Combined into a series of federal, state and local laws, your specific renter's rights get dictated by where you live. They're in place to prevent things like housing discrimination and rent gouging. These basic rights ensure you have a safe, clean place to live as well as detailed courses of action when things are going wrong.
Landlord-tenant law helps you live peacefully in your rental. Do you know your tenant's rights?
Before even taking a tour of a potential apartment, it's your right to have fair access to housing. This means your rental application will not get rejected based on:
- National origin
- Family status
- Mental or physical disabilities
Your renter's rights in this case receive protection at the federal level by the Fair Housing Act. State and local laws may reinforce the Fair Housing Act and even add more categories to this list to ensure everyone has equal access to apply for housing.
Not only can your rental application not get refused based on these factors, but, if you have a disability, landlord-tenant law requires they make reasonable accommodations for you to access the apartment. This could mean installing ramps or making a unit on a lower floor available.
Another piece to your renter's rights is the lease. It's the responsibility of the property manager to give you a legal rental contract to sign that abides by all laws.
In addition to specifics about the property, and breakdowns for processes like requesting repairs, using common areas and more, a lease must clearly indicate the leasing period and your monthly rent. It should also have your name, and any roommates, on the document.
The lease should also include a series of general disclosures. The law requires these, although it varies by state which specific ones must get listed. A few common disclosures you may see in your lease if they're applicable to the rental unit, include:
- Notice of mold
- Lead-based paint disclosure
- Notice of sex offenders, recent deaths and any potential health or safety hazards
A variety of rules govern your living space when you're a renter. This ensures you have somewhere to live that's actually livable. Tenants' rights, when it comes to your actual apartment get pretty involved, so make sure you know the highlights.
It's not enough for a property manager to provide you with an apartment; the apartment must be safe for you to live in it. This means more than a lack of dangerous conditions. Your renter's rights entitle you to a home with usable utilities, including heat, electricity and water.
This area of your renter's rights also means you have a home that's safe and livable in other ways. Specifics within these guidelines require an apartment to have functioning locks on doors and windows, smoke detectors and a dedicated way to escape in case of fire.
This area of landlord-tenant law requires action on both sides. To ensure you have a habitable home, it's up to you to report any maintenance issues using the process that's outlined in your lease. Find out the best way to report issues like this to your landlord (such as through email or an online portal).
On the management side, their responsibility is to complete repairs in a timely manner. Your lease will define what this means, but different repairs rank higher in priority. For example, failure to repair a heater in winter can quickly lead to an uninhabitable living space for safety reasons, whereas a garbage broken disposal doesn't create that serious of an impact.
If your property manager fails to make repairs in a timely manner, you have additional rights. Check with state and local laws about what's within your rights.
Although you're only renting a home, and someone else owns it, your rights as a tenant mean a certain level of privacy. Once your rental agreement is in place, a property manager cannot come into your home without proper notice.
Notice is also required for more than just repairs. If you're getting ready to move, and the property manager wants to start showing your unit to prospective tenants, for example, they must give you notice each time.
Security deposit refund
Each state usually handles security deposits differently as far as how much you're required to put down. It's normal for you to pay a security deposit though since that protects the property manager from having to pay out-of-pocket for any damages you may cause while living in your rental.
As far a payment goes, some states set caps on how much a property manager can ask for. They also can't impose a higher deposit for your rental, when compared to other units in the building, without a specific reason, like having a pet.
It's also within your renter's rights to get the security deposit back, in a timely manner, if it's not covering any damages. Most state laws set the time frame at 30 days, and you'll not only receive your security deposit back but any interest that accrued as well.
If any of your deposit is withheld, you can ask for written documentation of the damages it's paying for, and the property manager must comply.
The situations where your property manager has the right to evict needs clear stating within your lease. Make sure to review them before you sign it.
Standard landlord-tenant law states that you can get evicted if you break your lease in specific ways, such as:
- Failing to pay rent
- Allowing prohibited animals to live with you
- Having roommates that aren't on your lease
- Committing a crime on the premises
As a renter, your tenant rights enable you to address evictable issues within a specified time frame before an eviction can take place. You will receive notice of a pending eviction from your property manager. If you fail to fix the issue, they can then file an eviction with the courts resulting in legal removal from your rental.
State-specific renter's rights
Although you'll find many standard regulations associated with renting if you move between states, expect additional laws everywhere you go. Since renter's rights get regulated on both the state and local level, if you're relocating to a different part of the country — familiarize yourself with local tenant laws.
Some unique landlord-tenant laws include:
- In Hawaii, security deposits with no deductions must get returned within 14 days
- A property manager must give 48 hours notice before entering your apartment in Delaware
- West Virginia has no minimum notice required for a rent increase on month-to-month rentals
- In North Carolina, two month's rent is the required minimum for a security deposit on a one-year lease
- A lease can get terminated once rent is only five days late in Arkansas
As you can see, some states have pretty extreme rules. Being aware of them can help you maintain a positive relationship with your property manager while also protecting your own rights as a renter.
Know your renter's rights
No matter how great, or rocky, your relationship is with a property manager, you should always follow the law as it pertains to your situation. This not only protects you, but it ensures your property manager gets held accountable when anything isn't up to par.
Familiarize yourself with state and local landlord-tenant laws, read your lease thoroughly before signing and do your research when faced with a potential issue. Protect yourself by knowing your tenant's rights.