Back Landlord-Tenant Laws & Rights

Landlord-Tenant Laws & Rights

If you are entering into a lease or rental agreement, you need to understand landlord-tenant statutes. These legal rules, usually specified in the landlord-tenant act, take into account federal law, state law, and local requirements for rental properties.

The landlord-tenant act in your state determines when rent must be paid, how much the security deposit can be, what a landlord can do about unpaid rent, when written notice is required for an early termination, when rent withholding is permissible, and when a tenant can file a lawsuit against the landlord. 

What is the Landlord-Tenant Law by State?

Landlord-tenant law describes the landlord-tenant rules by which both landlords and tenants must abide. While every state is different, the laws all touch on the following:

  • Defining a livable space 
  • Determining what types of repairs or maintenance a landlord must do
  • Responsibilities and rights for tenants
  • Determining how much notice a landlord must provide before entering a rental property
  • Requirements for lease termination or eviction
  • Requirements for rental agreements, rent increases, and security deposits

What Protections are There for Tenants in State Law?

There are many protections for tenants in state law that are meant to ensure the relationship between a tenant and landlord is safe, effective, and professional. 

Failure to Make Repairs

If a landlord receives a request to make a repair, and they don’t complete the necessary repairs, tenants can respond in several ways, including:

  • Withhold rent until the problem is fixed. However, it’s important to note that you have to follow your state requirements, which might include depositing the withheld rent in a separate escrow account where it will be held until the problem is rectified.
  • Hire another individual to make the repairs and then deduct the cost from your rent the following month.

Access to the Rental Property

As a tenant, you have the right to feel at home during the length of your tenancy. Accordingly, the landlord cannot use half of the property to store their winter gear or show up whenever they want unless your lease agreement states otherwise.

You have the legal right to privacy. This means the landlord has to provide you with adequate notice before accessing the property for any reason unless there is an emergency. The definition of adequate notice varies by state, but it’s typically 24 or 48 hours’ notice.

By the same token, tenants also have responsibilities. While you live in a rental property, you must adhere to the terms of your lease. If your lease specifies that you cannot have pets on the property, adopting and bringing home a dog is a violation of your lease. Any damage done to the property has to be repaired by you in a timely fashion. Regular wear and tear throughout your tenancy is expected and generally the responsibility of the landlord. However, if you caused serious damage, it is your responsibility to repair that damage. If you do not fix it and you leave it that way when you move out, it is still your responsibility. In this case, the landlord will likely withhold some or all of your security deposit.

Renters Rights to Privacy

Some landlords add a clause in your lease that limits how long a guest is permitted to stay in the property. For example, the clause might prohibit overnight guests for more than 10 days in a six-month period without prior approval from the landlord. The purpose of these restrictions is to avoid unauthorized tenants.

However, some rental agreements or leases might stipulate something much more extreme, such as registering any overnight guests, which may be considered an invasion of your privacy.

Other examples of invasions of your privacy include your landlord providing information about your creditworthiness or stability in inappropriate circumstances. Landlords might be permitted to provide this information to banks, creditors, prospective landlords, and employers if it relates to a specific business need. Otherwise, they are not allowed to share information about you with strangers.

Generally, landlords must abide by the following rules:

  • Landlords may have your work phone number for emergencies, but they cannot continually bother you at work for non-emergency situations. If this happens, you can write a letter demanding that they cease and desist, or you will consider a lawsuit.
  • Landlords cannot harass you in any form. If your landlord engages in unwanted sexual advances, you can contact your local police department. You might also consider speaking with an attorney.
  • Landlords cannot interrogate you or conduct surveillance on you in any way.
  • Landlords cannot change the locks at your property or turn off the power as a soft way to evict you if you haven’t paid rent. There are legal steps that a landlord must take in order to collect rent or evict you. Turning off your power or other utilities or changing the locks are not legal steps they can take.

Landlord-Tenant Rights for Rent

Rent increases that are not discriminatory are perfectly acceptable. You can appeal to your landlord, but it is your responsibility to pay your rent even if it is increased. If your landlord doesn’t give you proper notice of a rent increase, it may not be worth fighting if you are a month-to-month tenant. However, if you have a long-term lease agreement and they try to implement an increase that violates that agreement, you can try to fight it.

How Long Does a Landlord Have to Give a Tenant to Move Out?

Every state has its own set of landlord-tenant laws. Many states have exemptions for specific types of tenancies, which is why it is important to review the statutes for your specific state and any exemptions your state has. 

Domestic Violence Situations

Many states provide extended protections to tenants who are currently the victim of domestic violence. These special protections dictate what a landlord can and cannot do in those situations.

For example: In California, if you provide proof that you are a victim of domestic violence, your landlord cannot prohibit you from calling the police or penalize you when you call them. Additionally, your landlord cannot terminate the lease agreement, evict you, or refuse to rent to you simply because you are the victim of domestic violence. 

Lease Termination

In most states, tenants are given a specific amount of time to move out if they violate the lease before the landlord can legally begin the eviction process. Typically, if a landlord wishes to terminate the lease because the tenant violated a clause in the lease agreement, landlords have the opportunity to give them a chance to rectify the situation.

For example: If a lease stipulates no pets are allowed on the premises, and the landlord becomes aware that the tenant has an animal, they can give the tenant the opportunity to find a new home for that pet rather than trying to force the tenant to leave. The landlord can set a time limit, such as 48 hours, 7 days, or even one month, by which the tenant has to find a home for the pet. If the tenant removes the pet from the property by the deadline, then the lease is not terminated. However, if the tenant refuses to remove the pet, despite knowing that it is a violation of the lease, the landlord can give them 30 days to move out of the house prior to evicting them. 

Every state has specific laws regarding when and how a landlord is permitted to terminate a rental agreement and provide eviction papers. 

Notices

Although the words used will vary from one state to another, you might receive three types of notice from your landlord:

  1. Pay Rent or Quit: This is the notice your landlord will provide you if you have not paid rent. It gives you the opportunity to pay rent within a specified number of days or quit, which means moving out.
  2. Cure or Quit: Your landlord will provide this type of notice if you have violated a condition of your lease, such as having a pet. It also gives you a specific number of days to remedy the issue, which means to cure it, or quit, which means to move out.
  3. Unconditional Quit: This is an order that you must vacate the property with no chance to fix the issue or pay back rent. There are specific situations for each state where a landlord might serve you with this notice. For example, they might provide this type of notice if you seriously damaged the property, engaged in illegal activities, or repeatedly violated a very significant part of your lease agreement.

No Notice

Even if you paid rent on time and haven’t violated your agreement, your landlord can ask you to move out at any time as long as you don’t have a fixed-term lease and your landlord gives you adequate notice.

Most states do not require a landlord to provide a reason to end the tenancy, but they do require the landlord to provide you with adequate notice, which is typically 30 or 60 days.

Eviction Lawsuit

If you have received any of these notices and you haven’t fixed the problem, paid the rent, or moved out after getting a 30-day notice to vacate, your landlord can file for eviction. The paperwork will be called a summons and a complaint for eviction.

After this happens, a judge in your area will determine a time and date for the hearing. You must be at this hearing. If you don’t show up, you cannot defend yourself against the eviction.

You can defend yourself against eviction by showing that the paperwork wasn’t prepared properly during the lawsuit or that the landlord behaved illegally. Two examples of illegal behavior include your landlord failing to maintain the property, and retaliating against you for your demand that they fix something in the property.

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