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Landlord Tenant Law

Landlord-tenant law includes rights and obligations each landlord and each tenant has with regard to the rental property. Both parties need to know the basics of renting a place, how to collect or pay security deposits, the basics of state and federal laws regarding fair housing, and more.

If you are a landlord, you may need help working out tax deductions or determining how to get a renter evicted because of unpaid rent. Tenants, on the other hand, may need help understanding their rights to tenant safety, how security deposits are returned, and whether they can sublet the rental property. 

This section has some basic information and resources for both parties involved in the landlord-tenant relationship.

Lease Agreements

The landlord-tenant relationship is outlined in the lease agreement, which protects both landlords' and tenants' rights. Most states also recognize lease agreements made orally, but only for a period of one year or less.

A typical lease agreement includes:

  • The names of the parties involved (landlord and tenants)
  • Address and description of the rental unit
  • Rent payment and date by which it must be paid each month
  • Amount of the security deposit
  • Whether pets are allowed

Sometimes, sections of a lease agreement could be illegal. New tenants should check their local laws if in doubt, but generally, landlords may not include any of the following terms:

  • Discriminatory exclusion of tenants (excluding a tenant based on gender, religion, race, etc.)
  • Waiver of right to sue landlord (telling a tenant they cannot bring a lawsuit against their landlord)
  • Waiver of right to receive a refund of the security deposit (minus repairs and cleaning costs)

A short-term lease agreement -- a lease agreement for 30-day short-term rentals -- is often referred to as "rental agreement." Lease agreements are typically for a year or more.

Security Deposits

Most landlords require tenants to pay security deposits before moving in. Security deposits are limited under most state laws. For instance, California law limits deposits to two months' rent (or three months if furnished). Alabama law, in contrast, has no limits. 

The security deposit is different from paying last month's rent and must be repaid in full, minus any deductions for repairs or costs associated with cleaning. If you are required to pay a deposit, you should consider signing a statement with your landlord outlining the exact condition of the unit to eliminate disputes at the end of the lease term.

Laws in many states also dictate how soon a landlord must return a tenant's deposit after moving out, usually 30 days or so. In addition to cleaning and repairs, the landlord may deduct any unpaid rent from the deposit. However, the landlord can't deduct for what may be considered normal wear and tear. Many states require landlords to provide a detailed list of damages and repairs, as well as a detailed list of the cost of repairs or cleaning.

Tenant Rights

The Fair Housing Act protects tenants from civil rights violations, including housing discrimination based on race, color, religion, national origin, gender, age, familial status (although this is waived for some retirement communities), and disability. Some states' landlord-tenant laws also offer anti-discrimination protections on the basis of LGBT identity and marital status. 

And if you have a helper animal, such as a seeing-eye dog, a landlord may not refuse to rent to you solely because of a "no pets" policy. Other rights also include:

  • The right to quiet enjoyment (living undisturbed)
  • The right to livable conditions
  • The right to a home free of lead poisoning 
  • A certain level of privacy in the rental property (e.g., a landlord may not enter your home unannounced)

Landlord Rights

Landlords also have certain legal rights, mainly related to the protection of their income investment. For example, a landlord may require a monthly payment of rent and the payment of other items specified in the lease agreement, such as utility bills. Landlords also have the right to evict tenants, but it must be for cause (such as nonpayment of rent). They should also give an eviction notice within a reasonable time. 

Click on a topic below to learn more about landlord-tenant law.

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