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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.

2 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.

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