In Oklahoma, 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, Oklahoma varies from other states on additional rights and responsibilities for both landlords and tenants. Oklahoma law even varies on both the interpretation of the above rights and the rules on handling violations.
Warranty of Habitability in Oklahoma
Landlord Responsibilities. Oklahoma requires all landlords operating within the state to maintain the livable conditions in their rental units, including during the course of a tenant’s lease. These standards are outlined in the state’s warranty of habitability, which is mostly composed of a list of essential amenities which must be provided to all tenants. These amenities, which must also be kept in operational order, are listed below:
- 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
As noted, Oklahoma tenants are allowed to request repairs to any of these essential amenities. To do this, they must submit a written request for a repair as soon as the amenity in question falls out of working order. Upon receiving this request, an Oklahoma landlord has a “reasonable” amount of time to respond and perform the repair.
If the landlord in question does not act in this time frame (which may be specified in the applicable lease agreement), then the affected tenant may be able to terminate their lease or take alternative action to maintain their unit’s essential livability.
Tenant Responsibilities. Oklahoma tenants are tasked with keeping their premises “safe, clean and sanitary,” among other essential responsibilities (like paying rent on time). This includes removing rubbish from the unit in a timely manner while also performing basic, “nondestructive” repairs to in-unit utilities such as the plumbing and electric system.
Though Oklahoma law does not specifically indicate this, it is implied that landlords in the state are tasked with ensuring that this cleanliness standard is upheld. As such, it is assumed that an Oklahoma landlord may issue a notice equivalent to a lease term violation when they determine that their tenant has not kept their unit in a clean or sanitary state. That tenant must then cure their behavior or actions within 15 days or face eviction.
Oklahoma’s landlord-tenant laws also give tenants the right to take some forms of “alternative action” against their landlord when they fail to meet their legal habitability maintenance obligations. For example, after providing written notice of their intention and waiting 14 days, an Oklahoma tenant may perform repairs to essential amenities on their own. After doing so, the tenant may deduct a reasonable amount of the repair’s cost from their next rent payment.
Evictions in Oklahoma
These are just three of the most common reasons why an Oklahoma landlord may resort to eviction against a non-compliant tenant:
- Nonpayment of rent – In Oklahoma, tenants are required by law to pay rent at the time specified in their lease agreement (including when rent payment occurs periodically). If they fail to do so, their landlord may issue them a written 5-Day Notice to Pay or Quit which outlines how much they owe. If the full sum of this required rent payment is not provided to the landlord by the conclusion of the 5th day, that landlord may pursue formal eviction by filing a Forcible Entry and Detainer action against their non-paying tenant.
- Violation of lease terms – When a documented lease violation occurs, an Oklahoma landlord has the option to issue a 15-Day Notice to Quit that outlines the extent of the violation, as well as the terms the tenant must meet in order to have their impending eviction notice removed. If the violation is not satisfactorily remedied within those 15 days, then the tenant may be forced to move out after a Forcible Entry and Detainer action is filed against them. Also, Oklahoma allows for immediate eviction under this justification if the violation in question is of a serious nature or has occurred for a second time since the beginning of tenancy.
- Illegal Acts – Oklahoma landlords are given the power to legally evict any tenant who engages in an illegal activity that threatens the “safety, health, or enjoyment of the rental property by other tenants.” This includes, but is not limited to, illegal drug-related activities as well as threatening harm against the property or its inhabitants. These acts can all be used to facilitate an immediate eviction as soon as the landlord in question has just cause to act.
Evictions without a lease. Oklahoma tenants are given the option to rent from a landlord without entering into a lease agreement. These tenants are considered “at-will” in the eyes of the law, but they still cannot be evicted without receiving any notice.
In fact, these Oklahoma tenants are entitled to certain amounts of notice prior to an eviction based upon the periodic nature of their rental agreement. As such, month-to-month renters are entitled to receive a 30-Day Notice to Quit, while a tenant who pays rent for periods shorter than a month are entitled to receive a 7-Day Notice to Quit.
Illegal Evictions. In Oklahoma, it is illegal to seek an eviction against a tenant based upon any of their legally protected class traits or characteristics. As such, a tenant’s race, color, religion, gender, national origin, age, familial status, and/or disability cannot factor into an eviction’s justification.
Oklahoma also prohibits certain kinds of retaliatory evictions that may be leveled after a tenant takes an action that is otherwise protected by law. As a result, a tenant’s choice to join a tenant union or to report a health and safety code violation to a local regulatory authority cannot be used as justification to terminate their lease agreement.
Security Deposits in Oklahoma
Security deposit collection, maintenance, and redistribution in Oklahoma is governed by these following regulations and standards:
- Standard Limit / Maximum Amount – Oklahoma does not currently maintain either a standard limit or a maximum amount which landlords may charge as a security deposit. As such, they are free to set their security deposit rates as high as they wish, even if that rate is not relative to the amount of rent paid by a tenant on a periodic basis.
- Interest and Maintenance – Oklahoma landlords are required to maintain all of their collected security deposits in an escrow account at federally-insured financial institution operating in the state. This escrow account need not be interest-bearing in nature. Even if an Oklahoma landlord opts for an interest-bearing account, their tenant does not have a legal claim to that account’s interest, in part or in whole.
- Time Limit for Return – Within 45 days of a lease’s termination, an Oklahoma landlord must return a tenant’s remaining security deposit funds, including an itemized list of deductions that have been made since the deposit was first collected. This list must also explain why each deduction was made. Tenants then have 6 months from the receipt of the itemized list to claim their remaining deposit or else it defaults back to the landlord.
- Penalty if Not Returned on Time – Oklahoma does not set forth specific penalties for landlords who fail to return their tenant’s security deposits in the statutorily-mandated time period. However, Oklahoma landlords who fail to abide by any law relating to a security deposit’s maintenance or redistribution may become liable to pay out the value of the wrongfully withheld deposit plus any necessary legal fees if a tenant makes a counterclaim upon the same funds.
- Allowable Deductions – An Oklahoma landlord can charge a deduction against a tenant’s security deposit for any reason outlined in their lease agreement. This includes covering unpaid rent and to cover the cost of repairs caused by the tenant’s negligence.
Lease Termination in Oklahoma
Notice Requirements. Tenants in Oklahoma who rent on a periodic basis must provide the following amounts of written notice before their request to terminate their lease can 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 with a fixed end date – No notice requirement
Legally Breaking a Lease Early. Early termination clauses are among the easiest and most readily accessible methods of breaking a lease early in Oklahoma. However, not all landlords in this state include this kind of provision in their lease. As such, Oklahoma tenants who still wish to get out of their lease early may do so legally using one of these following common justifications:
- 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 – Oklahoma landlords are required to maintain the safety and overall livability of their rental units, including while they are occupied by a tenant. As such, they must make all necessary repairs and provide all essential amenities outlined in the state’s warranty of habitability. If they fail to meet this obligation, their rental units may be judged as being “statutorily uninhabitable.” This condition allows all affected tenants to push for an immediate lease termination due to the threat posed to their health and safety through continued occupation.
- Landlord Harassment – In all ordinary circumstances, Oklahoma requires landlords to provide at least 1 day of advance notice before they intend to enter a unit. If this entry standard is not met on a regular basis, an affected tenant may claim that their privacy is being invaded by their landlord. This, in turn, may allow them to push for a lease termination on the grounds that their landlord has not met their legal obligations under the state’s right of entry statutes.
Breaking a lease early in Oklahoma may not be the end of the road financially for the tenant involved. In fact, some tenants may remain liable to pay rent on their formal unit if their lease’s termination clause requires it. In most cases, this obligation can be passed on if a new tenant can be found to sublease that unit. As such, Oklahoma tenants and landlords (who are legally required to assist in the re-renting process) can and should work together to “mitigate” the cost associated with this legal lease termination.
Rent Increases & Related Fees in Oklahoma
Rent control & increases. Oklahoma’s current civil code prohibits and preempts all “municipal governing bodies” from instituting any kind of rent control ordinance over any type of residential or commercial rental property. As such, landlords operating in Oklahoma are fully free to charge as much as they see fit for rent without value-based oversight. Oklahoma landlords are not even required to provide advance notice before a rent increase takes effect unless an applicable lease agreement requires otherwise.
Rent related fees. Though Oklahoma lacks a specific statute relating to administration of late rent payment fees, legal precedent in the state dictates that they can be implemented in very limited circumstances that are not exceedingly punitive in value. Meanwhile, Oklahoma landlords are fairly free to charge as much as they want for a returned check fee due to the state’s lack of statute or precedent governing their use in the rental housing market.
Housing Discrimination in Oklahoma
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. Oklahoma’s current civil rights laws appear to only make provisions for 1 protected class that is not already covered by the federal Fair Housing Act. As such, in many circumstances, a tenant’s age cannot be used as justification to deny them an equal housing opportunity. “Age,” in this case, only applies to individuals who are 18 years of age or older, though.
Discriminatory Acts & Penalties. Oklahoma’s state government indicates that a state Human Right Commission is primarily tasked with administering and enforcing the state’s several civil rights laws, including those relating to fair housing. However, the several business practices which the state outlaws on discriminatory grounds are fully outlined in the Oklahoma Fair Housing Law, including some of the following:
- Refusing to rent, sell, or negotiate housing after the receipt of a bona fide offer
- Offering different terms, conditions, or privileges between tenants
- Advertising the sale or rental of a dwelling in a manner that indicates a discriminatory preference
- Falsely denying the availability of housing for inspection, sale, or rental
- Failing to make a reasonable accommodation for a documented disability
- Including a discriminatory covenant in a lease agreement
- Demanding extra deposits or fees
Neither the Oklahoma Human Right Commission nor the state’s Attorney General office have a standardized method of reporting fair housing discrimination. As such, Oklahoma tenants will likely be best served by reporting their complaints to the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development. This Department investigates discrimination complaints thoroughly and can help a victimized tenant learn about their options when it comes to seeking damages via a civil suit.
Additional Landlord Tenant Regulations in Oklahoma
All landlords and tenants in Oklahoma should take note of these following laws and regulations because they are often the subject of debate and confusion within new leasing relationships:
Landlord Entry. Landlords in Oklahoma are generally permitted to enter their tenant’s occupied unit, so long as they provide 1 day of advance notice prior to entering the unit at a “reasonable” time. This standard applies to all instances in which the landlord wishes to enter to perform regular business, such as to perform a requested repair or show the unit to a prospective tenant. However, this standard does not apply to emergency situations, at which time an Oklahoma landlord may enter without providing notice or seeking permission.
Small Claims Court. The Oklahoma small claims court system allows landlords and tenants to seek out legal resolutions to their disputes in a judicial venue. As such, these courts accept cases valued at up to $7,500, including those revolving around or involving eviction. However, cases brought in Oklahoma’s small claims courts must adhere to that venue’s statute of limitations, which is currently set at 5 years for a written contract and 3 years for an oral contract.
Mandatory Disclosures. When an Oklahoma landlord signs a new tenant, they must make the following information disclosures before their lease becomes active and binding:
- 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. An Oklahoma must disclose, in writing, the name and address of the property’s owner, as well as the same information for any property manager or agent who is permitted to act on that owner’s behalf.
- Prior Methamphetamine Manufacture. Oklahoma state law requires landlords to inform their tenant if they know or have reason to believe that their unit or any part of the premises was used to manufacture methamphetamine in the past.
- Recent Flooding. If a tenant’s unit has been subject to flooding in the past 5 years, an Oklahoma landlord must inform them accordingly.
Changing the Locks. Oklahoma law does not provide many statutory specifics regarding changing locks in occupied rental units. As such, an Oklahoma tenant may be allowed to change their own locks unless their lease agreement prohibits such modifications. On the other hand, though, Oklahoma landlords are explicitly prohibited from unilaterally changing their tenant’s locks because doing so would initiate an illegal lockout.
Oklahoma Landlord-Tenant Resources
If you’re still looking to learn more about Oklahoma’s landlord-tenant laws, these digital resources will help you take the next step forward to becoming a knowledgeable participant in your leasing relationship:
Should You Go to Small Claims Court? – The Oklahoma Bar Association has put together this very helpful Q & A guide to assist individuals in making the decision to seek litigation in the state’s small claims court. Landlords and tenants alike can utilize this guide to properly plan for impending litigation, including what kinds of evidence must be presented and what kind of legal representation can be used.
Non-Residential/Residential Landlord and Tenant Act – This document outlines the legal language of all of Oklahoma’s many landlord-tenant laws, including those not mentioned in this guide. In particular, landlords and tenants can turn to this document if they have any disputes surrounding what constitutes abandonment and how the state calculates “time” when judging a landlord or tenant’s actions.
What is the Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher Program? – Oklahoma, like many other states, administers a federally-funded rental assistance program known generally as the Section 8 voucher program. This resource can teach in-need tenants all about this program, including who is eligible and who can be contacted to apply for the program.