Tenants (also referred to as "renters") need to know their rights when entering into a rental agreement. This area of law is essential to renting an apartment or house. You need to understand the landlord-tenant laws in your state to know your rights.
This section will get you up to speed on issues like lease and rental agreements, payment of rent and security deposits, tenant safety, landlord liability, the eviction process, fighting an eviction case, and more.
You Have Rights Against Discrimination
Both prospective and current renters are protected against discrimination by federal law. These rules are called anti-discrimination laws. Your state may have additional rules in place. Landlords will face serious legal issues if they refuse to rent to you based on:
- Nation of origin
- Sexual orientation
- Familial status (such as not allowing children or single parents)
- Membership of a protected class (such as being pregnant)
Discrimination against anyone for these reasons is illegal. You may experience discrimination in ways such as:
- Advertisements for rental units indicating a preference or limitation
- Verbal or written statements (even implied) that seem discriminatory
- Being told an available rental unit is not available
- Different criteria used for assessing certain applicants
- A landlord's refusal to rent to you (unless there is a valid and lawful reason)
- Bad treatment of certain tenants (such as larger deposit requirements or constantly calling the police on tenants)
- Eviction for a discriminatory reason
- Harassment based on a protected characteristic (such as making fun of an older adult)
You Have the Right to a Habitable Home
You don't have a legal right to perks like luxurious furnishings, central air conditioning, or high-speed Internet access (unless these were promised in a written contract).
However, everyone has the right to a habitable home. Some landlords try to make renters waive this right in the lease terms. Most states have housing laws that stop this. Examples of what may be considered uninhabitable fall into two general categories:
- Unsafe conditions (can include necessary repairs taking too long)
- A substantial infestation of vermin (such as rats)
Federal law also requires all rental housing to be free of lead-based paint. The majority of old homes (particular buildings built before 1978) still have traces of lead paint. Generally, landlords must include a disclaimer explaining the potential hazards of lead paint.
You Have Rights to Privacy
Just because your landlord manages your rental unit does not mean they can enter your home at will. The one exception is an emergency, like a fire or gas leak. Landlords cannot enter for suspected domestic violence but can call the police.
Your landlord must give you advance notice before they enter your apartment. The amount of notice required depends on your state laws. Your state also decides if they need to tell you why they're entering your apartment.
Rules About Animals and Pets
Tenants do not have a legal right to keep pets. This is a perk a landlord can choose to offer. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) protects the rights of those who require service animals. This means that even if a landlord has a "no pets" policy, he or she must allow service animals used by tenants for a physical or mental disability.
If you are permitted to have a pet, it needs to be written in the lease agreement. Landlords can legally charge an additional "pet deposit" to pay for any of the possible damage done by a pet, such as carpet stains or scratched doors.
If you are involved in a landlord-tenant dispute, you have rights. Click on a link below to learn more about landlord-tenant laws and tips on getting legal help.