The two main parties to a lease, whether it's a house or an apartment, are the landlord and the tenant -- each with certain rights and responsibilities. The landlord has a responsibility to maintain a safe and functional facility and adhere to the terms of the lease agreement, but also has the right to receive monthly rent in full (by the due date). Tenants also have certain rights under federal, state, and some local laws. These include the right to not be discriminated against, the right to a habitable home, and the right to not be charged more for a security deposit than is allowed by state law, to name just a few.
While tenants with limited incomes often have few choices for housing and are willing to live with certain hassles, a tenant's rights are non-negotiable. The first step to protecting your rights, however, is to understand what these rights are. The following is an overview of tenants' rights, with links to corresponding FindLaw articles.
Under the federal Fair Housing Act, landlords may not discriminate against current or prospective tenants on the basis of their race, gender, familial status, religion, ethnicity, national origin, or disability. This includes advertisements that exclude any of those protected characteristics. Some states also extend these protections to other classes, including LGBTQ individuals.
The Right to a Habitable Home
A "habitable home" is a house or apartment that is reasonably fit to be lived in. This means your rental should be free from unsafe conditions (bad wiring, lack of running water, holes in the floor, etc.), substantial infestation of rats or cockroaches, or other such problems that significantly hinder its habitability. Most state laws prohibit landlords from adding language in the lease to "waive" this right.
Security Deposits: Limits and Deadlines
Most landlords require tenants to pay a security deposit upon signing the lease, which is then returned to the tenant after the lease term ends (minus any money needed for repairs, cleaning, or unpaid rent). But most states have laws that place limits on how much of a deposit a landlord may require and how soon it must be refunded at the end of the lease. Keep in mind that tenants may have to pay an additional deposit for pets or other factors considered liabilities.
Tenant's Right to Privacy
Just because the landlord owns the building you're renting doesn't give them the right to barge in whenever they like. As a tenant, you have the right to a reasonable level of privacy. There may be times when the landlord needs to access your rental property to do a repair or check something, but they are generally required to give you notice beforehand. They also have the right to conduct reasonable background checks into a prospective tenant's credit history and crime records.
Get a Free Legal Evaluation of Your Tenant-Landlord Dispute
It's important to know your rights, as well as your legal responsibilities, as a tenant when you have a dispute with your landlord. If you have a particular question or need legal counsel for a legal action related to your rental, you will want to speak with a local real estate attorney. Get a free legal evaluation of your dispute from an experienced lawyer.