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Tenant Privacy Rights and the Right to Repairs

Every tenant has a bundle of legal rights, including the right to privacy and repairs. Although every landlord must respect these tenants' rights, these two rights can often collide when the rental property needs repairs. Tenants, landlords, and property managers acting on behalf of landlords should understand these rights and how to resolve potential conflicts.

This Findlaw article provides an overview of tenant rights, including tenant privacy rights and how they impact a tenant's right to repairs.

Tenant Rights

As stated, every tenant has a comprehensive bundle of legal rights, including the right to privacy and repairs. Some of these rights are explicit in your lease agreement, like the right to security deposit return; the law reads other rights, like the right to quiet enjoyment, into the lease.

The following is a non-exclusive list of tenant rights:

  • Right to a habitable home
  • Right to privacy
  • Right to the return of your security deposit
  • Right to advance notice of an eviction
  • Right to freedom from housing discrimination

Tenant Right to Privacy

Generally, landlords can only enter your rental unit with advance notice, except in emergencies like a gas leak. Otherwise, you have the right of quiet enjoyment. This means you can enjoy your rental unit without interference from your landlord. You pay rent in exchange for this right.

Landlords have a right of entry, but that right does not supersede your right to privacy.

Landlord's Right of Entry

Landlords have a right of entry in the following circumstances:

  • To show the rental unit to prospective tenants
  • To conduct essential repairs
  • For maintenance (to change HVAC filters and smoke detectors, for example)
  • To address emergencies (including maintenance emergencies)

Landlords can balance these competing rights by giving advance notice before they enter your rental unit. Check your rental agreement or state law to determine notice requirements for landlord entry. For non-emergencies, landlords must give proper notice, including advance written notice (usually at least 24 hours' notice).

Denying Landlord Right of Entry

You can deny your landlord's right of entry, but you risk eviction if you do so. Check your lease terms before you deny your landlord's right to enter your rental unit. Your lease terms often list why your landlord can enter your rental unit with advance notice. If you refuse, your landlord can evict you for a lease violation. In the case of repairs, this only applies to essential repairs and does not typically include major renovations.

Your Right to Repairs

In almost all states, you have a right to habitability, which means your rental unit is suitable for human life. This right typically includes, but is not limited to, the following:

  • Heat
  • Running water
  • Hot water
  • Smoke detectors
  • Working electrical systems

You should check your state laws and local housing codes for more specific information on what constitutes habitability in your rental unit. Your lease terms may address these issues, but you should also check your state laws to confirm. The law reads an implied warranty of habitability into most leases, so if your lease doesn't address habitability, you should be OK.

As a result of this right to habitability, you also have the right to repairs during your tenancy. If your rental unit is not habitable for any reason, your landlord must make the necessary repairs to ensure it is habitable.

Your Landlord's Duty to Repair

Your landlord must maintain the rental unit, including the common areas. Your landlord must make any repairs to the rental property, including your unit. If you need a repair, you must give your landlord notice, preferably written notice, and a reasonable time to complete the repair. Reasonableness is proportionate to the needed repair. For example, it is unreasonable to repair a broken water heater for two weeks since hot water is a basic necessity.

Repair and Deduct

If your landlord does not make the necessary repairs in a reasonable time and according to state laws, you can repair and deduct the costs from your rent. You should not try to repair and deduct without understanding your local laws. Failure to adhere to the law could result in an eviction for nonpayment of rent.

In some states, you must go to court to request permission to repair and deduct. As part of the process, the court may ask you to deposit your monthly rent payment into an escrow account; this helps reduce any allegations of unpaid rent. Or, you can sue your landlord in small claims court if they refuse to make necessary repairs in most states.

Get Legal Help

A landlord's right of entry often conflicts with a renter's right to privacy, particularly on rental unit repairs. Landlords must give you reasonable notice before entering your rental unit. If your landlord violates your right to privacy, a landlord-tenant attorney can help. They are experts in landlord-tenant law and can give sound legal advice. Speak to an experienced landlord-tenant attorney today.

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