As a tenant, you just want a home that is comfortable, safe, and clean where you can unwind and find peace from the hectic and sometimes hostile world outside.
Unfortunately, sometimes your landlord or other outside factors can disrupt that peace and cause you to ask whether you have any rights to bring back that nice environment you had in your home.
The good news is that tenants have a robust bundle of rights that are granted by contract as well as federal, state and local laws.
In this article, I am going to cover some of the most prominent tenant rights that you can use to maintain the safety, security and comfort of your home. I will give a simple explanation of each right and describe what it means for you. I will also provide links to my other articles that go into more detail around these rights if you want to explore them further.
Without further ado, 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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Right to a Habitable Premises
As a general matter, tenants have a right to a habitable home. In simple terms, this means that your landlord must provide a rental that is safe and livable.
Now to get a bit more technical, this right is embodied in a legal doctrine called the implied warranty of habitability, which exists in almost all leases, even if it’s not spelled out in the lease. Source.
What Exactly Does the Warranty of Habitability Cover?
It depends on your state because different states interpret and implement this warranty differently, but as a general matter, it can cover the following areas:
- Water that is drinkable
- Hot water
- Proper heating when cold seasons
- Properly functioning electrical systems
- Properly operating ventilation systems
- Smoke and carbon monoxide detectors (often varies by state)
- Properly working bathroom and toilet
- Sanitary dwelling (which may include removal of pests)
- Properly working locks
- Compliance with housing codes
As you can see, there are lot of specific situations that can give rise to a violation of the implied warranty of habitability. Below are some of the most common ones (at least based on my experience). I have included links to article discussing each of them in more detail.
Right to Privacy and Quiet Enjoyment
Once you enter into a lease arrangement with your landlord, you are generally entitled to privacy in your new home and a promise of “quiet enjoyment.”
Now these two rights are intertwined, which is why I am going to discuss them together. I think everyone understands the general right to privacy that you can expect in your home.
The right to quiet enjoyment goes a step further and gives tenants a right to quiet and peaceful enjoyment of their home without undue interference from their landlord. Source.
This includes construction activity by the landlord where the dust and noise unreasonably interfere with the tenant’s enjoyment of their rental home. It can also cover inspections of the property that are too frequent or may even include excessive noise coming from neighbors.
Below are some commonly asked questions relating to privacy or the covenant of quiet enjoyment in specific contexts (including both the application process and during tenancy). If your situation falls into any of these categories, you can learn more by simply clicking the corresponding link below.
- Can I Break My Lease Due to Noise?
- How Often Can My Landlord Do a Walkthrough or Inspection?
- Can a Landlord Take Photos During an Inspection?
- Can My Landlord Look In My Closet?
- Can My Landlord Go Into My Bedroom?
- Can My Landlord Ask For My Driver’s License?
- Can My Landlord Ask For Paystubs?
- Can My Landlord Ask For Bank Statements?
Right to a Safe Dwelling
As a general matter, tenants should feel safe in their homes. While not an explicit right in most contracts, there are laws and regulations that promote tenant safety.
In particular, many states allow a tenant to break their lease early and without penalty if they are the victim of certain crimes, which may include domestic violence, stalking, sexual assault, and other criminal victimization.
Of course, the devil is in the details and your state and local laws may differ on what’s covered, so you should check out the applicable laws in your jurisdiction.
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.
Related Reading: Below are some articles that I have written that analyze a tenant’s right to a safe dwelling in different contexts.
- Can I Break My Lease If I Feel Unsafe?
- Can I Break My Lease If Someone Breaks Into My Apartment?
- Can I Break My Lease If My Car Was Broken Into?
- Can I Break My Lease If My Roommate is Violent?
- Can I Break My Lease Due to Neighbor Harassment?
Right to Notice
Notice Before Entry
A landlord does not have the right to barge into your home whenever they want.
In most leases and under most state and local laws, a landlord must give adequate notice (and often obtain consent) before they can enter your home.
Although the amount of notice may depend on many factors, including the reason for the entry, your lease terms, and your jurisdiction’s requirements, as a general matter, landlords should give at least 24 hours prior notice before entering your rental property.
There are notable exceptions to the notice requirement, of course, such as in the case of emergencies like fire and flooding.
Notice Before Eviction
Another key right that tenants have is the right to be notified in writing if a landlord plans to evict. This is firmly embodied in state and local laws, so a landlord must comply, even if the lease doesn’t require it.
The amount of notice may vary by locale, so make sure you check if you have questions around whether your landlord provided proper notice.
Notice of Nonrenewal
If a landlord does not intend to renew your lease after the current lease term expires, they may have an obligation to let you know in advance. Usually this is spelled out in the lease, so that’s your first place to look.
In some cases, applicable laws may prohibit a landlord from refusing to renew your lease unless there is cause, like you are behind on your payments or otherwise in violation of your lease.
If you want to read more on this right to notice, check out my articles below.
- How Much Notice Must a Landlord Give Before Entering?
- How Much Notice Must a Landlord Give If Not Renewing?
Right to Return of Your Security Deposit
Landlords will almost always require a security deposit to lease a rental from them. This is usually equal to one or even two months rent. So it is really important to know your rights regarding this money that you are handing over to your landlord.
As a general matter, you are entitled to receive back your security deposit, less any outstanding amount you owe to the landlord, which may include rent, late fees, and other debts as well as any repair costs for damage you caused to the property (other than normal wear and tear).
State and local laws will also govern things like whether you are entitled to earn interest on the security deposit and when it must be returned to you.
For more info on this topic, check out my articles below.
- What Can a Landlord Deduct from My Security Deposit
- Can My Landlord Ask for Additional Security Deposit?
Right to Be Free From Discrimination
Under federal law, the Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination in housing (including rental arrangements) based on certain protected classes.
These protected classes include:
- National Origin
- Sex (including gender identity and sexual orientation)
- Familial Status
So, you have a right to not be discriminated against based on these grounds.
For a nice and easy to understand summary of the Fair Housing Act’s requirements, check out this resource provided by the US Department of Housing and Urban Development.
Rights Under the Lease
The lease agreement is a legally binding contract between a landlord and tenant that outlines the terms and conditions of the tenancy.
The lease agreement will typically include provisions related to occupancy, rent, security deposits, maintenance responsibilities, and other important details related to the tenancy.
We’ll cover some of the key rights that are usually embodied in a lease agreement. Obviously, you’ll need to read your actual lease agreement to find out whether your particular lease grants these rights.
Right to Occupancy
When you sign up for a lease, you are granted a right to occupy the property for the designated lease term.
That means your landlord can’t just kick you out for no reason. If you have violated the lease, that’s a different story, but in general, you can rest assured that you have a right to remain in your place so long as your lease is in effect.
Now that’s not to say this right to occupancy is never going to be challenged. For example, under state and local laws, a landlord may kick you out in extreme cases, such as domestic violence, drug dealing, human trafficking, or other serious offenses.
If you want to probe more into this area, check out my articles on this topic below.
Right to Use Common Areas
This one’s pretty obvious.
If you are living in an apartment or similar building with other tenants, there are going to be common areas, such as a lobby, hallways and so on. The lease should grant you the right to access and use these areas.
Right to Sublet or Assign
Some leases will allow a tenant to sublet or assign their lease to someone else.
Of course, many landlords will not permit this in their lease agreement or will only do this if they have a right to approve the sublease or assignment.
If you are considering doing either of these things, it is definitely worth checking your lease very carefully to see if this right exists.
Right to Terminate
Most leases will spell out when a tenant may terminate the lease.
The most common reason is if a landlord has violated their obligations under the lease. Typically this comes in the form of not making required repairs after being notified of them.
But some leases will also include other termination rights for the tenant. For example, mine include termination rights for job relocations, extensive fire damage, pre-existing mold, and military deployment (more on that later).
Of course, your lease may contain different provisions, so it’s worth reading it to find out what your termination rights are if ending the lease is your ultimate goal.
Right to Only Pay Agreed Upon Rent
The rental amount is perhaps the most important and heavily negotiated item in the lease agreement.
Now, as we mentioned, the lease is a binding agreement on both you and the landlord, so the landlord does not have the right to change the arrangement at their whim.
This means that, in general, you have the right to pay the agreed upon rent, and not a penny more. If your landlord is trying to raise the rent mid-lease, you have a right to dispute that. If you are faced with this situation and want to learn more about it, check out my article on the topic below.
Right to Renew
Some leases have a renewal provision that states that the tenant may extend the lease if they so choose at the end of the initial lease term.
But it’s not always black and white. To learn more about this right to renew, check out my article below.
Right to Parking and Storage Spaces
This one doesn’t need much explanation.
If your building has parking spaces or storage spaces, you may have a right to access and use them. Again, not every lease will grant this to a tenant, even if the building has these features, so it’s worth confirming.
Right to Have Repairs Made
Most leases will also specify when a landlord needs to make repairs, including which items and conditions are covered and which are not. They will also usually lay out at least a general timeframe for making the repairs.
If you are having trouble with your landlord ignoring your repair requests, check out my article below.
Right to Reasonable Accommodations If Disabled
The Fair Housing Act (which we’ve already mentioned) is a federal law that protects disabled individuals from discriminatory practices in rental housing.
It requires that landlords make reasonable accommodations for disabled tenants, which can include ramps, grab bars in bathroom walls, and even termination of a lease if the rental cannot be modified to accommodate the disability.
One area that has received a lot of attention in this space is emotional support animals.
It’s well settled that landlords must allow service dogs in their rentals, even if they don’t allow pets normally. But now, they also must allow emotional support animals as well, subject to certain conditions (like providing proof of the need for one from a doctor).
To learn more about rights of the disabled in the housing context (especially the right to break a lease), check out my article below.
Rights For Military Personnel
Active members of the military have the right to get out of their lease if they are deployed. This is thanks to the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA).
Of course, certain conditions and limitations may apply. If you want to find out more about this right, below is my article on the topic.
Rights Under State and Local Laws
In addition to your rights under federal law and your lease, your state and local laws also provide a significant number of rights. Let’s turn to them.
Some states and localities have rent control laws that prohibit landlords from raising rents or place limits on how high they can raise rents.
If you live in one of these areas, you have a right to keep your rent within legal limits. Violating rent control laws is a big deal and can result in significant issues for your landlord.
To learn more about this issue, check out my full article on how much a landlord may raise rent below.
Right to Rental Payment Options
Some states prohibit a landlord from unduly restricting a tenant’s payment options.
Many landlords love the convenience and reliability of cash, so they may insist on tenants only paying cash. Depending on your jurisdiction, this may be illegal.
In a similar vein, many landlords love electronic payments from their tenants, due to their ease of use and collection. These digital and online payment platforms (e.g., Venmo, Paypal, Zelle, etc.) have really risen in popularity generally, so their adoption for rental payments has also increased.
But some states have also limited a landlord’s right to insist on tenants adopting this payment method as their sole option, claiming it may have a discriminatory impact on the elderly.
If you want to learn more about this issue, check out my article here.
Rental Prepayment Limitations
This issue applies more in the rental application process, but some landlords may insist on a tenant pre-paying rent.
This could be due to the fact that a tenant is unemployed, has a low income but a lot of cash, or because they are worried about the tenant’s credit history or rental history.
But some states have placed limitations on how much prepaid rent a landlord may collect or have required that such funds be placed in an escrow account to protect the tenant’s funds from misuse.
If you are facing this situation, check out my article on this topic below.
Right to Utilities
Some unscrupulous landlords use self-help remedies like turning off the water or other utilities when a tenant is not paying rent or otherwise violating the lease.
In the vast majority of cases, this is not permitted under state and local laws.
So if your landlord is threatening to do this or has already done this, you should read up on your applicable laws and dispute it with your landlord (or even take it up with your local housing authority).
Right to Repair and Deduct
If a landlord is not making required repairs in a timely way, some states allow a tenant to make the repair themselves and then deduct the cost of the repair from their rent.
States are divided on this, so you will need to confirm if your laws permit this.
Right to Withhold Rent
Similarly, you may want to withhold rent if a landlord is not making necessary repairs.
This is also an area where states have taken opposing positions. In some cases, they will allow a tenant to do this. In others, they will not.
Some states adopt a middle position where they do not allow this, but do permit the tenant to make their rental payment into an escrow account which gets released when the landlord makes the necessary repairs.
As a tenant, it’s important to understand your rights and to be proactive about protecting them.
If you feel that your rights have been violated, you should consult with a lawyer or tenant advocacy organization to explore your legal options.
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