Most states have laws restricting when landlords are allowed to raise the rent, including for discrimination, retaliation, and other reasons. There are also federal and (sometimes) local laws regulating rent increases.
Unlawful Rent Increase Laws
In states with rent increase restrictions, it is generally illegal for landlords to raise the rent:
- Out of discrimination of a protected class
- As retaliation against a tenant taking a protected act (in states that have retaliation laws and defined protected acts).
- During the lease term without an increase provision
- Above what is allowed by rent control
- Without proper notice
- Too frequently
Depending on the state, some or all of these situations may apply. Different states have very different laws regarding rent increases. Some states have very few laws, allowing landlords the flexibility to increase the rent as they choose. However, some states have rent control or otherwise stricter laws regarding rent control to protect tenants.
Landlords should also be aware of local laws, which may include additional regulations regarding rent increases. For example, many cities have rules requiring a specific notice period before a rent increase and protecting additional groups of people from discrimination.
When is a Rent Increase Discriminatory?
It is illegal for landlords to apply greater rent increases on certain groups of people protected from discrimination. The Federal Fair Housing Act applies to all states and prohibits discrimination due to:
- Race or color
- Gender (including gender identity)
- Sexual orientation
- Familial status
A landlord intentionally raises the rent for families with children but leaves the rent for tenants without children unchanged. This is an unlawful rent increase that discriminates against certain tenants due to their familial status.
Landlords should also be familiar with state and city laws regarding housing discrimination, which may protect additional groups of people from unfair rent increases. For example, many states prohibit discrimination due to age so it would be illegal for landlords to impose higher rent increases on college students.
This does not mean that landlords are completely prevented from increasing the rent on people protected by discrimination. It simply means that rent increases must be applied evenly among tenants regardless of their race, gender, or inclusion in any protected classes.
When is a Rent Increase Considered Retaliation?
Retaliatory rent increases occur when landlords raise the rent in response to an allowed action a tenant takes, like filing a complaint with the authorities about a lack of hot running water. In the 7 states without retaliation laws, landlords can increase rent in response to any tenant actions (as long as the landlord follows other rent increase requirements, such as waiting for the end of the lease term).
Protected actions are defined differently in the states with retaliation laws, but typical actions that are protected against retaliation include:
- Filing a complaint with the appropriate agency regarding the property’s health and safety
- Participating in a court process against the landlord
- Joining or organizing a tenant’s union
- Exercising a legal right
- Requesting repairs
A landlord learns that a tenant organized a union among their neighbors. The next month, the landlord proposes a rent increase on that tenant. This is an unlawful, retaliatory rent increase.
States often have differing laws about how long the law protects tenants from retaliatory rent increases. For example, in Texas, a rent increase within 6 months after a tenant requests repairs may be considered retaliatory.
The following states have no laws that address retaliatory rent increases:
- North Carolina
- West Virginia
When Can Landlords Legally Increase the Rent?
Landlords can legally increase the rent at the end of each lease term or during the lease term as long as the lease agreement allows for it.
For example, when tenants are on a month-to-month lease, landlords generally have the flexibility to increase the rent at any time, as long as they provide sufficient notice. If a tenant is on a 12-month lease without a rent increase provision, landlords must wait until the lease expires before increasing the rent.
However, state or local laws may limit the frequency of rent increases, which apply regardless of the length of the lease term.