In North Dakota, 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, North Dakota varies from other states on additional rights and responsibilities for both landlords and tenants. North Dakota law even varies on both the interpretation of the above rights and the rules on handling violations.
Warranty of Habitability in North Dakota
Landlord Responsibilities. Under North Dakota state law, landlords are obliged to meet certain health safety regulations established by both the state and local jurisdictions. At the state level, these standards are codified in a so-called “warranty of habitability” that dictates which amenities must be provided and maintained by the landlord in order for that unit to be considered “livable.” These essential amenities are as follows:
- Clean and safe common areas
- Safe electric wiring, outlets, and fixtures
- Adequate plumbing
- Proper sanitary facilities
- In-unit heating and air-conditioning
- Adequate ventilation
- A garbage receptacle and routine garbage removal services
- A reasonable supply of hot and cold water
If one of these amenities falls out of proper working order, a North Dakota tenant may request a repair. However, such a request can only be filed after a “reasonable” amount of remedy time has passed. Then, the landlord in question has a further “reasonable” amount of time to respond and act upon the repair request.
Because this language is not defined more concretely in North Dakota’s warranty of habitability, it may be open to interpretation unless an active lease agreement establishes a standardized length of time. In either case, though, if the landlord in question fails to make these essential repairs within that “reasonable” time period, their rental units may be deemed “uninhabitable.” This, in turn, allows an affected tenant to terminate their lease or take alternative action by performing the repair on their own.
Tenant Responsibilities. North Dakota tenants are primarily responsible for keeping their premises “clean and safe,” so far as the condition of the unit at the beginning of their tenancy allows for. This includes removing rubbish in a timely manner and performing minor maintenance jobs, such adjusting the plumbing or clearing a vent.
Landlords in North Dakota are tasked with enforcing this cleanliness standard, either at their discretion or through the terms of their lease. In the latter case, a landlord who notices a violation of this cleanliness standard may inform their tenant accordingly by issuing a 3-Day Unconditional Notice to Quit. The negligent tenant must then meet the terms of the notice by curing their behavior or face formal eviction by the end of the third day.
Also, a North Dakota tenant is empowered under state law to take at least one form of “alternative action” against a landlord who fails to meet their legal obligations with regards to habitability. Specifically, after a “reasonable” amount of time passes after a repair request goes unanswered, an affected tenant may perform the necessary repair on their own. Then, they may deduct the associated cost from the next month’s rent payment without penalty.
Evictions in North Dakota
Though eviction is usually considered an option of last resort for most North Dakota landlords, they are still able to utilize it under the following circumstances:
- Nonpayment of rent – North Dakota tenants are required to pay rent on the periodic date set forth in their lease agreement (typically the 1st day of a new month). If they fail to do so, their landlord is allowed to issue a 3-Day Unconditional Notice to Quit that outlines the necessity to pay in full in a timely manner. If the conditions of this notice are unmet after the 3rd day ends, then the landlord may proceed with formal eviction against the nonpaying tenant by filing a Summons and Complaint in Unlawful Detainer suit.
- Violation of lease terms – If a North Dakota landlord observes or documents any serious lease term violation, they may provide notice of their intent to evict their tenant over the matter by issuing a 3-Day Unconditional Notice to Quit. This notice may include terms for remedying the at-issue action or behavior, though this is not required by state law. Regardless, tenants who fail to meet the notice’s terms or fail to move out after the 3 notice days elapse may be subject to formal eviction after their landlord files a Summons and Complaint in Unlawful Detainer suit.
- Illegal Acts – North Dakota state law does not establish any standards regarding which tenant behaviors may be considered “illegal” for the purposes of eviction. Also, these same laws do not establish standards for recourse on the landlord’s part. As such, it is assumed that North Dakota landlords should use the same procedures for evicting a tenant on the grounds of a lease term violation (unless their active lease agreement dictates otherwise).
Evictions without a lease. Under North Dakota law, tenants who rent from a landlord without entering into a lease agreement are considered “at-will” with regards to their tenancy’s permanency. Even so, these tenants are protected by law in cases of eviction. Specifically, they are entitled to 30 days of advance notice before their landlord is able to legally evict them. However, if a tenant chooses to remain beyond that notice period, they will be subject to the same eviction process as their leased counterparts.
Illegal Evictions. North Dakota prohibits landlords from initiating or carrying out evictions for retaliatory purposes. As such, a North Dakota landlord’s attempt to evict a tenant because they joined a tenant union or filed a formal complaint regarding their unit’s habitability may be nullified if it is challenged by the affected tenants.
North Dakota also prohibits discriminatory evictions under the state’s fair housing laws. As such, an eviction notice that is issued in connection to a tenant’s sex, race, color nation of origin, religion, disability status, marital status, age (over 40 years), legal source of income, or familial status may be deemed “null” by a state court.
Also, North Dakota provides special protections to victims of domestic abuse, including when it comes to evictions. Accordingly, a North Dakota tenant cannot be evicted simply for disclosing their status as an abuse victim and cannot be evicted because they are unwilling to remain in a lease agreement with their abuser.
Security Deposits in North Dakota
North Dakota state law establishes these following standards that apply to all landlords operating in the state that wish to collect, maintain, and redistribute security deposits from and to their tenants:
- Standard Limit / Maximum Amount – Generally speaking, North Dakota landlords are only allowed to charge the value of 1 month’s rent as a security deposit standard limit. However, the state’s laws make two noteworthy exceptions that allow a landlord to raise this maximum amount. Specifically, tenants who have been charged with a felony offense and tenants who have previously been charged with violating a lease’s terms may be charged the value of 2 month’s rent as a security deposit.
- Interest and Maintenance – North Dakota landlords are required to place all collected security deposits into a federally-insured, interest-bearing savings or checking account. The interest accrued on these accounts is owed to tenants unless their tenancy lasts for less than 9 months. This state’s laws do not establish standards for the dispersing of these interest funds, however.
- Time Limit for Return – Landlords in North Dakota have 30 days to return their tenant’s security deposits, along with an itemized list of any necessary deductions, after that tenant moves out. However, if the tenant fails to claim their security deposit within 1 year of moving out, they effectively abandon their claim on those funds.
- Penalty if Not Returned on Time – North Dakota landlords who wrongfully withhold all or part of a tenant’s security deposit may be subject to monetary penalties as high as 3 times the original deposit’s value.
- Allowable Deductions – Landlords in North Dakota are only allowed to make security deposits for basic reasons relating to a unit’s upkeep. As such, landlords in this state are almost always allowed to make deductions to offset missed rent payments and to cover the cost of a major repair or cleaning.
Lease Termination in North Dakota
Notice Requirements. Tenants in North Dakota who have signed onto a lease with a fixed end date are not obligated to inform their landlord of their intent to move out in advance of that set termination date. However, tenants whose lease lacks an end date must provide the following amounts of notice in writing in order for their termination request to be honored:
- Week-to-Week lease – 1 week of advance notice
- Month-to-Month lease – 1 month of advance notice (unless both parties agree to a longer period)
- Yearly lease without a fixed end date – 1 month of advance notice
Legally Breaking a Lease Early. The best, most efficient method for a North Dakota tenant to terminate their lease early is by invoking an early termination clause written into their lease agreement. However, in the absence of this kind of provision (which state law does not require), a North Dakota tenant may choose instead to pursue one of these other legal justifications for early lease termination:
- 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 – North Dakota landlords must uphold all relevant state and local health codes throughout the course of a tenant’s leasing period. Even a single serious infraction that impacts a unit’s habitability may be used as grounds for termination on an affected tenant’s part. This kind of “constructive eviction” may terminate a tenant’s obligation to pay rent entirely, thus making them able to move out without notice.
- Landlord Harassment – North Dakota requires landlords to provide a “reasonable” amount of notice before entering a tenant’s unit. If this standard or any other entry standards set forth in the applicable lease agreement are broken on a regular basis, then an affected tenant may claim that their landlord is doing so to harass them. This kind of invasion of privacy may then be used to justify an immediate lease termination.
- Domestic Violence – Domestic abuse victims in North Dakota are provided with special termination rights that can be utilized after a tenant provides proof of their status to their landlord. At that time, an affected tenant may request an immediate lease termination without any further conditions or penalties.
A North Dakota tenant may remain liable to pay rent on their former unit if their lease’s early termination clause requires it. However, in most cases, this obligation to pay can be transferred to any new tenant that takes over the lease. As such, a North Dakota tenant who intends to break off their lease early should do so with plans to obtain a sublessor. North Dakota landlords are required to assist in this re-renting process, too, as part of their obligation to “mitigate damages” relating to their tenant’s early termination.
Rent Increases & Related Fees in North Dakota
Rent control & increases. North Dakota’s current housing regulation laws preempt any efforts by local government authorities to institute any type of law or ordinance that has the effect of controlling or limiting local rent rates. As such, landlords across this state are free to charge as much as they want for rent. However, another state law does require North Dakota landlords to provide 30 days of advance notice to all affected tenants when a rent increase is set to take effect.
Rent related fees. As a rule of thumb, landlords in North Dakota are usually only able to charge fees to their tenants which are provided for in their applicable lease agreement. This is true of late rent payment fees, which can be set at any value, so long as the situations in which that fee may be charged are outlined in the applicable lease agreement. Meanwhile, North Dakota’s laws limit the values of returned checks to $40 per instance, even if such a value is not outlined in the applicable lease agreement.
Housing Discrimination in North Dakota
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 Dakota’s fair housing laws establish several protected classes that are not otherwise featured in the federal Fair Housing Act. As such, tenants within the state are entitled to file housing discrimination complaints with the state’s regulatory authorities if they believe their marital status, age (over 40 years old), receipt of public assistance, or status as a domestic abuse victim was used to justify a negative action against them.
Discriminatory Acts & Penalties. The North Dakota Department of Labor and Human Rights is tasked with administering the state’s fair housing laws. This includes dictating which actions on the part of a landlord may be considered discriminatory if they are targeted at a state or federal protected class. To that end, this state Department has highlighted the following actions and business practices as being among the most pervasive in the state’s rental housing industry:
- Refusing to rent, sell, or negotiate housing after the receipt of a bona fide offer
- Falsely denying the availability of housing for inspection, sale, or rental
- Offering different terms, conditions, or privileges between tenants
- Failing to make a reasonable accommodation
- Engaging in discriminatory brokerage or financial service
- Advertising the sale or rental of a dwelling in a manner that indicates a discriminatory preference
- Making representations about the characteristics of a neighborhood to encourage the sale or rental of property (blockbusting)
The North Dakota Department of Labor and Human Rights investigates all complaints submitted to them on their website, by email, or over the phone. This investigation may result in a “reasonable cause” finding, which the affected tenant may then use to file a civil suit seeking damages against their former landlord. This department does not administer punishments of their own but may regulate a landlord’s ability to do business until their discriminatory practices are eliminated.
Additional Landlord Tenant Regulations in North Dakota
Here are just a few more important North Dakota landlord-tenant laws that are likely to come up over the course of a leasing relationship:
Landlord Entry. Though North Dakota does not maintain a concrete standard for landlord entry, it still requires landlords operating in the state to only enter an occupied unit at “reasonable” times. This degree of reasonability may be determined on a case-by-case basis or through supplementary terms set forth in an applicable lease agreement.
In all cases, including those involving repairs and unit showings, a North Dakota landlord must receive permission before being allowed to enter a tenant’s unit. However, this rule does not apply in emergency situations, wherein a landlord may enter an occupied unit without permission if they believe the tenants are at risk for harm.
Small Claims Court. North Dakota’s small claims court system allows landlords and tenants who are unable to resolve their disputes on their own to do so in a legal setting. Landlords and tenants in this state may bring any type of case (except evictions) in this venue, so long as their claims do not exceed $15,000 in value. Any cases brought in small claims court must also adhere to the applicable statute of limitations, which is set at 6 years for both oral and written contracts.
Mandatory Disclosures. As far as disclosures are concerned, North Dakota landlords are only required to provide tenants living in buildings built before 1978 with federally-mandated information about the hazards of lead-based paint. Also, though not a disclosure in and of itself, North Dakota landlords are also required to provide all tenants with a “move-in statement” that describes the condition of the leased unit at the commencement of tenancy. Both parties must sign onto this statement for it to be considered valid.
Changing the Locks. North Dakota state law does not provide any guidance or clarity regarding when a tenant may change their locks. However, these same laws do expressly prohibit landlords from unilaterally changing their tenant’s locks to force a “lockout.” Doing so opens the landlord in question to liability, including the need to pay penalties to all affected tenants.
North Dakota Landlord-Tenant Resources
There’s even more to know about North Dakota’s landlord-tenant laws. These digital resources will help you down this educational path while also empowering you to protect your rights when a dispute arises:
Small Claims Court Self-Help – This article, produced by the North Dakota Court System, outlines all of the information both landlords and tenants need to know before filing a small claims case. This includes a list of all the forms that need to be filled out, as well as the procedural steps that occur after a case has been accepted.
Chapter 47-16 of the North Dakota Century Code – This section of the North Dakota civil code details nearly every law and regulation that applies to landlords and tenants in the state. This includes statutes not covered in this guide, including how abandoned units may be recovered and several supplementary protections afforded to domestic abuse victims.
Eviction for Landlords – The North Dakota Court System has published this article to outline how formal eviction orders are handled at a judicial level. This article may be invaluable to a landlord who is seeking to evict a tenant, too, because it includes links to all of the forms that must be filed with a civil court in order for an eviction case to be accepted.