In North Carolina, leases can be written or verbal. Whenever there is a lease is entered into between a landlord and a tenant, North Carolina law (NC General Statutes Chapter 42 Article 5) automatically provides certain rights to the tenant like the right to a habitable rental unit and to the return of the security deposit.
Landlords, too, have rights like these: the right to prompt rent payment and the right to recover the unit if the tenant fails to pay rent.
There are also additional county or municipality rules and protections for both landlords and tenants, so please check those as well.
Warranty of Habitability in North Carolina
Landlord Responsibilities. In North Carolina, landlords are required to maintain a basic set of livability standards known as the state’s “implied warranty of habitability.” These standards are centered on the prevention of an “imminently dangerous condition,” which legal precedent has interpreted to mean any dwelling designed for human habitation that lacks the following essential amenities:
- Safe electric wiring
- Structurally sound walls, floors, stairs, and ceilings
- A chimney or flue that ventilates properly (as needed)
- Consistent supply of potable hot and cold water
- Doors and windows that latch and lock properly
- In-unit heating capable of heating the unit to 65° F from November 1 to March 31
- An operable toilet
- An operable bathtub or shower
- Proper rodent infestation abatement
- Proper drainage and plumbing to prevent standing water and mosquito infestations
- A smoke and carbon monoxide detector
As part of the overarching warranty of habitability, a North Carolina tenant may request repairs to any of these amenities listed above, so long as they were not damaged by their own negligence. If this is the case, a North Carolina landlord has as much time to respond to a formal repair request as the applicable lease agreement allows for. If they exceed this repair period, however, they enable their tenant to withhold rent or push for a lease termination in response to their unit’s statutorily uninhabitable condition.
Tenant Responsibilities. During the course of their tenancy, a North Carolina tenant is required to keep their unit “as clean and safe as the conditions of the premises permit.” This can be done by removing trash and other rubbish properly, while also performing minor maintenance on certain amenities on a day-to-day basis.
North Carolina landlords are required to inform their tenants when they fail to adhere to these responsibilities. Given that this is usually considered a breach of the applicable lease agreement, a North Carolina landlord may issue an Unconditional Notice to Quit in response to an observed violation. The tenant in question then must meet the notice’s terms in the allotted time period or face a forced eviction via a Summary Ejection.
North Carolina tenants also maintain the right to take one important form of “alternative action” against their landlord when they fail to adequately address their necessary repair requests. However, this right to withhold rent comes with a major caveat. Essentially, a tenant in North Carolina cannot begin withholding rent unless a judge determines that their landlord’s negligent actions warrant it. As such, a North Carolina tenant could face justifiable eviction if they attempt to unilaterally withhold rent.
Evictions in North Carolina
These are among the most common justifications North Carolina landlords use to evict their tenants based upon their non-compliant behavior:
- Nonpayment of rent – If a North Carolina tenant fails to pay rent on time (including after an applicable grace period runs out), then their landlord has the right to issue them a 10-Day Notice to Pay Rent or Quit. Paying all outstanding rent payments within this 10 day period must legally terminate the eviction notice. However, if the proper payments are not received by the landlord by the end of the 10th day, then they may proceed with a formal eviction by filing Summary Ejection paperwork with a local court.
- Violation of lease terms – Landlords in North Carolina have full discretion to dictate what does and does not constitute a violation of an established lease agreement. When such a violation is documented, the landlord may issue an Unconditional Notice to Quit that outlines the extent of the infraction and whether or not a cure can be provided. If the terms of that notice are not met by the date listed, then the at-fault tenant can be forced to move out through the Summary Ejection process.
- Illegal Acts – Landlords in North Carolina may seek to expedite the eviction process of a tenant who has been documented while participating in an illegal act. This is known as an “Article 7 eviction” and can be used, at a landlord’s discretion, to evict any tenant who threatens the safety, health, or “right of peaceful agreement” of the landlord or any fellow tenants. This kind of eviction can take effect immediately, as well.
Evictions without a lease. When it comes to “at-will” tenants who rent without a lease, North Carolina law provides protections from unannounced evictions based upon the length of the tenant’s rental periods. Specifically, North Carolina landlords must provide the following amounts of advance notice when they intend to evict an “at-will” tenant:
- Week-to-Week rental agreement – 2 days of advance notice
- Month-to-Month rental agreement – 7 days of advance notice
- Year-to-Year rental agreement – 1 month of advance notice
Illegal Evictions. North Carolina tenants are protected under the state’s fair housing laws from evictions based upon discriminatory rational. As such, a North Carolina tenant who is part of a state- or federally-protected class cannot be evicted based solely on their immutable traits. Similarly, a North Carolina tenant cannot be evicted simply because they have disclosed their status as a domestic abuse victim to their landlord.
North Carolina state law also prohibits many types of retaliatory evictions. This includes evictions that are initiated after a tenant chooses to report an unsafe or unhealthy housing condition to the appropriate local or state regulating authority.
Security Deposits in North Carolina
The collection, maintenance, and redistribution of security deposits in North Carolina are governed by the following statutory standards:
- Standard Limit / Maximum Amount – North Carolina’s standard limits for security deposits differ depending on the length of the lease the tenant in question enters into. Those maximum amounts are as follows:
- Week-to-Week lease – Not more than the value of 2 weeks’ rent
- Month-to-Month lease – Not more than the value of 1.5 months’ rent
- Greater than a Month-to-Month lease – Not more than the value of 2 months’ rent
- Interest and Maintenance – North Carolina landlords are required to maintain their tenants’ security deposits in either a trust account at a federally-insured banking institution or a bond from an insurance company licensed in the state of North Carolina. In either case, North Carolina’s laws do not indicate whether a held security deposit must incur interest or whether any interest that is allowed to accrue is owed to the tenant.
- Time Limit for Return – When a lease terminates, a North Carolina landlord has 30 days in which they must return any and all remaining security deposit funds, as well as an itemized list of deductions, to their rightful tenant. However, if the landlord in question cannot finalize their deductions within 30 days, they must provide an estimate of necessary deductions within this 30 day period. However, the final list of itemized deductions must then be provided within 60 days of the lease’s termination.
- Penalty if Not Returned on Time – North Carolina does not impose any automatic sanctions upon landlords who fail to adhere to the state’s security deposit return policy. However, landlords who choose to do so anyway open themselves to lawsuits from disgruntled tenants. Also, if a North Carolina landlord fails to adhere to the state’s security deposit maintenance policy, they automatically forfeit their claim on the deposit.
- Allowable Deductions – North Carolina landlords are permitted to apply a security deposit’s funds to a wide variety of operations-related expenses, including the following:
- Unpaid rent
- Unpaid utility bills
- Damages relating to a breach of a lease’s terms
- Repairs for physical damages that exceed regular wear and tear
- Court costs
- Costs associated with re-renting
- Costs of removal and storage of the tenant’s property after an eviction
Lease Termination in North Carolina
Notice Requirements. North Carolina tenants who are currently signed on to a lease with a fixed end date need not provide notice of their intended termination in advance of that lease’s natural conclusion. However, North Carolina tenants who rent on a periodic basis are required to provide the following amounts of written notice if they intend to terminate their lease:
- Week-to-Week lease – 2 days of advance notice
- Month-to-Month lease – 7 days of advance notice
- Yearly lease without a fixed end date – 1 month of advance notice
Legally Breaking a Lease Early. Many modern lease agreements establish an early termination policy which a tenant may utilize if they wish to break off their lease early. While these are common in North Carolina, they are not required. As such, a North Carolina tenant may need to utilize one of these alternative justifications for breaking off their lease before its established conclusion:
- 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 – During the course of a lease agreement, North Carolina landlords are tasked with preventing an “imminently dangerous condition” from occurring within a tenant’s unit. This includes providing repairs to all of the essential amenities outlined in the state’s warranty of habitability. If a landlord fails to meet these obligations, their units may be judged as statutorily uninhabitable. Because tenants are not obligated to live in unlivable conditions, this status allows them to seek an immediate lease termination.
- Landlord Harassment – North Carolina does not maintain any statewide standards for landlord entry. Even so, landlords in the state are required to abide by any entry policies established in their tenant’s lease agreements. If they routinely fail to follow such policies, they may be accused of harassment. This, in turn, would allow the affected tenant to seek a termination based upon a continued invasion of their privacy.
- Domestic Violence – Domestic abuse victims in North Carolina have special early termination privileges, regardless of their lease’s provisions. So long as the victim making the request provides proper proof regarding their status, they can request an unconditional lease termination within 30 days.
Under current state law, North Carolina landlords are not required to help their tenants re-rent a vacated unit after an early termination. As such, a tenant who remains responsible for the unit’s rent payments may not be able to terminate their liability until a sublessor can be found.
Rent Increases & Related Fees in North Carolina
Rent control & increases. North Carolina’s current statutory code prohibits any city or county from instituting any form of ordinance or regulation that amounts to rent control or adjustment. As such, landlords across the state are freely able to raise rent rates as high as they see fit. In fact, without a lease provision to the contrary, state law even allows North Carolina landlords to raise a tenant’s rent without providing any notice in advance.
Rent related fees. North Carolina landlords are allowed to charge late rent payment fees at varying rates based upon the periodic nature of their tenant’s lease. To that end, a month-to-month renter in North Carolina may be charged a fee of $15 or 5% of their monthly rent value (whichever is greater) while a week-to-week renter can be charged a $4 fee or 5% of their weekly rent value (whichever is greater).
Meanwhile, when it comes to returned check fees, North Carolina landlords are more limited when it comes to setting per instance prices. In fact, they are unable to charge more than $25 per occasion that a tenant’s check bounces.
Housing Discrimination in North Carolina
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.
State Protections. North Carolina’s fair housing legislation does not establish any protected classes besides those outlined in the federal Fair Housing Act. As such, this state’s enforcement of fair housing standards fall narrowly in line with those set forth at a national level.
Discriminatory Acts & Penalties. The North Carolina Office of Administrative Hearings’ Civil Rights Division handles complaints filed by tenants across the state alleging discrimination at the hands of their landlords. While this Division indicates that many types of discrimination are worthy of investigation under their jurisdiction, they list the following business practices as being the most common within their purview:
- Refusing to rent, sell, or negotiate for housing
- Refusing to make a reasonable accommodation
- Establishing differing terms, conditions, services, or facilities between tenants
- Falsely denying that housing is available for inspection, sale, or rental
- Publishing advertisements that imply a preference for or against certain types of tenants
- Encouraging tenants to move based upon a perceived change in neighborhood demographics (blockbusting)
If a North Carolina citizen feels that they have been discriminated against while seeking housing, they may file a complaint to the North Carolina Office of Administrative Hearings’ Civil Rights Division using these documents. While this Division is not very transparent regarding how they investigate complaints, they appear to investigate all complaints on a case-by-case basis before issuing a ruling confirming or denying the validity of the complaint. This ruling can then be used as a basis for a civil suit seeking damages, if the tenant so chooses.
Additional Landlord Tenant Regulations in North Carolina
Don’t forget to read up on these important North Carolina landlord-tenant laws. Each contains information that is often the topic of dispute in leasing relationships across the state.
Landlord Entry. North Carolina is one of only a few states that does not maintain any statewide standards regarding landlord entry. As such, landlords across the state are allowed to enter any occupied unit whenever they want and for any reason, so long as a provision in an applicable lease agreement does not limit that freedom. Emergency entry is not covered under this state’s laws either, though it is still assumed that landlords may enter without permission or advance notice when an emergency threatens a tenant’s health or well-being.
Small Claims Court. Landlords and tenants in North Carolina are able to have their disputes heard in a judicial setting through the state’s small claims courts. These courts accept a wide variety of cases relating to disputed lease agreements, including those that involve evictions. Also, these courts accept cases valued at up $10,000, regardless of the cases core subject matter.
Mandatory Disclosures. North Carolina landlords are obligated to make only two informational disclosures to all of their new tenants. The first among these is a federally-mandated lead-based paint disclosure, which must be distributed to all tenants living in buildings build before 1978. Also, as a part of a new lease agreement, a North Carolina landlord must disclose the name and address of the bank or insurance company that is maintaining that tenant’s security deposit.
Changing the Locks. North Carolina law does not provide many details regarding whether landlords or tenants can change a unit’s locks. However, the state’s civil rights laws do provide domestic violence victims with the ability to request a lock change or re-key from their landlord within 48 hours if their abuser lives in the same dwelling (72 hours if they live in the same building). If the landlord in question does not comply, the victimized tenant may commission a lock change on their own while providing a new spare key to their landlord within 48 hours.
Also, North Carolina landlords are forbidden from unilaterally changing a tenant’s locks as a form of retaliation. This is considered a “lockout,” for which the responsible landlord may be found liable to pay damages.
Local Laws in North Carolina
Landlord tenant rights are not exclusively governed by state law. Cities and counties may enact their own rules and regulations for renters.
Charlotte Landlord Tenant Rights
The city of Charlotte maintains a Minimum Housing Code that goes beyond the state’s requirements for habitability of residential properties and abandoned commercial properties. Among other key ordinances, the city recently passed new provisions that strengthen the enforcement of code violations. This entire housing code, as well as the new 2019 ordinances, can be viewed here.
Durham Landlord Tenant Rights
The city of Durham maintains its local ordinances that apply additional legal responsibilities to property owners. These codes cover everything from establishing reasonable occupancy limits to setting tougher standards for routine rat-proofing. These local ordinances also dictate how trash and other rubbish is handled on and around a rental property, namely that it be contained and swiftly removed. More information about these several local ordinances can be found in this tenant’s guide from the Durham city government.