As a landlord, it’s crucial to be knowledgeable of resident rights (ie. those things your resident has a legal right to). Otherwise, you could face issues with your residents and even costly legal recourse.
Being aware of federal laws is one thing. When you factor in the various state and local regulations, it’s easy to get confused. That’s why we put together this guide — to help you make sense of the most common laws governing resident rights.
When you know what it takes to be an excellent landlord and care for the interests of your residents, both your residents and your business will thank you.
Table of Contents
Tenant rights, or renters’ rights, are a series of federal, state, and local laws that are designed to do two things:
The rights of each resident provide them with legal recourse if their landlord (you) violates these laws.
There are six major rights landlords NEED to remain in compliance with before placing residents in their rental:
Under the Fair Housing Act, landlords cannot discriminate against a resident or reject a rental application based upon:
In some states, these protections also prevent discrimination based on other categories. For example, as of 2019, ancestry is a protected class in 28 states, marital status is a protected class in 23, and pregnancy is protected in 40.
Second, you must get an applicant’s written permission to run a credit report, according to the Fair Credit Reporting Act. If you reject an applicant based on the results of their credit check, you must inform the applicant of this. You also have to explain what factors were included in your decision to reject their application.
Thirdly, you are required to make reasonable accommodations for residents with disabilities, such as by installing ramps, assigning them an adequate parking space, or leasing them a lower unit.
Civil penalties range from $16,000, for the first violation to $65,000 if two or more previous violations have occurred within the preceding seven-year period.
As a landlord, you have a responsibility to maintain the safety and functionality of your rental. Residents have a right to a habitable home. This means the rental must be free from unsafe conditions, substantial pests, or other issues. It also includes ensuring the basic utilities (heating, plumbing, water, and sanitation systems) are in proper working condition.
Tenants are also generally obligated to keep the rental in a safe and clean condition and cannot willfully cause permanent damage to the property. If this happens, landlords can deduct the cost of repairs from a resident’s security deposit, follow proper eviction procedures to break their lease agreement with their resident or take legal action if necessary.
However, even if the resident is guilty of lease violations, you are always required to maintain habitable living conditions for your residents.
In many states, residents are legally allowed to withhold rent until repairs necessary to maintain a habitable home are completed. They can also repair the problem themselves and deduct the cost from their rent payment. However, residents are generally required to promptly inform you if there are any issues that you need to deal with.
If a resident is illegally withholding rent, landlords should discuss the issue with their residents. In some states, landlords can also issue a Pay or Quit notice. This informs the resident that they have a certain number of days to pay the missed rent in full before their lease is terminated and they will be forced to move out.
A security deposit is a specific amount of money that a resident pays upon signing the lease agreement. This money is returned to the resident after the lease term ends unless it is used to cover the cost of any repairs, cleaning, or unpaid rent. The security deposit protects you against any damage that residents may cause.
However, you are NOT allowed to use the security deposit for anything beyond general wear and tear, cleaning, and repairs. For example, you cannot use your security deposit to complete unnecessary renovations or purchase new appliances.
Some states set limits on the amounts you are allowed to charge for a security deposit. You also cannot charge your resident’s different security deposits without reason (a valid reason for a higher deposit would be a pet, for example).
Some states also require you to hold the deposit in a separate, interest-bearing account and return the deposit in full, along with interest, at the end of the lease (assuming there is no rent debt or lease violations).
As a landlord, you should provide advance notice to your residents before entering the property for any reason. Most states require you give residents at least a 24 hours notice, and some limit you to entering the property only during normal business hours.
However, a tenant cannot refuse you the right to enter the property if you have given the appropriate notification. And many states allow for exceptions in the case of emergencies, such as a fire or leak.
If a resident breaches your lease agreement, whether by not paying rent, having pets without your knowledge, having additional people living in the space without your knowledge, or by committing a crime on the property, a landlord may consider evicting the resident.
If a resident breaks your lease, you must first notify them in writing and provide them time to fix the issue. The amount of time you must give varies depending on your local regulations, between as little as three and as many as 30 days. If the resident doesn’t remedy the problem, you can file an eviction proceeding in court (you must also notify the resident of this and give them a chance to appear in court).
There are two broad types of eviction notices:
A self-help eviction, when a landlord evicts a resident without going through proper legal eviction proceedings, is illegal. Even if a resident is violating your lease agreement, you cannot change the locks, remove your resident’s personal belongings, shut off utilities, or forcibly remove a resident from the property.
Further Reading: How Do I Evict My Resident?
Some states have laws controlling the maximum amount of rent you can charge, as well as the maximum amount you can increase the rent at the end of each lease term. Each state also has laws around how much you can charge for fees on late rent payments.
Rent increases also can’t be retroactive, meaning you cannot cause a resident to owe back rent. You must also provide proper notice for any rent increases.
Further Reading: How Does Rent Deposit Work?
A lease agreement, also known as a rental agreement, is the document you sign that outlines the terms under which you and your residents are bound. The lease agreement cannot contain clauses that contradict federal, state, or local laws on resident rights.
Some states also have rent control measures and limit charges for late fees and security deposits. That’s why it’s important to check the laws in your state before writing your lease agreement.
Your lease agreement should include the following:
If you are in any doubt about what should or shouldn’t be included in your lease agreement, you should consult an attorney before either party signs.
And if you’re just getting started and want to learn more about lease agreements, plus how to navigate finding residents, collecting rent, and more, we’ve got an e-book and a checklist you can download for free!
Tenant laws are put in place to protect residents. Plain and simple. As an investor and landlord, if you want your rental business to be successful, you MUST understand the laws regarding residents and any changes to those laws.
At the end of the day, your property isn’t your greatest asset; your resident is. If your resident isn’t cared for properly, you don’t make any money (or worse).
Want to avoid the hassle of worrying if you’re up to date with local, state, and national laws as a self-managing landlord? Having a local property manager (like us) is a great way to remove the risk of neglecting any of your resident’s rights.
Start the conversation!