Tenants and renters have specific rights during the lease term or tenancy. This includes tenants in public housing. Local landlord-tenant law, state law, and federal law are all sources of tenant rights. Renters should understand their rights when entering a lease or rental agreement, whether it's month-to-month or for a longer term.
This FindLaw section will get you up to speed on issues that affect landlords and tenants, including:
- Lease and rental agreements
- Tenant safety and landlord liability
- The eviction process
- Lease terminations
The Right to Freedom from Discrimination
Federal law protects prospective and current renters from discrimination. These laws apply to almost all real estate professionals, including landlords and property managers.
Under the federal Fair Housing Act, it is illegal to discriminate based on the following protected characteristics:
- National origin
- Sexual orientation and gender
- Familial status
Housing Discrimination Examples
Discrimination against anyone for the above reasons is illegal. Housing discrimination may take many forms, including:
- Advertisements for rental units indicating a preference or limitation
- Being told an available rental unit is not available
- The use of different criteria for assessing certain applicants
- A landlord's refusal to rent to you without a valid and lawful reason
- Poor treatment of certain tenants (such as unreasonably larger deposit requirements)
- Eviction for a discriminatory reason
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) enforces the federal Fair Housing Act. Anyone who has experienced housing discrimination should file a complaint with their office.
The Right to a Habitable Home
Everyone has the right to a habitable home. Your state's housing laws include housing codes that include many of the elements of habitability. A habitable home is fit for humans to live. Some of the qualities you should expect include:
- No pest or rodent infestation
- Working electrical systems
- Working carbon monoxide and smoke detectors
- Running water
- Hot water
Under federal law, landlords must disclose the existence of lead-based paint in a rental property.
Landlords must maintain the common areas of rental property, such as hallways and lobbies.
Repair and Deduct
If your landlord or property manager refuses to make a necessary repair, you may have the option to repair and deduct. First, give your landlord written notice of the necessary repair. Explain the necessary repair, and give them reasonable time to respond.
In some states, if the landlord or property manager does not respond to a tenant's request for a necessary repair, the tenant may pay for the repair and deduct the costs from the next month's rent.
If you are considering this option, you should seek legal advice first, as repair and deduction are not available in all states. In some states, tenants must file a legal action before using this option.
Right to Privacy
Landlords cannot enter your home at any time. They need a valid reason, such as a fire or gas leak. If they suspect domestic violence, they still cannot enter your premises. They must call local law enforcement.
Your landlord must give you advance notice before entering your apartment. The required notice amount depends on your state laws, but it is often at least a one-day notice.
Right to Advance Notice of Eviction
Lease agreements are binding contracts, so landlords can't evict a tenant without a valid reason. A few valid reasons landlords evict tenants include:
- Unpaid rent/nonpayment of rent
- Lease or occupancy violations
- Damage to property
- Criminal activity
If a landlord wants to evict you, they cannot change the locks or remove your personal property from the rental unit. They must go through your local eviction process.
The Eviction Process
Your landlord must first provide you with an eviction notice, giving you reasonable time to either fix the reason for eviction or vacate the premises. If the underlying cause is nonpayment of rent, often you can fix this by paying the past-due rent and any late fees.
If you do not, your landlord can go to a housing or small claims court to obtain a court order. If the landlord prevails, the court can order the eviction and assess the landlord's attorney's fees to you.
Landlords must act in good faith when pursuing an eviction. They cannot retaliate with an eviction if the tenant has complained or reported them to local or federal housing authorities.
Right to Return of Security Deposit
Most landlords ask for a security deposit before you can move into your new home. The security deposit gives the landlord some financial reassurance in case you damage the property or can't pay rent.
Most states regulate security deposits. This includes regulations on the following:
- How much the landlord can ask for a deposit
- Whether the landlord must place the funds in an interest-bearing account
- How the landlord can use the security deposit
- The period of time for the landlord to return the deposit
As part of your proper notice at the end of your lease term, you should give your landlord your forwarding address to return your security deposit. To avoid any issues, you should mail this notice to your landlord via certified mail so that you have proof.
Your landlord may have to use part of your security deposit to cover damages (beyond normal wear and tear) or cleaning. In that case, they must provide you with an itemized statement and the balance of your deposit. If the landlord does not return your security deposit within the designated period, you can take legal action in small claims court.
You should speak to a landlord-tenant attorney if you need clarification about your legal rights as a tenant. They are experts in landlord-tenant law and will give you accurate legal advice tailored to your location and situation. Speak to an experienced, local landlord-tenant attorney today.
Click on a link below for more FindLaw articles on tenant rights:
Learn About Tenant Rights
Tenant Rights Articles
You Don’t Have To Solve This on Your Own – Get a Lawyer’s Help
Meeting with a lawyer can help you understand your options and how to best protect your rights. Visit our attorney directory to find a lawyer near you who can help.