Landlord-tenant law is governed by state laws, and each state has slightly different requirements for both landlords and tenants. This affects all of the small details of the landlord-tenant relationships, such as whether tenants have a grace period for paying rent and how long that grace period is. State laws also regulate whether landlords and tenants can agree to something that is contrary to the prevailing law, and what lease provisions are legal. This section includes state-specific information about common landlord-tenant issues; a primer on federal housing; a helpful dictionary of landlord-tenant law terms; links to state anti-retaliation statutes; and more.
In the context of landlord-tenant relationships, retaliation occurs when the landlord evicts or otherwise takes adverse action against a tenant who "blows the whistle" on a particular issue. These laws vary from state to state, and a few states lack anti-retaliation statutes altogether, but they generally protect the tenant's right to do the following:
- File a complaint with local authorities about a health or safety threat related to the rental property
- File a complaint with a state or federal agency (or file a lawsuit) for alleged discriminatory housing practices
- Get involved in a union or other political activities
For example, New York's statute prohibiting retaliation by a landlord against a tenant lists "tenant's participation in the activities of a tenant's organization" as one of the protected activities. So, a New York tenant who organizes other tenants to petition their landlord for better lighting, for instance, may not be evicted in retaliation. However, these protections do not apply to owner-occupied rental properties in New York or those with less than four units.
HUD at a Glance
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), founded in 1965, is under the authority of the executive branch. The federal agency is tasked with regulating metropolitan areas and developing housing policies, with offices in all 50 states. Though federal in scope, state HUD offices focus on issues that are important to the state. For example, HUD provides housing assistance to California families in need in order to ease the pain of the state's extraordinary shortage of rental housing.
HUD also provides homeowners with information about how to avoid foreclosure, how to find a housing counselor, and how to contact your local office for more personalized help. Senior citizens, for instance, can contact HUD for help with affordable housing suitable for those on fixed incomes.
Landlord-Tenant Law Terminology
Before you research the rental laws and procedures in your state, you may want to get acquainted with the proper terminology. Besides, you don't want to a lease agreement if you're not completely clear about the two parties' obligations. Many of these terms, such as "lease" or "landlord" are already in regular use and may not be that confusing, but legal terms have very specific meanings. Below are some selected terms and their definitions from FindLaw's Landlord-Tenant Dictionary:
- Abandonment - A tenant's conduct that demonstrates his or her intent to give up the right to reside in the rental property, without the landlord's authorization or agreement. For example, if the tenant hires a moving company, removes all of his or her personal property from the rental unit, and has not been seen on the premises for two weeks, the tenant can be said to have abandoned the rental property.
- Right of entry - A landlord's (very limited) right to enter premises that have been leased to a tenant, usually only in emergency situations, to show the unit to a prospective tenant, or make repairs (in the latter two situations proper notice to the tenant is required).
- "Subletting or assignment" - Gives the tenant the right to sublease or assign the property if the tenant cannot fill out the term of the lease or wants to rent part of its space to someone else. This clause will specify under what conditions the tenant can avail itself of this right. Under a sublet, the original tenant is still responsible for honoring the provisions in the lease. In an assignment, the original tenant is out of the picture and has no further liability under the lease.
Select a link from the list below to learn more about the laws and procedures in your state relating to landlord-tenant law.