Free Resources for Landlords

Basic Tenant Rights

370 views March 6, 2024 Karina Jugo 6

Our aim at RentPost is to simplify rent and all the issues surrounding it. As we expand, the goal will become apparent to everyone familiar with our company, whether you are a landlord, property manager, or tenant. 

For these reasons (and many more!), a series of our resources will benefit landlords and tenants mutually. As landlords learn to be better landlords – and tenants know to be better tenants – frustrations, costs, unnecessary complexity, and animosity wane from the historically bitter tenant-landlord relationship, breaking new ground in how rent is approached. 

Let’s begin making this world a better place, one renter and one landlord at a time, with the fundamentals – basic tenant rights.

Why Tenant Rights are Crucial

Renting a property is a standard housing option for individuals and families across the globe. As tenants, individuals have certain fundamental rights that serve as a legal framework to ensure fair and equitable treatment in their rental arrangements. These tenant rights are designed to protect renters from exploitation, discrimination, and unsafe living conditions.

The following review of rights will provide a basis for acting in certain situations, be you a landlord or tenant. The goal is to show how to prevent mishaps and act appropriately when they occur without ever overstepping the legal parameters designed to protect landlords and tenants under the cloak of Tenant Rights. 

Let’s start with the tenant selection process – don’t discriminate!

Non-Discrimination 

 It is illegal to reject tenant applications based on discriminatory reasons set forth by the Fair Housing Act. Discrimination based on the following is unlawful, so don’t get the Department of Justice on your back!

  • Race
  • Color
  • Religion
  • Nationality or Place of Origin
  • Age
  • Familial status (family size, pregnant, or with children)
  • Physical or mental disability

That is obvious enough, right? Think again. How often have you heard, “I only want girls living here; boys are too messy.” Maybe, you even heard the sentence flipped around. Regardless, the gender stereotype is insufficient to circumvent discrimination laws, and it is illegal to operate in this fashion. In fact, it is even unlawful to advertise in any discriminatory way. 

Regardless of their race, color, religion, sex, national origin, disability, or familial status, tenants have the right to be treated fairly and equally by landlords or property managers. It is illegal for landlords to deny housing, impose different terms or conditions, or terminate a tenancy based on discriminatory factors.

tenant rights discrimination

There is, however, an exception to the rule worth noting – Landlords with four or fewer rental units are exempt from such discriminatory laws, so spare yourself the litigious thoughts if you got rejected by Mrs. Smith, who won’t rent you her basement (her only rental) because you are a 21-yr old male student and party connoisseur.

Other exceptions to the rule include housing specifically designed to meet the particular needs of certain people—for example, retirement home, low-income housing, etc.

Habitable Premises

Tenants have the right to live in a safe and habitable environment. Landlords are responsible for ensuring that the property meets basic health, safety, and building code standards. This includes providing adequate heating, plumbing, and electricity, as well as addressing any structural issues, pest infestations, or other hazards that may compromise the habitability of the rental unit.

However, this provision can also be a deceptively dicey one. As it may, again, seem straightforward and obvious that all living conditions must be safe and clean for tenant use, it is often mistaken by the tenant that a gross infestation of rats or cockroaches, for example, is justification for breaking the lease. That, however, is not always the case. 

If the infestation or poor living condition results from the tenant’s lifestyle, then the tenant is financially responsible for the correction. Moreover, it provides no grounds to break the lease agreement legally. It is, however, the landlord’s responsibility to respond to a tenant’s request regarding the habitability issues, but the landlord may forward the bill to the tenant.

Privacy

Most, if not all, landlords know these rules but often choose to ignore them. Also, landlords typically need to remember that it’s not just them who are not allowed entry; it is everyone in any way connected to them who is not allowed inside without prior permission. 

That means Bob from Landlord’s Plumbing Services cannot just come in and check the water heater without warning. Anyhow, there are only three situations that landlords are legally permitted to enter tenant dwellings: 

  • Repairs: Must be with sufficient notification to the tenant. Federal law defaults to statutory law on what is considered “sufficient notification” but uses 24 hours as the rule of thumb. 
  • Emergencies: This includes fire and flood. In these situations, forget the 24-hour notice. 
  • Showings:  Again, sufficient notification is required if the property is to be shown to potential renters or buyers. Also, ensure the tenant is appropriately notified; missed phone calls don’t count (yea, we all know you’ve done that).

tenant rights privacy

Property Maintenance

The landlord’s maintenance responsibilities and the consequences if these responsibilities are ignored are listed below. A landlord must provide adequate:

  • weatherproofing (no leaks)
  • heating
  • water
  • hot water
  • electricity
  • clean and sanitary environment

Adequacy is typically defined according to the state, and any gray areas are often covered by common law precedents set in previous court rulings. These conditions are legally expected to exist on the day the tenant moves in, so it is recommended that the tenant take a detailed walkthrough of the unit, noting any conditions that are not in line with those mentioned above. 

Keeping track of dates is important, and proving the date is equally important, so make sure to do something like developing dated pictures and getting them recorded somehow. Furthermore, submitting work orders or requests to landlords is always best done in a documentable fashion, not just by word of mouth. That allows the tenant to record the date of the request and enables the landlord to think over the matter (not putting them on the spot). 

Suppose the landlord ignores the request and does not tend to the matter within the given period. In that case, the tenant has the right to make repairs and deduct the cost from the rent, withhold rent until the problem is fixed, pay less rent, call the local building inspector to approach the situation coercively or move out without any responsibility of future rent and with the right to reclaim the entire security deposit. 

Cosmetic damages are not the landlord’s responsibility, nor are damages resulting directly and solely from tenant actions; however, the landlord may still be responsible for alleviating the problem without any financial obligation (the landlord will fix it but won’t pay for it). 

So tenants, don’t take a baseball bat to your water heater and think the landlord will pay.

Security Deposits & Rent Increases

When entering into a rental agreement, tenants often pay a security deposit to the landlord. Basic tenant rights grant renters the right to receive a detailed account of the deposit and its use. Upon the termination of the lease, landlords are required to return the security deposit within a specified time, minus any deductions for damages beyond normal wear and tear.

Tenants  also have the right to be informed of any rent increases within a reasonable timeframe. Landlords should provide written notice before increasing the rent, allowing tenants to plan their finances accordingly. Some jurisdictions have regulations that limit the frequency or amount of rent increases to prevent unreasonable or arbitrary changes.

Due Process

Tenants have the right to due process in the unfortunate event of a possible eviction. Landlords cannot evict tenants without valid legal grounds and following the proper eviction procedures specified by local laws. This ensures that tenants have the opportunity to present their case and defend their rights in a court of law.

The landlord must first provide the tenant with a written notice, typically known as an eviction notice or notice to quit. The notice must state the reason for eviction and give the tenant a specific period to either correct the issue or vacate the premises. The notice period and requirements may vary depending on local laws and the reason for eviction.

The tenant then has the right to respond to the eviction notice, either by addressing the issue or contesting the eviction in court. This allows the tenant to present their case and potentially negotiate with the landlord. If the tenant fails to comply with the eviction notice or contests the eviction, the landlord may initiate legal proceedings by filing a lawsuit in the appropriate court.

Respecting Tenant & Landlord Rights Prevents Misunderstandings

The provisions outlined above are the most common subjects of disagreement and confusion amongst tenants and landlords. Clarity on all of them helps both parties know the appropriate course of action in said situations. 

Blindly and aggressively attacking the opposite party without a basis of knowledge might be misplaced and lead to unwanted results. Don’t live in festering anger. Understanding landlord-tenant rights in everyday situations engender a harmonious, healthy relationship between landlord and tenant. It perpetuates satisfaction on both sides, simplifying life, and cutting the frills out of rentals.

Key  Takeaway

These basic tenant rights serve as a foundation for a healthy landlord-tenant relationship and are protected by various local and national laws. It’s important for both landlords and tenants to be aware of these rights to ensure a fair and lawful rental experience. Keep in mind that the specifics of tenant rights may vary based on the jurisdiction and applicable laws.

For more info on statutory laws in your state regarding these matters, visit www.thelpa.com/lpa/lllaw.html.

 

Authors

  • Karina Jugo

    Karina Jugo is a content administrator at RentPost who works directly with real estate and property management experts to create resources and guides for property managers. She has more than 15 years of experience in content research and writing for various industries.

  • Jacob Thomason

    Jacob Thomason is the CEO and co-founder of RentPost, software platform providing property managers, landlord or owners with the tools necessary for property management. Jacob is a software entrepreneur with with a vast array of expertise ranging from business concept design to software architecture and development. He is running RentPost for more than 14 years and helping property managers and property owners.

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