Anyone who has ever rented an apartment has asked about their rights as a tenant at some point. One thing that makes tenant rights even more confusing is that change from state to state. So a protection a tenant has in one state may not apply in a neighboring state. Some states are very pro-landlord, so tenants in those states are at a bigger disadvantage than more pro-tenant states. Here are six rights that tenants should be aware of but don’t’ forget to check your local state laws and city ordinances so you can be wholly informed about what rights are available.
- Federal Anti-Discrimination Law
As stated above, state laws vary from state to state, but the federal law applies to everyone. Which means, no landlord can ever discriminate against a tenant or prospective tenant based on their:
- National origin
- Familial status (i.e. not allow children, pregnant women)
- Physical or mental disability
It is important to note that the Federal Anti-Discrimination Law does not apply to housing offered by religious groups, housing provided by private organizations, senior citizen designated housing, and owner-occupied buildings with four or fewer rental units
- State and Local Anti-Discrimination Laws
Many states, counties, and cities now have laws that also prohibit discrimination based on marital status and sexual orientation. These laws will often have exceptions to who the law applies to, so it is important to carefully review the state and local laws and ordinances to best understand the applicable rights in a particular area.
- Accommodations for Service Animals
A landlord can enforce a no pet policy. However, they cannot refuse to rent to someone based on the no pets policy if they have a trained service animal. If the landlord refuses to rent to someone based on them utilizing a trained helper animal they have violated the federal Americans with Disabilities Act.
- Right to a “Habitable” Home
One of the most basic of rights for a tenant is the right to a habitable home. A habitable home has to be fit to be lived in. This means unsafe conditions, such as falling plaster, bad wiring, holes in the floor. This also means the property cannot be infested with vermin, such as mice, rats, or cockroaches. This may mean that heat has to be provided depending on the temperature. However, courts have regularly found that air conditioning does not have to be functional for a property to be inhabitable. Most importantly, in most states, this right cannot be waived so even if a lease says the tenant waives the right to habitable they are usually still entitled to a habitable home.
- Right to a Reasonable Security Deposit and Its Return
Most states have laws that limit the amount a landlord can charge for a security deposit. While some states, have no upper limit at all, other states have lower limits for senior citizens. It is important to note that landlords must treat people equally in regards to security deposits. A landlord cannot discriminate based on the factors listed above in determining how much he or she charges someone for a security deposit.
Some states require the landlord to return a deposit within so many days once a tenant moves out, and other states make the tenant request the deposit before it has to be returned. Sometimes a landlord is even responsible for interest on the deposit. If a landlord wants to keep the deposit in whole or in part, they must provide an itemized list of the damages that the deposit will be applied to.
- A Tenant’s Right to Privacy
We have all heard horror stories about that landlord that just cannot seem to leave a tenant or a property alone. They fuss over the property or try and find reasons to come inside the tenant’s property, so they look around. Even worse, some landlords just let themselves in without notice when there is no emergency. Well, the good news is, a tenant has a right to privacy. Most states have laws that require the landlord to get permission to enter the property and provide notice that there is a legitimate need to enter the property. There are typically exceptions for emergency situations like fire and flooding.
The best way a person can protect their tenant rights is to know what they are. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s website is a wonderful resource to learn more about fair housing and federal tenant rights. A tenant should always read their state and local landlord/tenant laws and carefully review their lease before signing. If a tenant feels they have been discriminated against or cheated out of a security deposit they should contact a local attorney or legal aid society for advice.
Basic Rights of Tenants
Tenants have rights too. Those rights might change slightly from state to state, but generally, tenants have some basic rights that apply to most jurisdictions. In this article, we are going to discuss some tenants rights basics. We are going to go over six basic rights and how they affect the landlord-tenant relationship.
- A Tenant’s Right to Disclosure
If a tenant’s lease application is denied because of negative information received by the landlord, the landlord is required to disclose that information to the tenant. Typically, the information is obtained from a credit report, a background check, previous landlords, your employer, your bank, or other third parties.
The Fair Credit Reporting Act requires a landlord to notify a rejected tenant that they were rejected based on negative credit information and the course it came from. In that same notice, the landlord is required to tell the prospective tenant that the tenant has sixty days to file a request for the disclosure of the negative information. Once the landlord receives the request, the landlord must tell you “the nature of the information” within a “reasonable time.”
- A Tenant’s Right to a Habitable Home
Tenants have a right to a habitable, livable, non-slum unit. Landlords are required by law to maintain the rental property in a habitable condition. A livable unit must:
- have windows that are not broken
- have doors that shut and lock
- have a roof and walls that keep out rain and water
- have a working system for heat
- have plumbing that works
- have electricity that works and is safe
A livable unit cannot be infested with vermin or insects. If a rental property is not habitable, the landlord has a legal obligation to remedy it immediately.
- A Tenant’s Right to Privacy
Tenant’s expect and have a right to privacy from their landlord. For the most part, landlords understand and respect a tenant’s privacy. The laws vary from state to state, but in most states, a landlord has to make an appointment to enter the rental property unless it is an absolute emergency. Emergency situations are usually fire or flood related. Landlords cannot knock once and barge in.
- A Tenant’s Right to a Service Animal
The Americans with Disabilities Act provides that landlords have to make reasonable accommodations for anyone with a disability. If a person is disabled and has a service animal trained to perform a life task the landlord must make a reasonable accommodation, which includes allowing animals despite any “no pet” policies. Additionally, the landlord cannot charge a “pet” fee as an assistance animal is legally distinguishable from a pet. A landlord is not required to make a reasonable accommodation if:
- the property has four or less rentable units, and the landlord lives in one of the units
- the property is a single family home and rented without the use of a licensed agent
- the property is a hotel or motel
- the property is a private club
If the animal is an emotional support animal and not a service animal, the tenant must have a letter from a licensed mental health professional that states that the tenant is under their care, psychiatrically or emotionally disabled, and the support animal was prescribed for their care.
- A Tenant’s Right under the Fair Housing Act
The federal Fair Housing Act prohibits landlords from discriminating against tenants on the basis of their:
- national origin
- familial status (minor children and pregnant women)
It is illegal for a landlord to reject a tenant’s application for a discriminatory reason. In addition, it is illegal for a landlord to discriminate based on the above in setting rules for the property and advertising availability of units. A landlord cannot lie about vacancies in a discriminatory manner.
We hope this helped explain some tenant-rights basics for the reader and that you can put this information to good use. A tenant who knows what rights they are owed is in a better position to protect and defend those rights. If a tenant feels that their rights have been violated, they can contact the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to make a complaint or get additional information about their available options.
Protecting Your Tenant Rights
In any dealings with a landlord, it is important for a tenant to protect their tenant rights. If a problem arises, it is best to make sure you have done everything you can to protect what rights you do have. Some rights have to be exercised by the tenant to receive their benefits, and some rights can even be waived or terminated if the tenant fails to properly protect them. This article will discuss everything you need to know about protecting your tenant rights.
- Know what your rights are.
The first step to protecting tenant rights is to know what they are and where they came from. Tenants have rights under federal, state, and local laws. It’s important to consider what jurisdiction you are in and what rights are afforded to you by each jurisdiction. For instance, on the federal level, there is the Fair Housing Act that protects tenants from discrimination by landlords based on race or color, national origin, religions, disabilities, sex, and familial status (people with minor children and pregnant women).
- Read and understand your rental application.
If your landlord has you fill out an application, read and review it carefully to make sure it does not ask you anything it shouldn’t like:
- how many children you have
- your religion
- your national origin
- whether you are disabled
In most states, a landlord can charge a potential tenant to run a credit check. Some states, like California, have a maximum amount set my statute of what a landlord can charge for an application fee. It is illegal for a landlord to charge a fee for a credit check if the money is not used for that stated purpose. If a landlord decides not to rent to someone based on their credit report, the landlord must provide the prospective tenant the name and address of the credit agency pursuant to the Fair Credit Reporting Act.
- Get a written lease and read and understand the lease agreement.
Some landlords prefer an oral agreement. However, it is important to have this important legal arrangement in writing. It helps protect the landlord and the tenant in the event of a dispute. A lease should clearly lay out issues like payments, how a security deposit will be handled, who is responsible for maintenance such as yard work, how the property can be used, whether pets are permitted, and preferred means of contact for the landlord and the tenant.
- Take pictures before moving in.
It is important for a tenant to document the condition of the apartment before to moving in. This way you will have proof of the condition of the property. This can come in handy if the landlord makes a claim against your security deposit. Some landlords are proactive and will give tenants a pre-move in checklist. If that happens, be thorough. Many times, tenants are in such a hurry to move in that they don’t carefully inspect the property. Look for holes in the walls, scuff marks on the floor, stains on the carpet, and loose bathroom tiles. A new tenant should also check to ensure all electrical outlets work, all doors lock, and all appliances are in clean, working condition.
- Pay rent promptly and as required.
A tenant is in the best position to protect their rights when their rent is paid on time and in accordance with the written lease. The lease should state how, when, and where rent it to be paid. If the lease is specific about the type of payment a tenant should always pay rent in that manner. If the lease is not specific, rent should be paid in a way that is documented. Paying rent in cash should be avoided if at all possible as there is no reliable paper trail created. If paying rent in cash is unavoidable, the tenant needs to request a written receipt that clearly states how much was paid, on what date it was paid, who received the payment, and for what month the payment is being applied.
- Keep excellent records and back them up.
In a landlord-tenant relationship, the tenant should document everything. Makes written notes of things discussed and promises made. Communication should preferably be in writing, but if conversations take place orally, then the tenant should keep a log of conversation, dates, and topics. All lease payment information and requests for repairs should be documented.
Rights are only useful if they are protected. If you follow these six simple recommendations, you will be well on your way to protecting your tenant rights. Knowing your rights and how to properly exercise them will make any tenant feel more confident, secure, and safe.
A Tenant’s Guide to Getting Your Security Deposit Back
Bring up rental deposits at your next dinner and we promise everyone will have a story. Yes, some landlords try and nickel and dime ever tenant out of their security deposit, and yes, some tenants destroy property, but generally, these are the exceptions to the rule, not the norm. Getting a security deposit back is often just a matter of asking for it and keeping good records throughout the tenancy. The key to getting your deposit back is by starting to think about getting it back before the lease is even signed. In this article, we are going to share six tips on how to best protect your security deposit.
- Read the lease and review the applicable state law.
Before a tenant even signs a lease, they should review their state law on security deposits so that they are aware how security deposits should be handled. The lease a tenant signs should line up with the laws of the state where the property is located. For instance, if the state law requires a landlord to hold the deposit in an interest-bearing account, the lease should state where the security deposit is will held and at what rate interest will be earned. If the lease does not address security deposits, the prospective tenant should request it be added to the lease.
- Take pictures and notes before moving in.
This is one of the most important things that new renters forget to do. A new tenant will want to have an accurate record of the condition of the property at the time they moved in. At the same time, the tenant should make a very detailed checklist of any and all items that are broken or in disrepair. Check all electrical outlets, locks on the doors, and every appliance and keep notes about any items that needs to be repaired. A copy of the list should be provided to the landlord. This is the best way to create a record of the condition of the rental prior to the tenant taking possession.
- Maintain the rental property.
Making small repairs during the tenancy is a balancing act. Most likely the landlord will charge more to make small repairs than it would cost to make them as you go, but there is no need to overdo it either. A tenant should only make repairs that are cheap and easy. They should never repair items that were broken when they moved in or pay to improve the landlord’s property for them. A tenant should consider patching holes, painting, cleaning the carpets, and making the kitchen and bathrooms as clean as possible.
- Pay rent for the last month.
A lot of tenants equate their security deposit with their last rent payment. However, unless the lease explicitly states that the deposit will be applied as the final rent payment the tenant should make sure to make their final payment. Otherwise, the landlord can claim the property was damaged, keep the security deposit, and sue the tenant for the “unpaid” rent.
- Take pictures before and after moving out.
A tenant should document the condition of the rental property prior to moving their stuff out and then again after they move out completely. A tenant should make sure to remove all items, including trash and then take pictures to document that the property is completely empty. Make sure to get pictures of any damage you may have caused. That way if the landlord tries to overcharge you and take your deposit you have evidence to support the extent of the damage. As a final step upon leaving, a tenant should return the keys to the landlord and let them know that the property is clean and vacant.
- Immediately request the deposit in writing.
Once a tenant is moved out they should send a letter, via certified mail, or email to their landlord requesting the deposit and indicating the address they want the check sent to. Again, the tenant will need to check their state laws to see if it dictates how, where, and when the request needs to be sent. Also, the tenant should keep a copy of the letter as well.
With these six tips for getting a deposit returned any tenant will be well on their way to getting a full refund of their security deposit. In so many cases tenants just walk away from their security deposit because they assume the landlord is going to try and keep or make it so difficult and such a hassle that it is not worth the fight. When, in fact, most deposits would probably be returned if the tenant made a proper demand for the deposit and followed these simple steps.
Tenants and Fair Housing
Landlords have a lot of discretion when selecting tenants. A landlord can deny a prospective renter for a number of legitimate reasons. However, the federal Fair Housing Act does restrict landlords from discriminating against potential tenants if the tenant belongs to a protected class. In this article, we are going to discuss tenants and fair housing, what it does, and what it means for tenants.
- What is the Fair Housing Act?
The Fair Housing Act is a federal law passed in 1968 with the stated purpose of protecting buyers and renters from discrimination. The Act made it unlawful for a landlord to refuse to rent or negotiate with a person because of that person’s inclusion in a protected class. The goal was to equal the playing field so that a person’s background did not arbitrarily restrict access to housing. It was passed during the height of the civil rights movement. The Act is enforced by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, commonly referred to as HUD.
- Legal Reasons a Landlord Can Deny a Prospective Tenant
A landlord can require a prospective tenant to fill out an application and may even charge an application fee. Landlords can also run credit reports and background checks on potential tenants. A landlord can legally deny a rental application based on their credit rating, financial stability, and criminal history. Other legal reasons for denial include:
- Unsatisfactory references
- Previous evictions
- Frequent moves
- New job
- No verifiable income
- Too many vehicles
- Insufficient income
- Too many debts
- And much more
Landlords have lots of latitude in deciding who to rent to and who not to rent to.
- Discriminatory Reasons a Landlord Cannot Use to Deny a Tenant
Landlords cannot discriminate against tenants or potential tenants based on
Their belonging to a protected class. The categories of protected classes on the federal level are:
- Familial status (minor children or pregnancy)
The specific acts that are covered include deciding whether to rent to a particular person, setting a rule that only affects a particular person or advertising that an apartment is only available to certain people. Landlords are also required by the Act to make reasonable accommodations for any tenants with disabilities. Reasonable accommodations may include adding wheel-chair ramps on doorways or placing disabled tenants on the first floor. If a landlord owns an older building and the accommodations would require a major remodel, the landlord is most likely exempted from having to make the accommodation.
It is also important to note that these are the federally recognized protected classes, some states and cities have expanded protections to protect against discrimination based on sexual orientation and age.
- Reasonable Accommodations Applies to Service Animals
Under the Act, a disability is defined as an impairment, physical or mental, that significantly limits a person’s life activities. Landlords are required to make reasonable accommodations for anyone who has a disability, and that includes allowing pets who are assistance animals. An assistance animal is legally classified differently than a pet, and therefore any pet restriction or fee imposed by the landlord is not applicable to an assistance animal.
- Types of Behavior that is Prohibited
Not only are landlords not able to deny housing based on the criteria above they are also not allowed to:
- Make housing unavailable for members of a protected class because they belong to the protected class.
- Set different terms or rules for members and nonmembers of protected classes.
- Provide different or inferior housing for members of a protected class.
- Falsely claim that no units are available for rent to members of a protected class.
The Fair Housing rules and regulations go past just renting property, they cover a host of other rental-related activities.
- How to Report a Fair Housing Violation
A report of a Fair Housing Violation can be made online or by phone to the Department of Housing and Urban Development. Someone from HUD will investigate the complaint and determine whether a violation has been committed. If the investigator finds a violation it will be set for a hearing in front of HUD judge. If the judge finds that a violation has been committed, he or she will fine the landlord:
- $16,000 for a first-time violator
- $37,500 for a violator who has violated before
- $65,000 for someone who has violated the Act two or more times previously
It is important that a tenant understands their rights and how to exercise them under the Fair Housing Act. The subject of tenants and fair housing can be a complicated one; it is our hope that this article helped explain some of the basics of the Fair Housing Act so a tenant can navigate their way through the process if they need to.
Getting Evicted: What a Tenant Needs to Know
Sometimes things just don’t work out the way we envisioned them, and leases sometimes end in a landlord evicting a tenant. It can happen for a lot of reasons including non-payment of rent, unreasonable damages, or that the owner is simply selling the property. Before a tenant starts to pack they should get a better understanding of what is going to happen so you can properly plan for their next step. In this article, we are going to go over the basics of what a tenant should know if their landlord is evicting them.
- Know Your Rights and Read the Lease.
Getting that notice is a scary experience. The first thing a tenant should do is read through the notice and their lease. A tenant should also look at their state laws. It is important to know that a landlord cannot “constructively” evict a tenant before a court order is issued. When a landlord attempts to change the locks, turn off the electricity, or remove a tenant’s belongings before receiving a court order, that type of behavior is commonly called being constructively evicted and is by and large illegal in most, if not all, states. Even when a court order is issued, in most states the order must be executed by the Sheriff’s office and not the landlord.
- Respond to the Notice.
Once a tenant has had a chance to process the information they can begin formulating how they want to respond to the notice. The notice is usually sent before a lawsuit is filed but the form is usually dictated by state law and may at first glance look like an official legal document. The notice will usually give a reason the landlord believes they have the right to evict the tenant.
If the tenant agrees with the notice, they might want to contact their landlord about arranging a move out date and time. A landlord might be willing to work with a tenant if the landlord thinks it might save them the cost and hassle of having to file the lawsuit and go through the court system. If a tenant does not believe it is lawful or proper, they should provide a written response to the landlord as to why they believe the notice is improper.
- Respond to the Complaint.
If a landlord takes the next step of filing a lawsuit, the tenant will be served with an action, complaint, or petition. The complaint should tell the tenant how, by when, and where to respond. If a tenant is uncomfortable handling the response on their own, they should consider hiring an attorney. If a tenant chooses to respond to the complaint themselves, they will want to make sure the response is filed timely. In most states, if a tenant does not timely respond to the complaint the tenant may have waived any arguments they had.
- The Process takes Longer than Most People Think.
A tenant will most likely not have months to plan their next move if the landlord wins the case, but the tenant will probably have at least a month. In most states, a notice will be sent, followed by a complaint being filed with the court. The tenant will have approximately seven to fifteen days to respond, and then the court may enter an eviction order. Once the order is entered, the Sheriff will usually serve the tenant with a writ of possession giving the tenant 24-72 hours to vacate. This entire process can take a couple of weeks or a couple of months depending on which state it occurs in and how diligent the landlord is about moving the process along.
- How to Recover after Eviction.
There are few bright line rules here, and everyone’s situation is unique, but generally speaking, it will show up on a credit report and a background search. It will generally fall off a credit report or background search after seven years. If possible, try and make things right with the landlord and see if they are agreeable to having it removed from the credit report. Regardless of whether the landlord is willing to remove the delinquency, a tenant should work at restoring their credit. Until their credit is repaired, a tenant will need to try and find landlords willing to work with them. There are plenty of landlords willing to work with tenants that have been evicted, but it might take longer to find the right property and landlord.
Being evicted is not the end of the world. A resourceful tenant will be able to recover from this and still find a property to rent if they need to. The key to making the best of this bad situation is to remain calm, get educated, and stay vigilant.
Landlord Tenant Disputes
Few things are scarier or more stressful than having a dispute with your landlord. We understand that this is not a position anyone wants to have to deal with, but it is best to be prepared and understand your options. With that in mind, in today’s article, we are going to discuss our top five tips for anyone dealing with landlord-tenant disputes.
- Can the dispute be avoided?
At some point during a landlord-tenant relationship, a dispute will most likely arise. Very seldom will a court or lawyers be necessary to resolve the issue. Often, clear and open communication can help ease the tensions in a landlord-tenant dispute. One thing to consider is whether to approach your landlord in person or in writing. Some landlords are more personable than others and an open, honest, and calm face-to-face conversation may the best option. If the tenant is concerned with their ability to stay calm and cool in a face-to-face conversation or if their landlord is hard to reach maybe written correspondence will be more effective. Regardless of the approach, a tenant should document all attempts to resolve the issue so that if the issue is not resolved to the tenant’s satisfaction, they will have a timeline of what was communicated and when.
- Is there a written lease and what does it say?
Landlords and tenants should opt for a written lease as it will go a long way in resolving disputes before they turn into lawsuits. A lease should provide answers to the most common disputes including payment of rent, use of the property, repairs, maintenance responsibility, and even dispute resolution. However, not all leases are created equally, and some leases are better than others, and in some cases, there may be no lease at all.
- What federal, state, and local laws apply?
Landlord-tenant laws are there to protect both landlords and tenants, and it is important for a tenant to understand what laws apply to their dispute. Many disputes over security deposits and application fees, for instance, are easily resolved once both parties familiarized themselves with the state and local laws. Many states and some cities have laws and ordinances on how much a landlord can charge for an application fee. In addition, many states have laws on how security deposits are supposed to handled and returned. Most states and some cities have laws on security deposits, how the security deposits must be handled or the type of account it must be kept, and how and when the security deposit must be returned. A tenant should be aware that state and local laws vary from state to state and county to county, so tenant involved in a dispute should take the time to review the applicable federal, state, and local laws for guidance in dealing with a landlord dispute.
- Can I just stop paying rent?
Almost, certainly not. Most, if not all states, do not allow a tenant in a dispute with their landlord to stop paying rent or even deduct rent if the tenant has to make a repair and pay for it out of their own pocket. In most states, except in very rare circumstances, a renter has to maintain current on their obligation to pay rent. In Florida, for instance, the only time a tenant can withhold rent is if a repair that affects the habitability of the property has not been fixed and the tenant gives proper notice as defined by state law prior to withholding rent. The amount that can be withheld is also limited and can only be withheld for a certain period of time. Anyone considering withholding rent needs to be very careful that they follow the letter of the law, so they do not unintentionally turn a simple dispute into an eviction.
- Do I need expert help?
One of the most crucial issues in dealing with landlord-tenant disputes is knowing when it is time to seek professional help either by filing a small claims lawsuit or by hiring an attorney. If the dispute is causing you extreme stress or anxiety, it is probably time to talk to a lawyer so they can discuss all the available options. Some counties have landlord-tenant helplines that you can call, and some counties even offer services for landlord-tenant mediation in an aim to reduce the number of landlord-tenant cases in the court system. Check into what, if any, services your county or city may offer to help you resolve your dispute.
Landlord-tenant disputes can be stressful, but hopefully, with these five helpful tips, you can resolve your dispute as quickly and efficiently as possible. We hope that these tips help relieve some anxiety and stress that is to be expected with a landlord-tenant dispute.