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Landlord and Tenant Act Laws Explained – Know Your Rights as a Renter

By Angela Colley

moving in coupleI was a renter for nearly a decade before I found out about the Landlord and Tenant Act. I knew that I had some basic tenant’s rights, but I mostly just did what the landlord asked of me and left it at that. Then, a particularly rough experience with a landlord resulted in a conversation with a lawyer, who told me that beyond having basic rights as a renter, I’m protected under an entire legal act.

Nearly every state in the U.S. has adopted a version of the Landlord and Tenant Act. The act governs what you, as a tenant, need to do and what the landlord must do for you. It covers everything from moving in and paying a security deposit, to privacy and evictions. While there are minor differences from state to state, most laws are universal. As a renter, you should get to know your rights under these acts.

Key Aspects of the Landlord and Tenant Act

1. Leases

A lease is a contract between you and the landlord. A basic lease lists the amount of rent due and the length of time the agreement is valid. The landlord has the right to modify the lease to include anything he wants, as long as he doesn’t ask you to waive your legal rights, such as the right to hire an attorney for an eviction. Some examples of what may appear on a lease include:

  • Guest Policy. Landlords have the right to limit the time non-paying guests spend on the property.
  • Pets. If a landlord only allows certain types of pets, or no pets at all, it may be included in this document. Details such as the amount paid for a pet deposit should also be listed.
  • Utilities. Are some or all utilities covered by your rent? What are you expected to pay separately? This information needs to be outlined as part of your lease.
  • Maintenance. Policies pertaining to maintenance on the property can also be part of your lease. For example, if you have a yard, you may be held responsible for keeping it tidy. Make sure you are aware of anything you will be held responsible for.

Many states allow for both oral and written leases. However, an oral lease is almost impossible to prove in court, so the tenant should always request a copy of the agreement in writing.

2. Security Deposits

The landlord can charge a security deposit before you move into the property. Some states put a cap on the amount of the deposit, and some others specify that the landlord must place the security deposit in a separate, interest-bearing bank account. When you move out, the landlord will inspect the rental unit and deduct the cost of repairing any damages you caused, beyond normal wear and tear, from the deposit. He can also deduct any unpaid rent.

The landlord then has a certain time frame to either return the security deposit to you, or provide you with a list of deductions. Most states give the landlord 30 days to do so, but some locations give him an even shorter deadline. For example, landlords in Washington must return the deposit or provide an itemized list within 14 days of the tenant vacating the property.

3. Rent

The Landlord and Tenant act requires that the landlord tell you ahead of time what he will charge for rent. Most states do not allow the landlord to raise the rent during a lease agreement. However, the landlord can raise the rent before you renew your lease, providing he gives you written notice of his intent to do so.

If you have a month-to-month rental agreement with your landlord, different rules apply. Many states allow the landlord to raise the rent on a month-to-month agreement, providing he gives you at least a 30-day written warning.

4. Maintenance

As a tenant, your job description includes keeping the rental property clean, removing trash, and not causing any damage. In return, the landlord must make necessary repairs to the rental unit and the building itself. If problems arise with the plumbing, wiring, or central air system, your landlord has to make the repairs within a reasonable time after you notify him.

Unfortunately, most states do not provide much of a legal alternative for renters whose landlords do not make repairs. A few states allow the tenant to make the repair and deduct the cost from the following month’s rent, or end the lease agreement altogether if the landlord won’t provide maintenance. Before you take any action against the landlord, contact a Housing Authority office in your area and ask about the state laws regarding maintenance.

5. Privacy

Renters want the same level of privacy a homeowner would have. Most  do not look kindly on landlords who show up frequently or at odd hours, and many states have made this illegal through the Landlord and Tenant Act. In most areas, a landlord must notify a tenant in writing, at least 24 hours before entering the property.

Keep in mind, the landlord can get around this law by adding a clause to the lease stating his right to enter. Check your lease carefully before signing. If you think your landlord has reached the point of harassment, you can contact a Legal Aid organization or the Housing Authority in your area for assistance.

6. Evictions

If you bother other tenants, break a clause in your lease, or fail to pay your rent, the landlord can evict you. To do so, the landlord will need to follow the eviction procedure laid out in the Landlord and Tenant Act in your state. For example, the landlord may need to give you a written notice and allow you time to correct the situation. If you do not fix the problem, the landlord can file a notice in a local court. From there, only a judge can decide whether or not to evict you from the property.

The landlord cannot legally evict you himself. An illegal eviction includes changing the locks on your rental unit, blocking the door so you cannot enter, removing your personal belongings, or cutting off the power to your apartment. If the landlord does try to “self evict,” you can sue him in civil court.

Final Word

Renting can be tough. You don’t own the property, so you may feel like your fate is completely in the hands of a landlord. Empower yourself by reading the Landlord and Tenant Act for your state. If you do end up in a questionable situation, you’ll know when, and how, to take action.

Have you had a bad experience with a landlord? Were you aware of your rights? Share your experience in the comments below.

(photo credit: Shutterstock)

Angela Colley
Angela Colley is a freelance writer living in New Orleans, Louisiana with a background in mortgage and real estate. Her interests include animal rights advocacy, green living, mob movies and finding the best deal on everything. She blames her extreme passion for never paying full price on two parents that taught her that a penny saved is two pennies if invested wisely.

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  • Vicky Newby

    I have a friend that rents the down stairs apartment ….. Last night the landlord told her that she has to be out today. My friend pays rent once a month at the first of e very month She doesn’t have a lease the landlord doesn’t have a lease.. Her rent is paid for the month, can a landlord really throw her out in less then a days notice.

    • ALS

      Not in Michigan. If she has a rental agreement or not, she must still be given a 30 day notice and file through the court.

    • Angela Colley

      Legally the landlord cannot tell her to leave without notice. While some state laws are different, in most cases the landlord needs to give her a written notice to move and allow her time to do so. Typically, if she pays rent by the month, the landlord must give her 30-days written notice.

  • AAA

    If you don’t have a lease, then it’s a month to month tenancy and landlord is required to give at least 30 days notice to tenant to vacate.

  • Laura195la

    If the tenant does not pay utilites and service has been turned off for 2 weeks and the unit has no personal items such as clothing, linens, food, dishes, toiletees, closets empty. Only a mattress (no bed linens) and a chair, can the landlord take possession of the property? There is a 1 year lease agreement with tenant, HUD and landlord. Lease agreement has been violated due to the fact the tenant is not living in the funded apartment and it assumed the tenant has moved due to visual evidence. Lastly does eviction process still apply?

    • Angela Colley

      The eviction process typically still applies, even if the tenant has left. The best thing to do in a case like this is to file an eviction on the grounds that the tenant violated his lease by vacating the property. This removes the landlord’s liability in case the tenant shows back up later and accuses the landlord of not honoring the lease.

      For private rentals, HUD places the responsibility of managing the lease on the landlord. The landlord should notify HUD of his intention to file an eviction, but in most cases HUD will want the landlord to proceed on his own.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Joyce-Margaret-Bosco/681960645 Joyce Margaret Bosco

    I have a couple of tenants that I am renting a room too and I have fully explained the house rules but they seem not to adhere to them like not cleaning up behind themselves and paying late. It is a verbal agreement just giving them receipts for the money they give me. What can I do to get them out. They are costing me time, money, and aggravation.

    • Angela Colley

      Oral agreements can be tricky to prove in court, but you may be able to get your tenants to leave if you give them a written notice to vacate. The amount of notice you have to give varies by state. I would suggest calling the Legal Aid hotline in your state. Legal Aid can give you a copy of the current Landlord and Tenant laws and legal advice on your best course of action.

      • http://twitter.com/TVTastic TV-Tastic

        Actually, a contract may be verbal (oral) or written, but it cannot be both. Whatever rules the landlord has, need to be specifically written out and agreed to by both parties either inclusively or as an addendum to the lease. You can not make rules ex post facto.

  • Charlevoix

    The landlord is asking us to sign a lease that waives our rights if our health is compromised by black mold. Also, that we have no recourse if to theft by maintenance personnel. Please advise.

  • Charlevoix

    The landlord is asking us to sign a lease that waives our rights if our health is compromised by black mold. Also, that we have no recourse if to theft by maintenance personnel. Please advise.

    • http://twitter.com/TVTastic TV-Tastic

      The landlord cannot force you to waive your rights as requirement for tenancy and the black mold issue is a public health issue that he is required to address. Also, you cannot be compelled to give up your rights to legal recourse if one of their agents perpetrates a crime against you while working in their employ. That being said, if one of their agents breaks into your house while not acting as representative (i.e., in their off-hours) it’s not the landlord’s responsibility. This is why everyone needs renter’s insurance. It’s cheap. Get it.

  • Charlevoix

    The landlord is asking us to sign a lease that waives our rights if our health is compromised by black mold. Also, that we have no recourse if to theft by maintenance personnel. Please advise.

  • lauren

    We signed a year lease, completed it, and moved into month-to-month. After about a year of being month-to-month, our landlords gave us a notice to either vacate or to sign a 3 month lease (they were worried we’d leave in a month that was harder for them to find a renter, even though our city’s vacancy rate is only 5%) . We knew we’d stay the next 3 months, but I HATED being backed in a corner by them.

  • sam

    Is an assisted living facility abide by same landlord/tenant rules when it comes to eviction, or do they have they own special rules. I searched everywhere I can’t find an exact answer. I live in AZ.

  • Fernandez1213

    I have a privacy issue. We recently rented an apartment, and after signing a year lease and moving in, we find out that my neighbors might as well be lliving in the same apartment as us,because it sounds like were all living together anyway. I dont mind noise at all but when you cant even go to the bathroom without being heard, now that bothers me. Is there a way to get out of my lease without reprocutions…
    SILENT IN PHOENIX

  • kari

    I have a one year lease but have been having problem after problem with this apartment. it first started with plumbing and now were dealing with mold in different rooms, water marks on walls/ceilings and plumbing. the plumber has been out here a handful of times the problem is fixed for a few days to a week then returns. the mold started in my sons room from an ac unit leaking which destroyed about 500.00 worth of personal items and ive now been finding it in other rooms of my house. my son has medical problems that include asthma. ive called and called about the mold and all they do is paint over it. ive also been stalked by a neighbor and they still will do nothing. I had to call the police to have them tell the person not to come near my apartment, ive even asked to b moved into a different apartment and they refuse. any advice sould be greatly appreciated!

  • Tyler

    Hi
    I have an interesting dilemma and question I suppose. My friend, who is a tenant, and I see each other frequently. Unfortunately I have gotten into an argument with another tenant who lives there, no threats or verbal abuse was said to him on my part, however he believes he can kick me out at any time he’d like. How accurate is this? Is there anything I can do to prevent this? I have tried sitting down and talking it over with him, yet every time I do he gets angry and doesn’t want to talk.

  • kc

    Rented a townhouse 4 months ago. Moved in – cockroaches – we did the spraying, heating not working properly – landlord told us to call her AC handyman – he told us to move the fuse back and forth – so still not working properly, at night we have to get up 4-5 times to move the fuse because our kids were cold. The gardener is coming if we are lucky once a month, the grass is way to high. Landlord never did spraying against cockroaches and other bugs. Since January/February issue with ticks – we sprayed and sprayed but getting worser, they are everywhere in the house and lots of them in the backyard. Now told landlord about ticks and that we want to move out because we have three kids (10,7 and 4 years) and she does not want to terminate the lease. Says our dogs are responsible for ticks even though they are in the house and backyard only, they never had ticks before we moved in here. What to do?

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