Tenants' Rights Basics
The two main parties to a lease, whether it's a house or an apartment, are the landlord and the tenant. Each has certain rights and responsibilities. The landlord has a responsibility to maintain safe and habitable housing and must follow the terms of the lease agreement. At the same time, landlords have the right to receive monthly rent in full by the due date that they set. Tenants also have certain rights under federal, state, and some local laws. Examples of these rights are the right not to be discriminated against, the right to a livable home, and the right not to be charged more for a security deposit than is allowed by state law.
While tenants with limited incomes often have few choices for housing and are willing to live with certain hassles, a tenant's rights are non-negotiable. The following is an overview of tenants' rights, with links to corresponding FindLaw articles.
Under the Federal Fair Housing Act, landlords may not discriminate against current or prospective tenants on the basis of their race, gender, sexual orientation, familial status, religion, ethnicity, national origin, or disability. This applies to advertisements that exclude any of those protected characteristics. Some states also extend these protections to other protected classes, as well. Consider reviewing the following linked resources:
- Understanding Your Rights: Housing Discrimination
- Rental Housing Rights for Disabled Tenants
- Fair Housing Act
- Housing and Civil Rights: History and Law
- Housing Discrimination: FAQs
The Right to a Habitable Home
A "habitable home" is a house or apartment that is reasonably fit to live in. This means your rental should be free from unsafe conditions, such as the following:
- Bad electrical wiring
- Lack of running water
- Faulty floors
- Infestation of rats, cockroaches, or other pests
- Broken doors
- Leaking or unstable ceilings
Keep in mind that most state laws prohibit landlords from adding language in the lease to "waive" this right. Consider reading the following linked resources to learn more about habitability and other related issues:
- What is the Implied Warranty of Habitability?
- Landlords' Duties Regarding Repairs, Maintenance, and to Provide Notice to Tenants for Entry
- A Tenant's Rights to Landlord Repairs
- The Right to "Repair and Deduct" and Reduced Rent
- Tenant Safety and Landlord Liability
Security Deposits: Limits and Deadlines
Most landlords require tenants to pay a security deposit upon signing the lease, which is then returned to the tenant after the lease term ends (minus any money needed for reasonable repairs, cleaning, or unpaid rent). However, most states have laws that place limits on how much of a deposit a landlord may require and how soon it must be refunded at the end of a lease. Keep in mind that tenants may have to pay an additional deposit for pets or other factors considered that are considered liabilities. Consider reviewing the following linked resources that deal with issues around security deposits:
- Security Deposit Basics
- Security Deposit Laws
- The Difference Between Last Month's Rent and Security Deposit
- Security Deposit Limits
- Security Deposit Return Deadlines
Tenant's Right to Privacy
Just because the landlord owns the building you're renting doesn't give them the right to enter your unit whenever they like. As a tenant, you have the right to a reasonable level of privacy and quiet enjoyment of the property. There may be times when the landlord needs to access your rental property to do a repair or check something, but they are generally required to give you notice beforehand.
Landlords also have the right to conduct reasonable background checks into a prospective tenant's credit history and crime records. Consider reading the following linked resources for more information about your rights to privacy, the basics of background screening, and requirements for landlord entry:
- Tenant Background Screening FAQ
- Tenant Privacy Rights and the Right to Repairs
- Requirements for Landlord Entry
Learn More About Tenants' Rights from a Lawyer
It's important to know your rights and your legal responsibilities when you have a dispute with your landlord. If you have a particular question or need counsel for a legal action related to your rental unit, you'll want to speak with an experienced landlord-tenant attorney near you.
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.