Your Home

Finding the Right Place to Rent

How can I avoid scams?

Red flags for rental scams

  • There is no written lease

  • No “for sale” sign in the yard

  • They don’t want to show you the place or let you go inside

  • They don’t ask for your background information but want you to pay a deposit

  • They ask you to wire money

Make sure you know who owns the property and that you are talking to a real landlord or agent!

What do you need to know before signing a lease?

A lease is a legal contract, so make sure you read it carefully and understand what you are agreeing to.

  • Leases should always be in writing. An oral lease is legal in Alabama, but it is always better to get a written lease. (You may need a written lease to show utility companies to get service or to get other benefits.)

  • Security Deposits can’t be more than one month’s rent (plus a pet deposit) in Alabama.

Rental Payments and Late Charges

  • Always get a receipt for your rent payments! If the landlord won’t give you one, make one! Write your name, address, the date, and the amount of your payment out on paper and ask the landlord to sign it. Keep these receipts in a safe place.

  • Know what your lease says about late fees. Alabama law does not limit how high late fees can be, but they must be reasonable.

TIP: Some people think they are not behind on rent until a month after it is due. Rent is due when the lease says it is due under Alabama law.

Checklist: What do I need to look for in a lease?

  • When rent (and any other charges) may be due

  • How long the lease runs, and what happens if you move out early

  • Who pays for utilities (do you have your own meter?)

  • Who takes care of the yard and provides pest control?

  • Are overnight guests allowed and, if so, how long can they stay?


Tenant Responsibilities: How can I be a good tenant?

  1. Pay your rent on time

  2. Follow all property rules and keep your place clean

  3. Make sure you don’t create loud noise and keep control over your pets and your guests (you can be held responsible for anything your guests or pets do)

  4. Let your landlord know right away if you need repairs to the appliances, plumbing, or electrical systems or if you see a water leak (ask in writing and keep a copy)

  5. See what your lease says about keeping utilities turned on (it may say that if your utilities are cut off for not paying the bill, the landlord may evict you)


Landlord Responsibilities Under Alabama Law

No matter what the lease says…

  • Landlords must provide a way to get hot and cold running water.

  • Landlords must give you a way to get heat (it can be any heat source), and they must keep that heat source working.

  • Landlords do NOT have to provide air conditioning, but if they do, they must keep it working.

  • Landlords must meet all building and housing codes that affect health and safety.

  • Landlords do NOT have to provide appliances (stove, refrigerator, dishwasher, washer, or dryer) But, if they do provide them, they must keep them working!



  • If the lease says the property is rented “as is,” you may not have a legal right to get things fixed later unless they are things the landlord must fix under Alabama law. (See the list above: Landlord Responsibilities Under Alabama Law for what landlords must fix)

  • Ask your landlord in writing to make repairs and keep a copy of your note. Make sure to put the date on the letter you wrote asking for the repair.

  • If you or your guest cause damage or a problem, the landlord can repair and charge you to fix it. (Example: grandchild flushes a toy down the toilet and clogs it)

  • Renters do not have a right to stop paying rent to force a landlord to make a repair. There is no right to “repair and deduct” in Alabama. (Except when the landlord agrees in writing to allow this)

  • Report serious safety hazards and damage to your landlord. Ask your landlord in writing to make the repair.

If the landlord doesn’t fix a serious hazard quickly or doesn’t fix it right, call Legal Services Alabama for help: 1-866-456-3959

Moving Out: General Information

  • Read your lease to see what notice you must give when moving out

  • The landlord cannot charge you for normal wear-and-tear

  • Be sure that you give the landlord your new address if you have one or at least a safe place where you will get your mail so you can get your security deposit back

  • Once you turn in the keys and give the landlord your new address, the landlord has 60 days to refund your security deposit

  • There is no such thing as a non-refundable security deposit in Alabama! If a lease says that a security deposit will never be refunded, that is not legal in Alabama.

  • If you don’t get your security deposit back in 60 days (or something in writing saying why you are not getting it back), you may be able to get double your deposit back if you go to court.

  • Under Alabama law, you have not moved out until you and all your things are gone. If you leave the property like it was when you moved in, and you don’t leave trash or items behind, you should get your deposit back.

  • If you choose to move out early, you will likely still owe rent through the end of your lease term – check your lease. A landlord must try to rent the property again and can’t charge you and the new renter for rent during the same months.

  • If the landlord won’t fix a big safety or health hazard and you report this to a health department or building inspector, it is illegal for the landlord to retaliate or act against you. (Example: landlord can’t threaten to evict you or raise your rent).

TIP: Try to get the landlord to do a walk-through with you when you move out. Take pictures and keep them in case you need them later to help get your security deposit back.

TIP: Keep all your leases, payment records, photos, notes, etc., for a few years after you move out just in case a landlord sues you later.

Eviction Papers and Lease Termination

  • A landlord must give you a paper saying why they want to evict you. You have only seven business days to fix the problem (Example: Pay all rent owed and fix any problems listed). “Business days” means that you don’t count Saturdays, Sundays, and state holidays. Try to get a lawyer to help you as soon as you get any papers!

  • If you fix what the landlord asked for in the papers, ask the landlord to say so in writing. (Examples: If you paid all rent owed—get a receipt. If you caused damage to the home—repair it and then get the landlord to sign a paper saying you fixed it.)

  • Some problems can’t be fixed by the renter (giving false information in the application or lease, drug or gun violations, and assaulting someone on the property.)

  • If the problem has not been fixed in 7 business days, the landlord may file the eviction case with the court. If they do, they must serve you with eviction papers.

  • You only have seven calendar days to file a written answer with the court after you get the written eviction notice. “Calendar days” are all days, including weekends and holidays. If you don’t answer in writing, it will help the landlord put you out faster!

Can my landlord do things to make me leave?

  • A landlord must go through the court system and win, then the landlord must get a writ of possession (papers signed by the judge that say you must leave). If they get that, a sheriff’s deputy must be there when your things are removed.

  • Landlords can’t evict you by locking you out, taking your door, threatening you, turning off utilities, or holding or throwing out your things.

For housing help, call the Legal Services Alabama Elder Law Helpline: 1-866-456-3959 You can also visit for more information.

Fair Housing—Federal Law Protections

  • Landlords can’t treat you differently from other tenants based on race, skin color, birth country, gender identity, sexual orientation, religion, disability, or having children under 18 in the home.

  • If you are living with a disability, landlords must let you make necessary changes to your place or bend the rules if you need reasonable accommodations so you can live there (Example: wheelchair ramp) Landlords do not have to pay for any reasonable accommodation changes, but many charities have volunteers who can make these changes for low-income older adults.


Home Ownership & Mortgages

Mortgage Modifications and Foreclosure

For older adults, being able to stay in the home you have lived in for years is very important. Sometimes it becomes hard to pay your mortgage on time or at all.

  • If you have enough income, they may agree to a mortgage modification. This is where then mortgage company agrees to lower the monthly payment.

  • If you had a big income loss, you might not get the payment low enough so you can pay it.

  • If you can’t catch up with the payments or work something out with the mortgage company, they may start foreclosure. Foreclosure is a process where a mortgage company takes back the home.

YOU HAVE THE POWER! Think of all the ways you could make those payments. Some people stay in their homes by taking in a renter to help with the monthly payment. Let the mortgage company know if you can do something like this.

How does the foreclosure process work?

  • Foreclosures do not happen fast. The time a foreclosure takes may not be the same from one case to another. Generally, a mortgage company begins a foreclosure when someone is several months behind on payments.

  • Once foreclosure begins, use that time wisely to try to work things out with the mortgage company (mortgage modification) or make plans for other housing if it looks like things can’t be worked out.

  • A mortgage company does not have to go to court to foreclose in Alabama. Foreclosure starts when the homeowner gets papers from the mortgage company saying they are foreclosing. These papers will explain how much catch-up time you have. Use this time to try to work things out with the mortgage company!

  • If it can’t be worked out, and the foreclosure goes ahead, the home will be sold at a foreclosure sale. After the sale, the new owner will ask the homeowner to leave the house, but they must have a court order to force the homeowner out. The homeowner may stay in the home until a court order says they have to leave.

Reverse Mortgages

If you are age 62+ and need money, you may want to consider a reverse mortgage. A reverse mortgage is a loan that lets you borrow money against the equity in your home. The loan is repaid after you no longer live in the home. Make sure to carefully check out a reverse mortgage lender.  Learn more here. 

Contact HUD (Housing and Urban Development) to find a reverse mortgage housing counselor: 800-569-4287

TIP: There is much more to foreclosure than what we have here, so try to get an attorney to help as soon as you can if you cannot pay your mortgage.

Rent-to-Own Home Deals

  • With a rent-to-own deal, the buyer usually makes a deal with a person (not with a real estate company, bank, or mortgage company) to pay a down payment and monthly payments. Usually, the buyer must do all the repairs for the home. Buyers make these deals if they don’t qualify to buy a home through a bank or mortgage company.

  • Rent-to-own deals usually protect the seller much more than the buyer. It often says that the rent-to-own deal ends if the buyer misses a payment. It becomes a rental contract, and the seller can file an eviction. In this case, the buyer usually loses their entire down payment!

  • Buyer does not build up any equity in the property (unlike a mortgage), even if they pay a big down payment.

  • Instead of doing rent-to-own, most buyers should rent a home. (Example: Rent-to-own buyer pays a $4,000 down payment and lives in the home for two months. A few months later, the buyer loses her job and misses just one payment. The contract says she is a “renter” now, and she loses her $4,000 down payment)

For housing help, call the Legal Services Alabama Elder Law Helpline: 1-866-456-3959


Housing Advice—Free HUD Counseling

A HUD (Housing and Urban Development) counselor can give you FREE advice on buying a home, renting, default, avoiding foreclosure, credit issues, or reverse mortgages.

Contact HUD (Housing and Urban Development) to find a housing counselor:

Table of Contents