But sometimes things get so intense that you'll need a lawyer's help. Here are some of the situations that Nolo.com says may determine if you need a tenant lawyer:
Your landlord is evicting you
If you're being given a termination notice that you intend to fight, a lawyer can increase your chance of success. Find a lawyer who is knowledgeable about landlord-tenant law and has experience fighting evictions. The lawyer can offer creative solutions that you might not be aware of, such as if the landlord's eviction is retaliatory and therefore illegal.
You're being evicted without proper court procedures
This may sound boring, but fighting these can keep you in your apartment. State and local laws set eviction procedures that landlords must follow. If the landlord tries other ways to evict you - locking you out, canceling your utilities, or removing your doors, windows or possessions - consider hiring a lawyer. All are illegal. Even if the landlord's case against you is strong, such self-help actions are illegal.
If you think you're being discriminated against, you may need a lawyer to stop the illegal actions and recover damages.
You can also file a complaint with the Department of Housing and Urban Development, or HUD, or a state or local agency in HUD's Fair Housing Assistance Program. To file a complaint with HUD call 1-800-669-9777 or go to its Web site and click on "Housing Discrimination Complaint Form."
Landlords sometimes make promises to encourage people to rent, such as if an applicant is concerned about neighborhood crime, the landlord will promise to install a more effective intercom system or an electronic and gated parking lot. If the promise isn't honored, a lawyer can help you write a stern letter, threatening a lawsuit unless the landlord follows through.
You may have a legal case against your landlord if an accident is the result of the landlord's carelessness. You may slip on an icy patch on the front steps of your building, or discover an outbreak of mold in your rental after getting ill. Even if the landlord didn't intentionally create the problem, there are many legal theories to convince a court or insurance adjustor that the landlord should be held responsible.
Improper maintenance can lead to your personal property being damaged. Faulty wiring done by a landlord can spark an electrical fire in your living room. Renter's insurance will cover the loss and its lawyers will seek reimbursement from your landlord. If you don't have insurance, a lawyer could help you get reimbursed.
Aaron Crowe has lived in at least five rentals in the San Francisco Bay Area. Reach him at www.AaronCrowe.net