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The Guide to Tenant Rights: All You Need to Know About Tenant-Landlord Law

Information is power. No matter what circumstance you’re under, it’s always better to know your rights. Armed with knowledge, you feel more confidence, advocate your interests, and, consequently, get the most out of any situation. That’s why it’s important for you – tenant – to be aware of what rights you have and use this knowledge each time a controversial situation occurs.

We cannot stress enough the importance of the topic. And as Glenn Carter, the real estate expert from Condo.Capital explains, the topic of tenant rights is just as important for landlrods as it is for tenants:

“I believe strongly in tenant rights, particularly because what’s good for a tenant is 98% of the time good for landlords too. If something’s wrong with the tenant’s home, it means there’s something wrong with your asset.”

That’s why we realized you need a guide to the world of tenant-landlord laws. Take a close look of each point of this article, note down everything you believe is especially valuable, and feel free to get back to our blog when in doubt.

In case you don’t know, your tenant rights begin at the moment when you start looking for a place and last until your security deposit is returned and you are out of a rented home. As always, we’ve broken the information into categories for easier navigation.

Tenant Rights When Looking for Property

At this stage of your rental journey, all tenant rights are focused on one issue – discrimination.  When you’re applying for a property, your rights for equal opportunity are guaranteed by the Federal Anti-Discrimination Law, Federal Housing Law, Fair Credit Reporting Act, and some state and local laws.

According to Federal Anti-Discrimination Law, landlords cannot discriminate you based on the following criteria:

  • Race and color
  • National origin
  • Religion
  • Sex and age
  • Familial status (including discrimination against pregnant women and families with kids)
  • Physical or mental disability (including past drug addiction or alcoholism)

Note: Your state and local laws may also prohibit other types of discrimination such as those based on your marital status or sexual orientation.

As stated in the Federal Housing Act, it’s not legal for landlords:

  • to advertise or make statements that indicate either a preference or limitation based on applicant’s race, religion, gender, and other protected categories mentioned above.
  • to falsely state that a rental unit is not available.
  • to set more strict selection criteria for applicants of certain groups.
  • to set different rental terms and conditions for prospects of certain groups (for example, a landlord cannot ask one to pay a larger security deposit just because of one’s religion or gender).
  • to terminate one’s tenancy because for a discriminatory reason.

Note: Your landlord cannot reject your application because of a ‘no pets’ policy in case you have a trained helper animal.

According to the Fair Credit Reporting Act:

  • You have a right to know whether your application was rejected because of a negative credit information obtained from sources other than your credit report (previous landlords, current employer, or any other third party).
  • Your landlord has to inform you on your right to submit a request for disclosure of the negative information within sixty days.
  • You have a right to know ‘the nature of the information’ your landlord received.

Tenant Rights While Living in a Rented Property

The right to live in habitable premises.

Basically, it means that your rented property should be livable. Any specific conditions that make your living insecure or uncomfortable can be a subject to this regulation. For instance, such issues as bad wiring, holes in the floor, problems with heating or water supply, a gross infestation of vermin, and the like do not fall under the category of ‘livable’. Not even to mention that all doors, windows, and locks should work property.

The right to live in habitable premises

Note: Beware that under federal law you have a right to know whether a rental property is free from lead-based paint.

The right to maintenance requests.

Aging or broken features should be taken care of, and it’s your right to ask for maintenance when there is a need. Your landlord is responsible for major repairs associated with safety and basic comfort. Leaking roof, unstable water supply, damaged heating system, and other serious problems are all your landlord’s responsibility. As for some minor problems like little holes in carpet or torn window screens, your landlord may not have a legal obligation to take care of them. However, it all depends on the text of your lease.

Note: If a rental property gets infested with pests (and it’s not because of poor housekeeping), your landlord is legally obliged to pay for extermination.

The right to privacy.

Landlords cannot enter occupied properties without a prior notice. No matter if your landlord is planning to show the unit to potential tenants, take care of some repairs or just make sure everything’s alright, they must inform you about a visit in advance. Depending on which state you live in, the deadline for a prior notice may vary, but it’s usually between 24 and 48 hours. Of course, emergencies like fire or flood are an exception.

The right to safety conditions.

When living in a rented property, it should be your landlord’s priority to provide you with safe conditions. In this regard, you have a right to request installation of smoke detectors and ask for lock repairs if the current ones are not working properly.

Note: If you feel like adding extra locks to your rented property, you have a right to do this. However, you are obliged to provide your landlord with a copy.

Tenant Rights When Moving Out

The right to get your security deposit back.

First and foremost, your landlord must treat all tenants equally on deposit requirements. Secondly, you have a right to get your money back at the end of the lease. Usually, a landlord is obliged to return the deposit within thirty days, but the term may vary from state to state.

In case you get only a partial refund, you may request an itemized list explaining how your money have been spent. The most common reasons for reduced deposit refund are unpaid rent, cleaning or restoring the premise in a case of severe damage (wear and tear damage is not count).

The right to break your lease.

Technically, you can break your lease at any time. Nonetheless, you should be ready for penalty fees. Its exact amount is usually mentioned in a rental agreement, but it may extend from as little as one month’s rent to as much as the remainder of the rent for the entire period of your lease. However, you may get a chance to break your rental agreement without financial consequences if your landlord fails to make necessary repairs in a given time.

The right to know the reason for eviction.

Even if your problems with renting have reached the point of eviction, you still have rights you should exercise. Depending on the terms of your lease, the grounds for an eviction may slightly vary. And there are different forms of an eviction notice, but usually, your landlord must inform you about a problem and give an opportunity to fix it. In absolutely all cases, you have a right to know the primary reason for termination.

The Last But Not Least

As it’s been mentioned more than once, tenants rights may slightly differ from state to state. Given this, we suggest you look for local landlord-tenant laws and make sure your landlord is not being unfair to you. As our experience confirms, a failure to know your rights is one of the most common and costly mistakes tenants make. So you’d better be in the know.

Here at Rentberry, we believe that education empowers. That’s why a part of our team is fully dedicated to creating useful materials you can benefit from for free. And we’re always happy to see you coming back for another portion of valuable insights.

16 Comments

  1. I have been living in my apartment for 2 years and I received a letter to renew my lease by sept 1. Prior to September 1st I was sent a 60 day to vacate. Does California law allow them to renig on the renewal letter?

    • Hello Denise,

      Thank you for your question. These two documents do contradict one another, so the best thing you can do is to discuss the issue with your landlord or property manager. However, keep in mind that if your lease had been officially renewed and the document had taken effect before you received a letter to vacate, then your landlord should have a legal reason to terminate your lease.

  2. My landlords girlfriend has a major drinking problem and has been arrested at least 20 times in the2 years I have lived here, he always says she not coming back, I kid you not she did 6 months in prison and first day back she got drunk attacked my roommate from behind. If I decide to move out is there anyway I can justify not paying rent for a month, in fact she is in jail now, and her next court date is Oct. 4th. He allows her back every time, he was sitting there when attacked the roommate and didn’t do anything. I have been putting off this situation but enoughs enough. By the way she is 37 and my landlord is 65. I can not wait to hear our options. I appreciate it.

    • Hello Steven,

      I’m sorry that you are forced to deal with such a problem.

      According to the Tenant-Landlord Law, tenants have the right to break a lease and move out earlier if any of the following takes place: domestic violence, sexual assault, stalking, human trafficking, elder abuse or dependent adult abuse.

      If any of the above-mentioned situation is the case with you or your cotenant, and you have all necessary documentation (see the list of required documents here – http://www.civillawselfhelpcenter.org/self-help/evictions-housing/more-topics/206-tenants-right-to-terminate-lease-due-to-domestic-violence), it will be possible for you to move out and no longer be required to pay rent. However, you’ll still need to write a letter of notice before moving out (useful tips here – https://rentberry.com/blog/letter-of-notice-tips).

      If the situation that occurred to your roommate does not fall under any of the above-mentioned categories, you’d better talk to your landlord and try to negotiate the terms of lease termination in a peaceful way.

  3. Prior to my landlord signing the lease, I mailed them a letter to cancel the lease. It had been 2 months since our last correspondence when I asked them twice if everything was okay with the lease. It is now four months before I was scheduled to move in. They sent me a signed copy of the lease instead of complying with my request and proceeded to tell me that because it is now signed despite my request being prior to the date it was signed that it is now an active lease and I am expected to move in on my move in date. Are they allowed to do this?

    • Hello Jenna,

      I would recommend you contacting your lawyer and see if it’s possible to prove in court the fact of your cancelation letter being sent and delivered to him on time.

  4. A friend of mine has lived in a property for about 20 years. he landlord is her EX boyfriend. The property is a duplex and she occupies both sides, she has not had a signed lease on one side since maybe 2001 and the other side since about 2003. The landlord just stopped accepting her rent in January and February and told her last night she had until the 31st to vacate the premises. is this legal since there is no lease? Does she have any rights at all since there has not been a signed lease in over 10 years?? Any advice would be greatly appreciated.

    • Hello Marissa,

      Unfortunately, most of the state laws demand your lease agreements to be written. An oral agreement for a month-to-month rental arrangement or for a fixed term of a year or less is valid in California, for example. So, in case you are from CA, you are indeed a tenant and are subject to all the rights and obligations in the California Civil Code.

      However, even if you are from California, the landlord had to issue a written receipt for any payment of rent your friend made and I believe that’s not the case.

      Basically, there is a chance of resolving this situation with your lawyer if you are from the state where the oral agreements are legal, but I’m not sure that is the case, because you didn’t mention the state you live in.

  5. My boyfriend and I signed a lease about 3 years ago. He moved out two years ago, but is threatening to move back now. Can I prevent this?

    • Hello J,

      If your roommate’s name is on the lease, he’s a co-tenant. Whether he moved in when you did or replaced your original roommate, he has as much legal right to the space as you do. Even if he breaks the lease, only the landlord can act against him. The exception is if he’s actually violent or threatening violence toward you. In that case you can apply for a restraining order, forcing him to move immediately.

      As for the fact that he didn’t actually live for 3 years in this place, I would recommend you contacting a lawyer and see if it’s possible to prove that he didn’t actually pay rent for these 3 years and didn’t follow any of his tenant’s responsibilities.

  6. I have a land Lord that gave me a 5 day notice that she was putting the duplex up for sale that I live in. Not 30 days latter I got a half ass letter that they took a order and that I need to move out in 15 days. This new owner still does not even own the property yet. I have 4 kids. How much of a legal leg do I have on this do to its real hard to find a place big enough for my size family. What can I do.

    • Hello Joseph,

      Usually, in most of the states a landlord has to give a 30 or 60 days notice. If you specify your state, I can dig the needed information.
      I would also recommend you contacting the lawyer, cause the situation looks shady and you also need to check what your lease agreement says about such notice.

  7. I signed a one year lease I have only been living in my house 6 months the landlord told me I have 30 days to move because his son is moving back to the area and he want him to move in home what rights do I have

    • Hi Stephanie,

      It always depends in the state you live in. Usually the termination notice should give you 30 days till you have to move out, but if you let us know what state you live in, I’ll be glad to check this information for you.

  8. Okay so I have a rental agreement which is year-to-year and I have till February but they told me on the 1st that the place was sold and I have 30 days to get out what do I do

    • Hi Mike,

      If your landlord gave you a proper written notice about the home sale, you’ll have to move out according to it.

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