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

Information is power. Armed with knowledge, you feel more confident, advocate your interests, and, consequently, get the most out of any situation. That’s why it’s important for you as a tenant to be aware of what renters’ rights you have and use this knowledge each time a controversial situation occurs.

Of course, individual states in the country differ greatly when it comes to some specific landlord-tenant laws. This post is dedicated to some principal regulations each resident of the US should know, but you can always check Rentberry’s guides for more info regarding tenant rights in the particular state.

First of all, you should bear in mind that your tenant rights come into effect from the moment when you start looking for a place and last until you move out of a rented home and your security deposit is returned.

Renter Rights When Looking for Property

At the first stage of your rental journey, all tenant rights are focused on one main issue — discrimination. When you apply 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 against 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 the 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 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 of 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 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 properly.

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 the 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.

Dealing with the maintenances is easier with Rentberry. You can request it right inside the platform. Learn how to do that and sign up today to find your dream home at Rentberry.

The right to privacy.

Landlords cannot enter occupied properties without 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 the 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 has 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 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 you 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, renters 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.

38 Comments

  1. Al McCallum says:

    Hi I have a tenant in my upstairs 2 family home, we have a signed 1year lease set to expire in Feb of 2020, I have to sell my house to prevent foreclosure and am starting to show it, My question is the realtor want to do an open house and my tenant is not happy about that, do the same laws apply as the 24 hr notice to show the unit as to an open house for 3 hours?

  2. Tim Abrams says:

    I have a single lease agreement with a friend of mine that was separated from his wife. Two and a half years later, him being a great renter, paying on time, he up and moves out and I find out that is wife is staying in the house. She comes to me and wants to do a new lease, I tell her lets just go month to month to see if she can afford the bills and rent payments. To make a long story short, after a 6 months or so, she was not paying the utilities or rent on time, I also inspected the outside of the house, grass was being mowed, junk cars everywhere, I gave her a month and a half notice to move, I was selling the house. She is moving out, but left junk cars and junk in the garage’s. What should I do? in Texas

  3. Jennifer Michelsen says:

    My Landlord and I had a contract that is now month to month. I told him we will be moving out the end of this month and he said we could not and would have to move out next month. He has screamed at my boyfriend over the phone and is a sexual offender. Do I have the right to move out if the behaviors of my landlord make me feel unsafe?

  4. brooke danaher says:

    I have a written lease in Florida that says the term is up on August 31. We are selling the house and not going to renew the lease obviously. When we told our tenants that we planned on selling, they refused to leave until they closed on a home that they will purchase (and they have not found a home yet). We told them about our plans via text August 5th because we wanted to deposit the last rent check. Since there is an exact end date on the lease we didn’t think we would have to give 30/60 day notice. Is that correct?

  5. LEBLANC NELSON says:

    Can a landlord charge you for water by the number of bedrooms you have.We have no water meters.WE pay for the water in the pool,water their folowers and the power washers to clean the buildings.

  6. Nicole Madison says:

    I am a landlord and my tenant does not want to sign another lease. The lease ended 5/15/19. He could not find another apartment so I extended him in good faith for another month. I received a call 6/1 that he now needs until August. I offered the year lease again and he does not want to commit. I don’t mind extending until August but should I have him sign something? I just want to get in and paint so I can re-rent.

  7. Phyllis says:

    Can your apartment go up on your rent when you already signed your lease months ago in advance now 2days before my rent is due they put a letter in my door for more money is that legal?

  8. Crystal harding says:

    Does the landlord have the right to go into mine my boyfriends apartment without permission and without our knowledge and then call my boyfriend saying that we have to move within a month because the place is “dirty” and we just moved in may of 2019??

  9. Dustin Patterson says:

    I have recently purchased a house mostly due to my landlord not complying with basic maintenance. I gave him a 60 day notice on March 4th and he added 27 days to 60 day notice to get an extra months rent. Is that legal?

  10. Shavonne hampton says:

    What are the laws on raising rent? How much is too much within a yr

  11. Nik cel says:

    I was told I could move into my apartment 6/14 agreed to pay everything based on this, I was just emailed a lease with a move in date of 6/29 and my roommate signed it without reading it. They are closed while I am seeing this and have not signed, can I make them redo the lease with the move in date discussed while filling out my application? I have the apartment information on a piece of paper with this move in date (6/14) written by the person I filled out my application with as well.

  12. Karen Mercantel says:

    Our lease is up at the end of June. The landlord wants to start showing asap and we are not ok with that. I have had several thousands worth of jewelry stolen while showing a house. what can we do?

  13. Victoria Wetzlich says:

    We were at an apartment for less than 50days and payed 1760 to move in.. we left it clean I have video. Now they say we owe them 800 for new carpet and paint.. it was clean as when we moved in .. can they do that

  14. francesca heninger says:

    does the landlord also have to sign the lease?

  15. Nicole baker says:

    I am renting a house that has a garage that came with it. I am storing my dads old truck it there because I don’t have a vehicle. Today my landlord asked me what I was going to do with the truck and made a comment that they have a trailer in there yard that his wife thinks is an eye sore and he wants to put it in the garage making me feel like I had to remove the truck I was storing for my dad. What do I do? I don’t think I should have to move it but he made me feel like I needed to.

  16. Jennifer Ciardo says:

    I moved into my rental over 2 years ago. At that time my boys were both minors. I’m still in the same place and one of my boys moved out, but now needs to move back home. I explained this to my landlord and she told me it’s something she needs to look into because of “laws”? We live in Wisconsin. I’m wondering if there’s anything I can do?

  17. Amber Ramirez says:

    Hi,
    My grandma just got notice that she has 2 months to move out because the owner’s are selling the house. My grandma has lived there for over 30 years. Do we have any rights as tenants? This is in California

  18. Rachel Brown says:

    Im applying for a rental unit outside of my current town. The property rental I’m trying to get approved for is demanding my social security card. I’ve given her my social security number but do not have my card anymore. She’s threatening to deny me if I don’t have the card. Am I protected against her behavior?

  19. Ms. Jay says:

    Is a tenant legally allowed to know the reason why the previous tenant left, regarding the property?

  20. Amanda Lujan says:

    Is there a limit on how many friends you have dropping by our how many times a day? There is Absolutely no illegal activity so we have nothing to worry about and my grandson was just born so everyones coming to see him but my dsughter received a 7 day eviction for too much traffic Can you Please help me out here i really need to know our rights thanks

    • Alex says:

      Hi Amanda,

      There is no such rule, unless your written lease agreements states so. Usually, the tenant can have as many guests as he/she wants. However, the guest may be considered as a sub-tenant in case of more than 2 weeks stay in any 6 month period.

  21. Hannah says:

    I am renting a place with my husband I pay most of the rent and he pays less we’re not getting along and I want him to leave but he refuses to leave he says he’s paying the rent but I’m paying the majority of the part do I have a right to get him a Vic did because I’m paying most of the rent

  22. Mike kramer says:

    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

  23. Stephanie Scaife says:

    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

    • Alex says:

      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.

  24. Joseph mello says:

    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.

    • Alex says:

      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.

  25. J Gilley says:

    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?

    • Alex says:

      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.

  26. Marissa Adkins says:

    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.

    • Alex says:

      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.

  27. Jenna says:

    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?

    • Alex says:

      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.

  28. Steven Mark Vahey says:

    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.

  29. Denise dehbi says:

    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?

    • Aleksei says:

      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.

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