Anyone renting a house or apartment will be happy to know there are a number of laws that establish and protect their rights. These statutes may apply on a federal, state, or local level.
Many of these rights are common sense (at least, what should be common sense issues: the right to rent an apartment regardless of your race or gender, for example, or the right to live in a safe home that doesn’t endanger your health).
If you’re looking to rent a place, or are having some trouble with your landlord, you might be wondering what your rights are. Read on to learn about a few of the most common legal protections for tenants — what you as a tenant can expect from your landlord, what your landlord can legally evict you for and more.
1. Right to Habitability
What use would a rental be if it was too cold to live in or the water didn’t work?
According to the idea of the “implied warranty of habitability,” an apartment must have basic conveniences accounted for and functioning — in other words, there can’t be any major problems that make the rented space “unliveable.”
If there’s an issue with the water (e.g., there are leaking pipes or the water doesn’t work at all) or heating (e.g., it stops working), the landlord is required to have it fixed.
Implied warranty of habitability is typically covered by local codes and is one of the most basic aspects of tenant protection.
The implied warranty of habitability sometimes also involves things like insect or pest infections (New York state, for example, has a law making landlords responsible). However, dealing with pests may be your responsibility as a tenant, too, if it begins after you’ve moved in and is specifically mentioned in the lease.
Additionally, for the tenant’s protection, an apartment can’t have lead-based paint in it. Although this type of paint is rare nowadays, be on the lookout for this if you’re moving into an older house or apartment located in an older building.
In some places — but not all — the landlord is required to take safety precautions like installing a carbon monoxide detector.
2. Protections Under the Fair Housing Act
The Fair Housing Act refers to Titles VIII through IX of the Civil Rights Act of 1968, which was passed by Congress mainly to deal with discriminatory practices based on race. It’s probably the most significant of all federal tenant protection laws.
The terms of the Fair Housing Act stipulates that it’s illegal to deny tenancy to someone based on their race or color, religion, sex, age, nation of origin, family status, and/or physical or mental disability.
Additionally, a landlord cannot advertise only to a specific group if it violates one of the protected categories listed above.
You may notice that the mention of sexual orientation is missing from the list of characteristics and/or categories protected by the Fair Housing Act. In fact, the act does not expressly prohibit making renting decisions on the basis of sexual orientation.
However, some courts have expanded their interpretation of “sex” to include sexual orientation, while many states and local governments have gone a step further and passed laws that protect LGBTQ+ from housing discrimination, including:
- New Hampshire
- New Jersey
- New Mexico
- Rhode Island
Additionally, it is also against the law for a landlord to say that a rental is unavailable when it actually is — this implies some kind of discrimination
3. Protections Under the Fair Credit Reporting Act
The Fair Credit Reporting Act was first passed back in 1970. This law dictates that, when evaluating you as a potential tenant, a landlord can look at your credit history but can only do so with your permission.
Additionally, they must inform you what credit reporting service they used and also if poor credit was the reason for their rejection of your application. If the landlord got credit information from a source other than a credit report, they have to inform you of that, too.
4. Right to Service Animals
While “no pets” rules are technically legal, a landlord cannot refuse to rent to you if you have a service animal as it would constitute a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act. So, these are the one exception to “no pets” or “no animals” codes.
Keep in mind that “emotional support animals” (ESAs) are not the same as service animals. In many places, it is up to business, landlords and rental associations whether or not they want to make exceptions for ESAs under their rules.
5) Right to Your Security Deposit
The laws regarding security deposits vary by state. Each state has laws addressing whether a security deposit must be held in a bank or escrow account, when it must be returned to the tenant, under what circumstances the landlord can retain it and whether or not any interest made must be returned to the tenant when they vacate the unit.
Security deposits typically also have an upper limit (i.e., how much the landlord can ask for). This is important for financial renter’s protection though is not valid in all states.
For example, the Housing Stability and Tenant Protection Act of 2019, passed in New York, stipulates that security deposits can be no greater than one month’s rent.
6) Reasonable Right to Privacy
If you’re renting an apartment, you can expect that your landlord will leave you alone as long as you pay the rent and follow the rules.
Even though your landlord owns the building, renting a space means that, legally, the landlord cannot just come into your apartment whenever they want. This is known as the right to privacy.
Of course, there are some logical exceptions to this rule — if the apartment is flooding into the rest of the building or a fire has broken out, the landlord is allowed to enter without permission. Additionally, if the landlord suspects that you or another tenant in your unit might be involved in criminal activity, it would override your right to privacy as they are legally obligated to report it.
7) Rights Regarding Eviction
Usually, a landlord can only evict you (legally) from their property under specific circumstances.
For example, if you refuse to pay your rent or otherwise violate the terms of the lease in some way — maybe you sneak a dog or cat in even though “no pets” was specified — the landlord can begin eviction proceedings against you. Many times, renter protection ends where lease violation begins.
How far in advance your landlord must give you an eviction notice depends on the state. In most (but not all) states, the time period is between 30 and 60 days.
Naturally, if you feel the eviction is violating one of your rights, you can and should take the dispute to court by responding to the eviction notice.