Can a Landlord Tell You How to Live? [Answered with Tips on What to Do]

When you’re renting a property, there are usually many policies you must follow. Most of them are set by your landlord and are included in your lease. 

With all these rules in place, you might wonder, how much control can a landlord actually have over your life. Can they tell you how to live?

In this article, I am going to answer this question.

I will cover legal and contractual limitations on what a landlord can require, including key laws and regulations that may apply. I will also discuss areas where a landlord is within their rights to have some say on how tenants can behave.

If you don’t have the time to read through it all, here’s a short answer to the question:

As a general matter, landlords cannot tell you how to live. They must respect your right to privacy and quiet enjoyment of your home. However, there are activities that a landlord can prohibit, such as conduct that can create a safety or health hazard or that violates applicable laws.

Ok, let’s get into it.

The information contained in this post is for informational purposes only.  It is not legal advice.  You should seek the advice of a qualified legal professional before making any decisions relating to the topics covered by this article.

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What Laws Limit Landlord Intrusion Into Your Life?

There are some key legal principles and laws that protect tenants against landlord intrusion into your personal life and choices.

We’ll cover two of the broadest and most important ones below, but it is worth noting that state and local laws may also place limitations on a landlord’s ability to control a tenant’s lifestyle or conduct.

The Fair Housing Act

The first one is the Fair Housing Act, which is a federal law that protects tenants against discrimination in housing. This law extends to renters who fall within certain protected classes.

These include the following:

  • Race
  • Color
  • National Origin
  • Religion
  • Sex (including gender identity and sexual orientation)
  • Familial Status
  • Disability

So how does this play out in practical terms?

Obviously, blatantly sexist or racist policies aren’t permitted. For example, a landlord cannot have one set of rules applicable to your rental arrangement if you are a minority, and another set of rules that apply to non-minority tenants.

Another example would be a policy that states that you can’t have kids because they have a no-kids policy in their rentals. That would be unlawfully discriminating based on familial status.

This law is a key protection for tenants because it applies broadly (it’s a federal law that applies to most tenancies).

Plus, most states have adopted some form of anti-discrimination statute for landlord-tenant relationships, so there is likely an additional layer of jurisdictional protection depending on where you live.

Right to Privacy and Covenant of Quiet Enjoyment

The second set of important legal principles is the right to privacy and its cousin – the covenant of quiet enjoyment.

Most people understand the right to privacy, so I won’t belabor the point. Your landlord can’t just come into your property without notice or consent once you have taken lawful possession of your rental.

Now there are exceptions in cases of emergency and the like, but having the ability to keep people out of your home is a foundational part of the right to privacy in your rental.

The covenant of quiet enjoyment is basically a promise by the landlord that they will not unreasonably interfere with your peaceful possession and enjoyment of your home. It is implied in every rental contract, even if it is not spelled out in the lease. Source.

So your landlord cannot constantly be badgering you, checking up on you, conducting inspections, and basically intruding and disrupting your normal day to day activities.

Now, these tenant protection laws are powerful and wide-ranging, but they do not give tenants free reign to do whatever they wish. There are areas that a landlord can have some ability to control. Let’s turn to those.

What Are the Usual Restrictions on Tenant Activity?

A lease usually has a lot of terms that a tenant has to strictly follow if they don’t want a terminated contract or, worse, eviction. These are mostly made to protect the property, the community, and, in some cases, the tenant.

But the lease is not the only place to look. There are also state and local laws that may protect landlords from tenant misconduct.

We are going to cover some of the key areas where leases or applicable laws may allow a landlord to step in and moderate or prohibit tenant behavior.

1. Creating Hazards and Disruptive Behavior (Usually Noise)

Tenants aren’t allowed to create hazards and exhibit disruptive behavior. They’re expected to respect the neighbors and the community. 

Some landlords may be stricter on this, especially if you live in a building with several neighboring units. These regulations usually ask tenants to minimize noise levels, particularly at night.

In addition, you, as a tenant, are forbidden to create hazards—handling dangerous chemicals, for example—that can affect you and the community.

2. Engaging in Criminal Activity

Most, if not all, leases strictly prohibit the tenant from engaging in criminal activity—especially if the property will be used as part of the unlawful enterprise.

Criminal activity usually includes, but is not limited to, the following acts:

  • Selling, buying, or any activity related to drugs or other illegal items
  • Using the property to engage in illegal gambling
  • Crimes involving sex work

3. Domestic Violence

Acts of domestic violence against a co-tenant or a household member can also be grounds for eviction.

Like with criminal activities, this one makes sense – if you are endangering the health and safety of someone on the landlord’s property, they should have the right to take action.

4. Destruction or Damage to Property

Many leases will prohibit destruction or damage to the landlord’s property and most state and local laws will not excuse a tenant from liability if they do so. So, while you can live relatively freely in your home, you can’t destroy the rental property in the process.

5. Maintaining Sanitary Conditions in Home

This one is a bit of a hot topic.

On the one hand, a landlord shouldn’t be able to tell you to clean your home to their level of satisfaction. But there are limits to how dirty a tenant can keep their rental property.

The line is usually drawn at whether the place is no longer habitable due to the mess created by the tenant. If the tenant’s actions result in an unsafe and unsanitary dwelling, then the landlord is likely able to step in.

State and local laws may have different views on this, so it’s worth checking the laws that apply to you.

To learn more about this topic, check out my full article on the topic here.

6. Sexual Practices and Overnight Guests

Sex is one of the most sensitive and private area of a person’s life, so a landlord intruding in this space is usually prohibited. As mentioned above, the Fair Housing Act provides robust protections against landlords discriminating in this regard.

However, many leases do have limitations on guests and especially overnight guests. I have seen many leases that prohibit guests from staying at the rental for more than two weeks (for example).

Now if state and local laws allow this, then a landlord is generally free to impose these types of limitations. A landlord may have legitimate reasons for wanting this, like not causing undue wear and tear on their property by having tons of people living there rent free for extended periods of time.

However, if they are doing this to discriminate unfairly, then such limitations would be unlawful. For example, if they applied this policy only to you because of your sexual activities or preferences, but did not apply it to others, that would be a serious problem and not allowed.

7. Pets

For many people, pets are an important (and for some, critical) part of their lives. While I understand this (I can’t live without my dog), the reality is that landlords are usually allowed to prohibit pets in their rentals.

You can of course, ask, and they may be willing to allow it, but they may often ask for higher rent and additional security deposits. One notable exception is if you have a disability and need a service dog (or in some cases, an emotional support animal).

8. Violate Maximum Occupancy Laws

If you are having people live in your rental that are not on the lease and it violates your local occupancy laws, that can create a safety issue and your landlord is within their rights to prohibit this. So be mindful of what your local regulations say about this.

Now, as you can see, a lot of what’s allowed vs. not allowed is going to hinge on what your jurisdiction’s laws are. So it makes sense to research them (or have a lawyer help you) if you want a definitive answer relating to your specific situation.

For your convenience, here’s our 50 state reference table (including D.C.) that will link you to the official landlord tenant laws of your state.

If you prefer to have a lawyer assist you, I would try JustAnswer. They boast access to thousands of highly-rated, verified real estate lawyers whom you can connect with via their unlimited chat service.

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Final Thoughts

So, can a landlord tell you how to live? In short, no, they can’t—unless you’re violating your lease or other applicable laws. Hope this has been helpful and happy renting!