In Kentucky, as with any other state, if rent is paid in a timely manner in exchange for inhabiting property, a landlord-tenant relationship is established (even without a written lease), and with this relationship comes rights and responsibilities for both parties.
Basic Landlord Responsibilities
Keep the rental fit to live in. The landlord is required to provide housing that is habitable and to make repairs in a timely manner when required.
Quiet enjoyment. The landlord is required not to disturb the tenant’s rights to peacefully and reasonably use their rented space.
Basic Tenant Responsibilities
Pay rent on time. If the tenant does not pay rent in full and in a timely manner, the landlord has the right to take action to end the tenancy.
Cover excessive damages. Tenants are responsible to cover the costs of damages to the property beyond normal “wear and tear”.
With that said, Kentucky varies from other states on additional rights and responsibilities for both landlords and tenants. Kentucky law even varies on both the interpretation of the above rights and the rules on handling violations.
Warranty of Habitability in Kentucky
Landlord Responsibilities. Kentucky’s statutory warranty of habitability requires all landlords operating in the commonwealth to provide the following amenities. Landlords in Kentucky must also keep these following amenities in working order at all times, including at the request of their tenants:
- Reasonable supply of hot and cold running water
- HVAC system (including heat from Oct 1. To May 1)
- Adequate plumbing
- Safe electric wiring, lighting, and outlets
- Proper sanitary facilities
After receiving a request for a repair from their tenant, Kentucky landlords must respond to and address the central issue within 14 days (or fewer, depending on the urgency of the repair). Beyond this 14 day window, tenants are able to take “alternative action” against their landlord or seek to break off their lease due to their unit becoming statutorily uninhabitable.
Also, current guidelines for the application of Kentucky’s warranty of habitability dictates that its landlord responsibility requirements only apply to single- and multi-family dwellings. Condos and mobile homes are not explicitly covered, as such.
Tenant Responsibilities. Kentucky tenants also maintain some responsibilities under the commonwealth’s warranty of habitability. For example, these tenants are required to pay rent on time as well as keep their rented unit clean in such a manner that its condition does pose a risk for long-term damage to the physical space or a hazard to other tenants.
If either of these factors become an issue, a Kentucky landlord can request that their tenant resolve the cleanliness issue within the following 14 days. If the issue remains unresolved after 14 days, then the landlord may push for eviction on the grounds of a lease terms violation.
In cases where a requested repair to an essential amenity goes addressed, though, Kentucky tenants retain the right to take “alternative action” against their landlord. This includes repairing the issue on their own and deducting the cost from the next month’s rent payment (up to ½ of its total value). Kentucky tenants in this situation are also empowered to unilaterally withhold rent in order to gain leverage over their landlord’s choice to ignore their repair request.
Evictions in Kentucky
While there are numerous reasons why an individual in Kentucky may be evicted, these are among the most common justifications that Kentucky landlords use to support their punitive actions:
- Nonpayment of rent – Landlords in Kentucky may begin to seek eviction for a tenant that fails to pay rent on time (even after any relevant grace period elapses). At that juncture (that is, the first day after rent is due), a Kentucky landlord may issue a 7-Day Notice to Pay Rent or Quit that specifies compliance terms. If the tenant in question still fails to pay up after those 7 days, their landlord may commence formal eviction proceedings by filing a Forcible Entry and Detainer suit.
- Violation of lease terms – Upon documentation of the first instance of a serious lease term violation, a Kentucky landlord may serve their tenant a 15-Day Notice to Cure. If the terms of this notice are not met, then the landlord may seek formal eviction by filing a Forcible Entry and Detainer suit. However, upon documenting the same infraction a second time in a 6-month period, a landlord may skip the notice period and instead serve a 14-Day Unconditional Notice to Quit that requires immediate eviction rather than an opportunity to cure the infraction.
- Illegal Acts – Kentucky’s current landlord-tenant laws do not expressly outline which activities may be considered illegal for the purposes of eviction justification. These same statutes also do not provide specific guidance about how a landlord facing the need to evict an illegally acting tenant. As such, landlords must set out precisely which illegal acts can justify eviction, as well as how those evictions will be handled, in the terms of their issued leases.
Evictions without a lease. Kentucky tenants who rent without the benefits of a written lease are considered “at-will” and thus do not receive the same protections from eviction as their leased counterparts. Even so, month-to-month tenants without a lease are entitled to receive a 30-Day Notice when their landlord intends for them to move out willingly. Failure to do this can result in a formalized eviction through a Forcible Entry and Detainer suit.
Illegal Evictions. Kentucky landlords are expressly forbidden from seeking evictions solely on discriminatory grounds. Specifically, no landlord in Kentucky can seek an eviction against a tenant simply because of their race, color, sex, religion, nation of origin, or familial status.
Also, it is illegal to evict a tenant as a form of retaliation in Kentucky. Moreover, a Kentucky landlord may have their eviction suit thrown out if the affected tenant is able to show that they undertook one of these actions soon before they were served an eviction notice:
- Filed a complaint with a government agency regarding health and/or safety code violations
- Organized or joined a tenants union or similar advocacy organization
- Filed a request for maintenance for an issue that the landlord is obliged to address in a timely manner
Security Deposits in Kentucky
Kentucky’s current landlord-tenant laws lay down these following statutory standards for the collection, maintenance, and redistribution of security deposits provided by tenants:
- Standard Limit / Maximum Amount – Kentucky landlords are not currently bound to value their security deposits below a certain standard limit or maximum amount. As such, it is assumed that Kentucky landlords are free to charge as much as they want when it comes to security deposits, including those fee-like deposits routinely required from tenants with non-service pets.
- Interest and Maintenance – After collecting a security deposit, a Kentucky landlord is required to deposit it in and maintain said funds in a commonwealth- or federally-regulated banking institution. The landlord must inform their tenant of this accounts location, as well as its reference number. These same landlords are not required to accrue interest on these deposited funds, however, nor are they required to pay out said interest if it is allowed to build up.
- Time Limit for Return – After performing a required post-move-out inspection, Kentucky landlords and tenants must sign an agreement stating which deductions will be needed (if any) and how much those deductions will be valued at. If both parties agree, then the tenant is promptly entitled to any remaining security deposit funds. Otherwise, that tenant has 60 days after ending their lease to lay a claim on the security deposit or forfeit it.
- Penalty if Not Returned on Time – Kentucky does set a time-based standard upon which a security deposit’s return is judged. However, tenants who disagree with the deductions put forth by their landlord can bring legal action to try to fight them. Specific penalties on this front will vary based upon the specific amounts of withheld security deposit funds.
- Allowable Deductions – Kentucky landlords are generally only able to make deductions from a tenant’s security deposit if they fail to pay rent on time or cause damage to their unit beyond regular wear and tear. However, the commonwealth also allows landlords to seek deductions for other lease term violations that result in a financial loss for their business.
Lease Termination in Kentucky
Notice Requirements. Tenants in Kentucky who lease a unit on a yearly basis that includes a fixed end date do not need to give advance notice of their intent to move out at the contract’s conclusion. However, other types of leased tenants need to provide written notice when they intend to break off their housing contract, including the following:
- Week-to-Week Lease – 7 days of advance notice
- Month-to-Month Lease – 30 days of advance notice
Legally Breaking a Lease Early. Ideally, a Kentucky tenant who wishes to break their lease early should do so by invoking an early termination clause written into their lease agreement. However, when such an option is not viable (or available because such a clause was not included in their lease), a Kentucky tenant may invoke one of these other legally-protected justifications for breaking a lease early:
- Active Military Duty – Federal law allows service members who are relocating due to deployment or permanent change of station to terminate their lease as early as 30 days from the next rent period.
- Unit is Uninhabitable – Landlords who fail to make necessary repairs to essential amenities in an occupied unit cause that unit to become “uninhabitable” by statutory standards. Tenants living in an “uninhabitable” space are not obliged to maintain their leasing agreement until the hazardous or inhospitable condition is resolved. In the meantime, an affected tenant can push for an early lease termination due to their “constructively evicted” status.
- Landlord Harassment – Landlords in Kentucky are always required to provide notice of their intent to enter an occupied unit 2 days in advance. The actual entrance, though, must occur at a mutually-“reasonable” hour. If either of these standards is routinely ignored or broken by a Kentucky landlord, an affected tenant can push for an immediate cessation of their lease on the grounds of landlord harassment.
Some Kentucky tenants may remain financially liable for their former unit, even after their old lease is successfully terminated. However, this final obligation can also be terminated if a new tenant is found. As such, Kentucky tenants who intend to move before the end of their lease should make plans to find another tenant if their leasing terms prudently require it. Tenants in this situation can also work with their landlord, who is statutorily required to help you re-rent the space in a timely manner.
Rent Increases & Related Fees in Kentucky
Rent control & increases. Kentucky’s current zoning and housing regulation laws preempt any form of rent control, both at the commonwealth and local levels. As such, landlords operating in Kentucky are free to charge as much as they see fit for rent. This lack of regulation also means that landlords do not need to justify any rent increases after the beginning of a lease or provide notice of the same.
Rent related fees. Kentucky landlords are fairly free to charge whatever fees they feel are necessary through the terms of their lease agreements. This includes late rent payment fees, which are neither capped nor procedurally regulated by the commonwealth. As such, Kentucky landlords are generally seen as being able to charge as much as they want per diem or in full when a tenant fails to pay rent on time.
However, Kentucky does regulate one noteworthy type of fee – the returned check fee. Specifically, Kentucky landlords are not able to charge more than a flat rate of $50 for each check that bounced while they are attempting to cash it.
Housing Discrimination in Kentucky
Federal Protections. The Fair Housing Act protects tenants from being discriminated against due to race, color, national origin, religion, sex, familial status, or disability. However, the law does not apply to all housing, such as owner-occupied homes with 4 or fewer units or housing operated by religious organizations.
Commonwealth Protections. Kentucky does not provide any major supplementary class-based protections from discrimination within the provisions of its current fair housing legislation. As such, most enforcement of housing-based discrimination in Kentucky falls along the lines of the protected classes set forth in the federal Fair Housing Act. However, Kentucky does have precedent for protecting individuals living with HIV/AIDS from housing discrimination on the basis that the condition is a “disability.”
Discriminatory Acts & Penalties. The Kentucky Commission on Human Rights executes the commonwealth’s fair housing laws and applies penalties to landlords who are found to have been participating in certain discriminatory acts. These following acts are just several examples of actions that may be deemed discriminatory if a landlord undertakes them to implicitly or explicitly single out or exclude one or more protected classes:
- Refusing to sell, rent, or lease a unit
- Representing a property as unavailable when it is, in truth, available
- Creating or retaining a listing that is designed to discriminate
- Providing different leasing or service terms among tenants
- Participating in or practicing “panic selling”
- Composing neighborhoods of all or nearly all protected class tenants
- Refuse to provide reasonable accommodations
The Kentucky Commission on Human Rights accepts new discrimination complaints at all times by telephone, mail, e-mail, via their website, or in person. These complaints are then filed as cases that will be evaluated by the Commission and assigned penalties (if any are warranted) on a case-by-case basis.
Additional Landlord Tenant Regulations in Kentucky
Here are just a few more landlord-tenant laws and regulations in Kentucky that may become relevant to you over the course of your current or future leasing relationships.
Landlord Entry. In all non-emergency situations, landlords in Kentucky must provide 2 days of advance notice before they intend to enter an occupied unit at a “reasonable” hour. This includes instances where a landlord intends to make a requested repair or show the unit to a prospective renter. Landlords and tenants in Kentucky are responsible for hashing out which hours for entrance are “reasonable” in their lease agreement.
Regardless of a lease’s terms, Kentucky landlords are generally able to enter an occupied unit without prior notice when an emergency situation threatens the unit’s inhabitants. This is even the case if a lease does not address emergency situations, in which case this full admittance standard becomes the default.
Small Claims Court. Kentucky landlords and tenants who are going through a protracted dispute may choose to bring their arguments to the commonwealth’s small claims court system. This judicial system accepts cases valued at $2,500 or fewer, including eviction cases. Cases relating to rent carry a large 15 year statute of limitations, while those involving property damage carry a regular 5 year statute of limitations.
Mandatory Disclosures. In order for a new lease to become active and binding, a Kentucky landlord must make the following commonwealth and federal information disclosures to their tenant, either within the terms of their lease or in a separate agreement:
- Lead-based paint. For houses built prior to 1978, federal law requires landlords to provide tenants with information about lead based paint hazards. Read more.
- Managers and Agents. Before a lease is allowed to commence, a Kentucky landlord must provide their tenant with their own name and address. Also, names and addresses must be issued in a similar manner (in writing) for all other landlords, property owners, managers, or qualified agents certified to work on another party’s behalf that have jurisdiction over the tenant’s building.
- Security Deposit Bank Account Number and Location: Kentucky landlords are required to disclose what banking institution they use to maintain a tenant’s security deposits. This disclosure must also include the appropriate account number.
Changing the Locks. Lockouts are expressly forbidden in Kentucky, even in instances where a tenant fails to pay rent on time. As such, it is generally assumed that Kentucky landlords cannot change their tenant’s locks without permission under any circumstances. However, due to a lack of statutory limitations, Kentucky tenants may be able to change their own locks without permission (though this is not generally advised).
Kentucky Landlord-Tenant Resources
All landlords and tenants in Kentucky can learn more about their legal obligations and rights, both before and during the course of a lease. These resources can help facilitate this kind of advanced learning and answer any questions you may still have about this commonwealth’s landlord-tenant laws:
The Fair Housing Handbook – This guide, compiled and published by the Kentucky Commission on Human Rights, explains how the commonwealth’s fair housing laws can be applied to a variety of situations. This handbook also directly answers a number of common, yet complex questions relating to how Kentucky’s fair housing laws can and should impact landlord business practices.
Landlord-Tenant Overview for Kentucky – This video was created by a Kentucky-based legal aid group and provides visual/audio guidance on the core tenants of the commonwealth’s landlord-tenant laws. Though this video is primarily designed for tenants, it can also be used to broadly understand a Kentucky landlord’s legal obligations when dealing directly with a tenant.
Kentucky Revised Statutes Chapter 383 – This chapter of the Kentucky commonwealth statutes set forth all provisions that impact a landlord-tenant leasing relationship. Landlords and tenants alike may need to turn to these specific laws if they find that a term of the lease is under dispute due to its execution or implementation.