbors a few days in advance. If your guests stay late, the music gets too bumpin’, or people parked in their rosebush, stop by the next day with flowers, a bottle of wine, or leftover dessert to apologize. Learn more about being a good neighbor.

Handling a Hooligan

Whether their alarm blares in 9 minute intervals from 5-7AM every morning or frequent fights involve all-night screaming and door slamming, a noisy neighbor can disrupt sleep and sanity. To deal with the decibel disturbance, learn to deal with the neighbor from hell and try the approaches below:

  • The Ned Flanders Way – Smile, nod, and get to know the person. In an off-hand way, mention that his music (or other noise) can be heard through the walls or across the yard. There’s a good chance he doesn’t even realize he’s pissing people off and this little hint could be enough. If a week or two go by and nothing has changed, be more direct. If a face-to-face confrontation is overwhelming, write a letter. Be sure to take copious notes and make a copy of anything written or sent in case one of the steps below must be taken.
  • Read it and Weep – Most leases have a written clause regarding appropriate noise levels. Try giving the neighbor a copy of the lease with the relevant section highlighted. Seeing the rules in writing may be enough to scare them straight.
  • Bring in the Big Guns – If neither tactic above works, bring the problem to the attention of the super or landlord. If necessary, follow-up with a letter documenting the dates and details of all your conversations. Speak with other neighbors to determine if they are affected by the noise. If so, encourage them to complain to the head honchos, as well. The more far-reaching the problem, the greater the pressure on those in charge to take action.
  • A Last Resort – When all else fails, bring in the true authorities—call the police during one of the disturbances and/or contact an attorney for advice on legal action.

A Super Super Relationship

Everything’s finally set up. You’ve got your super comfy couch, your homemade bidet, and the biggest flatty on the block—not to mention freshly painted walls and a hella fast Internet connection. You are living large and in charge. But then it happens: your toilet overflows and you can’t stop it. Who are you going to call? Ghostbusters! No. Mom! No. Supermaa…the Super? Yes.

When to Call

Supers are the last line of defense—call them only after you tried to fix the problem yourself or when a situation arises that you clearly can’t deal with alone (e.g., there was a flood and now there’s a hole in your wall). Granted, you can call them for every little issue, but then you’ll also end up as the recent grad who cried roach. Your super will probably set some ground rules with you before you move in, but unless there’s an emergency, you should only contact him between 9am and 9pm. After you’ve dealt with your super a few times you’ll get a handle on how helpful he’s willing to be. (Tipping each time he stops by never hurts.)

When to Seek Help Elsewhere

If the super is not taking care of problems, call the landlord or managing agent. If you’re still getting nowhere, start putting requests in writing so that there is tangible evidence of negligence. It is possible to get the repairs done by an outside contractor and then have the costs deducted from the rent. Make sure you know the landlord-tenant laws for your state before going nuclear—some areas have stipulations on how much can be deducted and what types of repairs can be done. Click here for more on repair and deduct. Some situations, such as having no heat or water, may warrant contacting the local or city government to take legal action.

Tipping Like T-Pain

The only thing worse than an overflowing toilet filled with diarrhea is an overflowing toilet filled with diarrhea that won’t be fixed for a week. Tip the super $50-200 around Christmas time (or $5-20 every time he helps you out) and make sure he knows his hard work is appreciated (even if the work really isn’t that hard). If the building has doormen, be sure to tip them, too. Remember that they control when you get packages, dry cleaning, and take-out—and what condition they are in. Depending on how fancy the building is, how many visitors and deliveries you get, tips for doormen should range from $10-$80. Check out CNN Money’s tip chart for further tips on tipping.

Take Care of Business

Neglecting rent is not quite as glamorous as in the Broadway play; the penalties can be harsh and it can screw up your credit. Though housing prices are high and entry-level jobs don’t pay much, keeping up on rent can help you avoid the three situations below.

Late Payment

Better than a late period since there is no threat of pregnancy, a late payment can still result in a fee. The lease should specify when the rent is due and when it is considered late. Most landlords set the due date as the first or fifteenth of the month and allow a 5-10 day grace period before charging either a flat fee or daily amount. Call the landlord/managing agent if a check is going to arrive a few days late and they may be nice and waive the late fee. Just a bit short each month? See our article Ten Tips on Saving Money. If budgeting is the issue, take a look at The Importance of and How to Budget, as well. If (very) early Alzheimer’s is to blame, set a cell phone or computer reminder to go off towards the end of each month, or set up automatic bill pay through your bank.

Bounced Check

There is probably a provision in the lease that covers this eventuality. Generally, the landlord will demand the amount the bank charges for the bounced check (usually about $30) plus any bookkeeping costs involved in dealing with it. They may charge a late fee, as well.


Trying to “fly under the radar” is bad news bears. Not paying the rent can lead to eviction which can lead to destitution which can lead to prostitution which can lead to…you know the rest. It’s not a good look.

The Eviction Process

The proceedings vary by location, but in general the landlord serves a written notice saying that rent is past due and must be paid in a given amount of time (about 3-10 days). If payment is not made in the given time frame, the landlord can file a lawsuit to evict. No one can be evicted until a court order has been obtained to repossess the property and a bailiff has been issued with a warrant for eviction.


  • If a temporary problem is causing the rent neglect, call the landlord and explain it. Some landlords will make exceptions for otherwise good tenants and work out a deal, such as payment in installments.
  • Contact HUD, the government department in charge of housing assistance, to see if they can offer tenant-based vouchers or other support.
  • Beg a friend or family member to borrow. If friends and family are giving you the cold shoulder, seek a bank loan or pay with a credit card.
  • Move back in with the rents. For the pros and cons of this situation see Moving Home After Graduation.
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