Renter's Guide

A comprehensive renter’s guide is available from New Mexico Legal Aid.

Finding a Place to Rent

There are numerous ways to find a place to rent, from newspaper ads to word of mouth. But be careful about paying a broker or agency to find a rental for you. Typically the listings they provide are available elsewhere at no charge. If you are considering hiring a broker or agency check with the Better Business Bureau to see if there is a complaint history.

Rights of the Landlord

Your prospective landlord has the right to check your background, including your credit report and a criminal background check. The landlord may turn you down for bad credit or a criminal history.

Rights of the Perspective Tenant

A landlord cannot refuse to rent to someone because of a disability, ethnicity, sexual orientation or other reasons protected by the Fair Housing Act or New Mexico Human Rights law. If you believe you have been discriminated against because of race, religion, national origin or ancestry, sex, family status (with children), or because of a disability, you should seek legal advice. While age discrimination is illegal, the law requires property leases of any type to be signed by a person at least 18 years old.

Leases and Rental Agreements

A rental agreement or lease sets out the terms of an agreement between the landlord and tenant. A landlord is required by law to provide you with a written rental agreement. The lease or agreement should contain:

  • Rental period. The agreement may be month-to-month or for a specific time period such as one year. If you are renting on a month-to-month basis you must give the landlord 30 days notice when you plan to move. Similarly, the landlord must give you 30 days notice of a change in rent or conditions. It is important to understand any terms you are accepting.
  • Rules and regulations. These are important to know because violations might lead to a termination of your tenancy and eviction.
  • Rent and late charges. It is important that these terms be explicitly stated. You need to make certain you know when the rent is due, as well as where, how, and to whom it is to be paid. If there are to be charges added for late payment of rent, you need to know when the late charges begin. By law, the amount of a late charge may not exceed 10% of the rent. There may be an additional fee added for returned checks.
  • Utilities and appliances. Your agreement should specify whether you or the landlord is responsible for paying utilities.
  • Guest policy. The landlord may have a clause pertaining to guests and their use of facilities.
  • Pet policy. A landlord may prohibit pets. If a pet is permitted, the landlord may charge a pet fee or pet deposit.
  • Other points in an agreement. There are a number of other important points that may be contained in a lease or rental agreement. Please refer to Legal Aid’s Renter’s Guide for additional details.
Damage Deposit:

The damage deposit covers those damages the tenant causes the landlord to suffer. These damages may be for physical damage or business related costs associated with the violation of a lease agreement. Normal wear and tear is not chargeable against a damage deposit. Normal wear and tear is the responsibility of the landlord.

By law, a landlord may not ask for a deposit greater than one month's rent unless the lease is for more than a year. Before you move in, make sure you make a detailed list of all existing damages and have it signed by the landlord. Ask your landlord for a signed receipt when you pay your security deposit and each time you pay your rent. Taking pictures at the time of moving in is the best way to ensure the accuracy of any damage claim.

You should expect to receive your damage deposit return within thirty days of moving out. If the landlord claims you are responsible for damages you must be given an itemized list of all the deductions the landlord makes from the damage deposit. If there is a dispute between the landlord and tenant over damages the issue may be taken to small claims (Magistrate or Metropolitan) court.

Repairs and Upkeep:

The landlord is generally responsible for keeping your place safe and livable. This includes, but is not limited to, providing running water and keeping utilities (electrical items, plumbing, heating, ventilation, etc.) in good working order. You must notify the landlord in writing if repairs are required and you may use the landlord's failure to repair the problem as grounds to cancel the lease.

Tenant Duties:

It's up to you to keep your place clean, as well as to use the plumbing and fixtures properly. Before redecorating, like painting or changing light fixtures, get written permission from the landlord. Be a good tenant and neighbor.

Important Information

You should also know that:

  • Generally, landlords cannot raise rents during the term of the lease unless you are on a "month-by-month" agreement.
  • A landlord has the right to "peaceably" enter your apartment; however, they must give you 24-hour written notice and enter at a reasonable time with a reasonable purpose, unless the tenant has requested the landlord do a specific task.
  • If you want to leave before your lease expires, you must notify your landlord in advance by certified mail. Talk about your options with your landlord.
  • The landlord must make an effort to rent out the apartment to another person, but you may have to pay the rent for the rest of the lease term if the landlord cannot rent out the apartment after you leave.
  • If you feel that terms of your lease are not being met you can write your landlord a letter specifying your complaint(s).
  • Your landlord cannot evict you because of complaints you have made. This is called a "retaliatory eviction" and is unlawful.

Roommates:

Your roommate's name must be on the lease in order for them to live there. Signing a roommate contract will help prevent you from having problems with your roommate paying their part of rent. If your roommate moves out, you are still responsible for the rent and bills, but if you signed a contract with your roommate stating what portion of the rent each person would pay, then you can file a claim in small claims court. 

Renter's Insurance

Renter's insurance is a policy that covers your personal belongings. It is relatively inexpensive and is mainly for people that rent an apartment because the landlord's insurance already covers the building. (Make sure the landlord has insurance):

  • The policy covers you in case of loss (by a fire, for example) or liability for claims or lawsuits brought against you;
  • It covers your personal property, but does not include any motorized vehicles or animals;
  • Some perils, such as floods, are not covered. Make sure to customize your policy to fit your needs.

Legal Help

New Mexico Legal Aid
Albuquerque243-7871
Bernalillo867-3391 / 1-800-867-3452
Carlsbad628-3187 / 1-800-376-7665
Clovis769-2326 / 1-800-376-7665
Gallup722-4417 / 1-800-524-4417
Las Cruces541-4800 / 1-800-376-7665
Las Vegas425-3514 / 1-888-403-4480
Mescalero464-2260
Roswell623-9669
Santa Fe982-9886 / 1-800-373-9881
Silver City 388-0091
Taos758-2218 / 1-800-294-1823
Law Access New Mexico998-4529 / 1-800-340-9771
Senior Citizen Law Office265-2300
Lawyer Referral for the Elderly797-6005 / 1-800-876-6657
DNA-People’s Legal Services
Crownpoint Office768-5277 / 1-800-789-7936
Shiprock Office325-8886 / 1-800-789-7997
information@dnalegalservices.org
www.dnalegalservices.org