If payment has been accepted for rent (and/or a written or oral lease exists), a renter has inherent rights under landlord tenant law. These rights vary by state but always include the tenant’s right to a habitable premises, due process before an eviction and more.
Landlords also have certain rights, such as the right to timely rent payments and for reimbursement of costs for property damage beyond normal wear and tear.
Note: these rights exist regardless of a rental agreement stating otherwise.
Use the below links to find a summary of landlord tenant laws for a specific state, or read further to understand the main areas of landlord tenant law that all states share in common.
Warranty of Habitability
Many states in the US maintain a set of health and safety standards that dictate what conditions constitute “habitability” within that jurisdiction. These standard sets, often referred to as a “warranty of habitability,” are usually divided between the responsibilities placed upon both landlords and tenants. As such, it is important for both landlords and tenants to read up on their state’s warranty of habitability before entering into a lease agreement.
Often, a warranty of habitability will require a landlord to provide certain amenities that allow a tenant to safely and securely enjoy their rented unit, such as:
- Air Conditioning / Heating
- Carpet Replacement
- Trash Receptacles / Disposal
- Remediating Molds
- Dealing with Pests
If a landlord fails to comply with or breaches the warranty of habitability, the tenant is afforded certain remedies to compel the landlord to comply or to mitigate damage or inconvenience to the latter. These remedies vary from state to state but include, among others, allowing the tenant to withhold rent and even break the lease early.
Meanwhile, tenants are usually obligated to keep their rented space in a safe and clean condition at all times. Though standards vary from state to state, “clean” in this instance implies that nothing within the tenant’s unit can cause permanent damage to the premises or put another tenant in danger.
Eviction statutes cover a topic many landlords and tenants don’t look forward to discussing. But all the same, these statutes often set out the standards by which a legal eviction may be judged. For example, most states’ eviction statutes set out several legal reasons why a landlord may choose to evict their tenant (such as for nonpayment of rent or participating in illegal acts).
These statutes also typically set forth the procedures for initiating and carrying out a legal eviction. This includes how much notice must be provided to a tenant in advance of an eviction. Though precise amounts of notice differ between states and reasons for eviction, tenants across the US may be entitled to anywhere between 3 and 60 days of notice prior to their eviction.
Eviction statutes may also be tied into a state’s civil rights legislation as well as any relevant “rent control” statutes on the books. With regards to the former subject, eviction statutes may dictate that certain kinds of retaliatory or discriminatory evictions are outlawed. This includes evictions that are filed solely against federally-protected classes, such as race, sex, and disability. Some states also forbid evictions on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.
Most landlords require their tenants to pay a security deposit before their lease agreement becomes active. Many states regulate how these security deposits are collected, maintained, applied, and returned over the course of said lease agreement. For example, some states limit how much a state can charge for a single security deposit. These limits are usually set relative to the value of the tenant’s per diem rent, with most limits set at 1 to 2 times this amount.
Certain states also dictate how and to what extent a landlord maintains any collected security deposits. Some states require landlords to place their deposits in an escrow account that incurs interest. Landlords may then be obliged to pay out this interest to their tenants, which some states require on a periodic or yearly basis.
Most states’ security deposit statutes then set forth the terms by which a security must be returned. These regulatory standards usually dictate that a tenant’s deposit must be returned (in whole or with deductions) within 15 to 30 day period after their lease ends. These standards typically set forth penalties for landlords that fail to follow their guidance, including the forfeiture of said deposits or the payment of 2-3 times the deposits value as damages.
Tenants sometimes find it necessary to terminate their lease before its natural conclusion. In order to ensure that everyone is on the same page regarding this important procedure, most states maintain lease termination statutes. Among other topics, these statutes almost always cover how much notice a landlord must give a tenant to terminate their lease without cause. On average, most states require between 15 and 60 days of notice in these situations.
Lease termination statutes may also detail certain legally defensible reasons why a tenant may seek to break their lease early. This includes justifications relating to a landlord’s failure to maintain a unit’s habitability (as defined in that states “warranty of habitability”). Also, some states allow tenants to break off their lease if they provide evidence that they are a victim of domestic abuse or are ill and in need of a living space hospitable to their condition. These latter two provisions usually require 30 days of advance notice.
Typically, these statutes also outline any remaining obligations that landlords and tenants maintain after a lease agreement ends. This may include the landlord’s responsibility to re-rent a space in cases where a lease ends early and the tenant continues to pay rent for the space. Some states even protect a tenant’s right to sublease space, so long as they follow their landlord’s provisions for setting up a sublease.
Rent Increases & Related Fees
Many states have recently updated their landlord-tenant laws to address topics relating to rent increases. Specifically, some states require their landlords to provide advance notice of any upcoming rent increases (with notice requirements averaging out to around 30 days). Other states dictate that any rent increase represents an opportunity for tenant to unconditionally quit their lease if they do not accept the increase. Some local jurisdictions even cap how much and for what reasons rent can be raised via rent control statutes.
Another common topic for regulation under landlord-tenant laws involves common fees charged by landlords. Among others, late fees are routinely regulated and capped at specific dollar amounts (such as $50 per instance) or at a rate relative to the amount of rent owed. Most states also cap how much a landlord can charge to process a returned check, often at between $25 and $50 per check. It is uncommon for states to regulate application fee rates, however.
Housing discrimination can be a hot button issue, which is why so many states address the matter through a purpose-driven set of statutes known as a “fair housing act.” These laws usually apply the federal Fair Housing Act to the state’s institutions to prohibit discrimination both before and during a lease agreement on the basis of the following characteristics:
- Familial Status
- National Origin
Also, many states (and even some cities) supplement these federal regulations with their own set of protected classes. Recently, more states have adopted protections based upon sexual orientation and gender identity, for example. Some states have even tried to address more emergent forms of discrimination, including based on immigration status.
It is also common practice for a state’s housing discrimination statutes to outline a number of precise acts that may be construed as discriminatory if they are undertaken by a landlord. These usually derive from the federal Fair Housing Act and include actions like giving uneven leasing terms to different groups of otherwise equal tenants. Some states even use these statutes to outline punishments for discriminatory practices, which may include monetary fines and sanctions.
Additional Landlord Tenant Regulations
There are also lots of miscellaneous landlord-tenant statutes that are worth addressing, primarily because they are often the subject of dispute. For example, there is a lot of variation between states when it comes to landlord entry into an occupied unit. Most states require some amount of advance notice, though the precise amount can vary anywhere from 12 hours to 2 days. Some states also differentiate the amount of notice needed based upon the reason the landlord needs to enter, such as for a repair or to show the apartment to a prospective tenant.
Many states also add some provisions to their landlord-tenant laws that explicate how legal disputes are to be settled. More often than not, this is accomplished through the state’s small claims court system. Often, there are limits to how much a litigant came claim through these courts, ranging from as low as $2,500 to as high as $15,000. Some small claims courts don’t accept eviction cases, though, and instead pass them off to standard civil courts.
Mandatory disclosures also come up regularly among supplementary landlord-tenant laws. These vary greatly from state to state and usually require landlords to provide written information of an important nature to their tenants prior to their tenancy beginning. Though all landlords across the US are required to provide lead paint disclosures in certain situations, some individual states require the names and addresses of the property owner to be disclosed.
Finally, a few states provide statutory guidance on when landlords and tenants can change the locks to a rental unit. Most of these states forbid lockouts and thus, forbid landlords from unilaterally changing these locks. However, some states do allow them to change a tenant’s locks if that tenant provides proof that they are a victim of domestic abuse. A couple states even allow a tenant to take this action on their own, but only if they promptly inform their landlord of their action soon thereafter.