In South Carolina, 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, South Carolina varies from other states on additional rights and responsibilities for both landlords and tenants. South Carolina law even varies on both the interpretation of the above rights and the rules on handling violations.
Warranty of Habitability in South Carolina
Landlord Responsibilities. In South Carolina, landlords are obliged by law to maintain the basic livability of their rental units at all times, including while those units are rented out to a tenant. This legal obligation compels South Carolina landlords to make all repairs to the unit that would allow it to meet state and local health and safety codes. This obligation also requires South Carolina landlords to provide the following essential amenities to all tenants:
- A reasonable supply of hot and cold water
- In-unit heating and air-conditioning
- Safe electric wiring, outlets, and fixtures
- Safe and reliably gas fixtures (where applicable)
- Adequate plumbing
- Proper sanitary facilities
- Adequate ventilation
If a repair to any of these listed essential services becomes necessary, a South Carolina tenant may submit a repair request to their landlord through the channel (in writing or digitally) required by their lease agreement. Once a South Carolina landlord receives this request, they must respond to it and perform the repair within 14 days. If they do not and the overall habitability of the tenant’s dwelling decreases, then that affected South Carolina tenant may have the right to terminate their lease on health and safety grounds.
Tenant Responsibilities. When occupying a rental unit, a South Carolina tenant is legally obligated to keep the unit “safe and reasonably clean.” In essence, the means that the tenant must remove rubbish from the unit in a timely and effective manner, while also using all of the unit’s essential amenities such that they are not damaged.
South Carolina landlords may enforce this standardized cleanliness policy, as well as any heightened standards included in the terms of their lease agreement. If a South Carolina landlord observes a breach of these standards, they may inform their tenant of their findings by issuing a 14-Day Notice to Cure. That South Carolina tenant must then meet the terms of the notice by properly cleaning their dwelling or face eviction after the 14 day notice period ends.
South Carolina tenants also have at least one “alternative action” remedy that they can call upon when their landlord fails to meet their essential habitability obligations. To that end, a South Carolina tenant who finds that one of their utilities is impeded by their landlord’s failure to provide repairs can obtain a reasonable alternative utility source at their discretion. They can then deduct the associated cost with maintaining that alternative utility source from successive rent payments.
Evictions in South Carolina
Here are the three most common reasons a South Carolina landlord could justifiably evict one of their tenants:
- Nonpayment of rent – South Carolina requires all landlords operating in the state to issue a written 5-Day Notice to Pay Rent to their tenant when they fail to pay rent at the time or on the date specified in their lease agreement. This includes after any relevant payment grace period which may be written into the same lease’s terms. However, South Carolina law also allows landlords to eliminate this obligation to provide written notice when rent payments are past due. As such, a South Carolina tenant must refer to their own lease agreement to understand their landlord’s obligation to provide notice of this kind.
- Violation of lease terms – If a South Carolina landlord observes a tenant engaging in an activity or series of activities that represent a lease term violation, they must inform their tenant of what they have seen by issuing a 14-Day Notice to Cure. This document must describe which lease terms have been violated and how the tenant in question can change their behavior accordingly. If that South Carolina tenant does not cease their non-compliant actions within that 14 day notice period, though, their landlord has the right to force them to move out by filing an Eviction Action with a local court.
- Illegal Acts – South Carolina’s laws do not specify what kinds of illegal acts can be used to justify a tenant’s eviction. As such, it is assumed that landlords are able to use their own discretion on this front. In any case, a South Carolina landlord has the right to initiate an immediate eviction after a properly illegal act is documented by issuing an Unconditional Notice to Quit. This notice need not give the tenant an opportunity to cure their actions at all before an Eviction Action can come into force.
Evictions without a lease. South Carolina law allows “at-will” tenants who rent from a landlord without entering into a lease agreement to be evicted from their dwelling without cause. However, this type of tenant is always entitled to as much notice as their standard rent payment period. As such, a week-to-week non-leased tenant is entitled to 7 days of notice before an eviction while a month-to-month “at-will” tenant is entitled to a full 30 days of notice.
Illegal Evictions. South Carolina prohibits landlords from retaliating against their tenant for taking certain key actions. As such, a South Carolina tenant is fully protected from evictions that occur in reaction to their filing a health or safety code report with a local regulatory authority. Similarly, South Carolina tenants cannot be evicted on discriminatory grounds, based upon the state’s fair housing laws and several protected classes.
Security Deposits in South Carolina
Collecting, maintaining, and redistributing security deposits in South Carolina comes under the following regulations that apply to all of the state’s landlords:
- Standard Limit / Maximum Amount – South Carolina’s current landlord-tenant laws do not establish either a standard limit or a maximum amount for security deposits charged to tenants. As such, a South Carolina landlord is free to charge as much as they want for a single security deposit, even if that amount is not relative to the cost of rent (as is common in other states).
- Interest and Maintenance – Landlords in South Carolina are not explicitly required to use any special type of banking account to maintain their tenants’ collected security deposits. This lack of regulation also applies to the accretion of interest, which South Carolina law does not mention in the context of security deposits. As such, any interest that accrues on a South Carolina tenant’s security deposit is fully the property of their landlord by default.
- Time Limit for Return – A South Carolina landlord must deliver any remaining security deposit funds that belong to a tenant to that tenant within 30 days of their tenancy ending. At the same time, that landlord must also provide their tenant with an itemized notice that explains the reasons for, and approximate cost of any deductions made from the original deposit.
- Penalty if Not Returned on Time – If a South Carolina wrongfully withholds a part of a tenant’s deposit or fails to abide by the standardized policy for returning said deposit funds, they may become liable to pay a monetary penalty equal to the 3 times the withheld deposit’s value.
- Allowable Deductions – Unless dictated otherwise by the terms of an applicable lease agreement, a South Carolina landlord is generally only able to deduct security deposit funds to offset the general upkeep of a unit. To that end, South Carolina landlords are usually justified in making deductions for unpaid rent and to offset the cost of performing repairs for damage that exceeds regular wear and tear.
Lease Termination in South Carolina
Notice Requirements. South Carolina tenants who rent or lease their dwelling on a periodic basis are required to provide the following amounts of written notice to their landlord when they intend to terminate their lease:
- Week-to-Week lease – 7 days of advance notice
- Month-to-Month lease – 30 days of advance notice
- Lease of any length that includes a fixed end date – No notice needed
Legally Breaking a Lease Early. When it comes to breaking off a lease early, South Carolina tenants are usually encouraged to utilize any early termination provisions written into the terms of their lease agreement. However, South Carolina law does not require the inclusion of this kind of clause in all tenants’ leases. As such, a South Carolina tenant in need of an early lease termination may choose to do so using one of the following legally-protected options:
- 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 – South Carolina landlords are legally obliged to maintain the basic habitability of their rental units, including those that are presently rented out to a tenant. This includes making necessary repairs to the several essential amenities set forth in state and local habitability codes. If these obligations are not met within a time frame appropriate to their severity, a South Carolina tenant may be allowed to terminate their lease on the grounds that their health and safety has been put at risk though continued tenancy.
- Landlord Harassment – South Carolina landlords must always provide 24 hours of advance notice when they wish to enter a tenant’s unit to show the space or perform a repair. They may also enter without notice in cases of emergency. If either of these entry standards are misused or ignored, then an affected tenant can claim that they are being harassed by their landlord. This kind of privacy invasion could then be used to justify an immediate lease termination in reaction.
Some lease agreements in South Carolina require a tenant to continue paying rent on their unit even after they have moved out. In most cases, this financial obligation can be passed on if a tenant can be found to inhabit the unit. Whenever possible, South Carolina landlords must seek to achieve this latter solution in order to “mitigate damages” associated with their tenant’s departure. To that end, a South Carolina landlord must assist their tenant in their attempts to re-rent their former dwelling.
Rent Increases & Related Fees in South Carolina
Rent control & increases. South Carolina’s current statutory code preempts local jurisdictions from instituting any kind of policy or ordinance that amounts to the regulation of rent prices for rental housing. As a result, landlords operating in South Carolina are fully able to set their own rent rates in accordance with their local housing market. They are even able to raise a tenant’s rent without notice due to a lack of a statutory regulation of rent increase notices.
Rent related fees. Under South Carolina law, landlords are able to charge as much as they want for late rent payment fees due to a lack of statutory limitations on the matter. However, South Carolina law does indicate that any fee charged for this reason may be considered “rent” for the purposes of collection. Meanwhile, the state’s financial statutes establish a cut and dry rate for returned check fees at only $30 per instance.
Housing Discrimination in South 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. The South Carolina Fair Housing Law does not establish any protected classes beyond those described in the federal Fair Housing Act. As such, enforcement of fair housing practices in South Carolina falls squarely in line with federal enforcement of the same on most occasions.
Discriminatory Acts & Penalties. The South Carolina Human Rights Commission is tasked by the state government with administering and educating the public on fair housing regulations within the state. While this Commission does not enumerate which kinds of discriminatory business practices that they are willing to investigate, they have published a list of case examples that highlight which discriminatory behaviors they have previously deemed improper:
- Coercing a tenant to live in a certain neighborhood (steering)
- Failing to make a reasonable accommodation
- Advertising the sale or rental of a dwelling in a manner that indicates a discriminatory preference
- Refusing to provide or providing differing financial services among equally qualified tenants
- Refusing to rent, sell, or negotiate housing
- Offering different terms, conditions, or privileges between tenants
While the South Carolina Human Rights Commission indicates publicly that they accept housing discrimination complaints, their website includes very little information outlining how such a complaint can be filed. As such, a South Carolina tenant who feels that they have been discriminated against may instead file a report with the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development. That Department is fully capable of investigating discrimination complaints and returning findings in a timely manner so that an affected tenant may seek damages at their own discretion.
Additional Landlord Tenant Regulations in South Carolina
There are a few more important South Carolina landlord-tenant law topics to cover, so read on and learn all about them:
Landlord Entry. South Carolina allows landlords to enter an occupied unit at a reasonable hour to perform necessary maintenance and prospective tenant showings. However, these ordinary reasons for requesting entry must be preceded by at least 24 hours of advance notice. In an emergency situation, though, a South Carolina landlord is fully permitted to enter an occupied unit without permission or notice for the purposes of warning the unit’s inhabitants of the impending danger.
Small Claims Court. The South Carolina small claims court system (which is itself considered a “magistrate court) is available to landlords and tenants across the state who are looking to formally settle their ongoing disputes. As such, this venue is able to accept cases valued at up to $7,500, including those pertaining to an active or pending eviction. However, the South Carolina small claims court’s statute of limitations is pretty brief, at only 3 years for oral or written contracts.
Mandatory Disclosures. A South Carolina landlord is only required by state law to provide two kinds of informational disclosure to their new tenants. The first only applies to tenants living in buildings that were built before 1978, which pertains to the hazards of lead-based paint. The second must be given to all tenants, however, and must list the names and addresses of all property owners, as well as the same info for any agents who are allowed to manage the property on their behalf.
Changing the Locks. South Carolina maintains a specific statute that forbids tenants from changing their lock without their landlord’s permission. At the same time, though, South Carolina prohibits landlords from initiating lockouts against their tenants. As such, this state’s laws regarding lock changes can be summarized as requiring permission from the opposite party in all cases.
South Carolina Landlord-Tenant Resources
Don’t miss out on your chance to learn even more about South Carolina’s landlord-tenant laws by checking out these useful digital resources:
Your Guide to Magistrate’s Court – This guide was compiled by the South Carolina Bar and covers every imaginable topic relating to the functions and filing requirements of South Carolina’s small claims court. This guide’s FAQ section is particularly useful for answering questions that may arise both before and after a tenant or landlord files a case.
Fair Housing Brochures and Posters – The South Carolina Human Rights Commission has produced several posters and brochures that summarize the state’s fair housing laws for tenants. Landlords operating in the state are encouraged to print these materials out and provide them to tenants in accessible locations of their office.
Lease Primer – This quick video primer outlines the basic functions and purposes of leases under South Carolina law. A landlord or a tenant may view this video to quickly understand what kinds of applications their lease may have once it is put into effect.