Tenant Rights: What Every Renter Needs to Know

Landlord/Tenant - November 2, 2020
Couple carrying boxes and plant into new rental home

If you’re having issues with your landlord, you might feel as though you have little recourse for your concerns; they own the property, after all, and some renters are hesitant to escalate their conflict further for fear of retribution or eviction. Others might be unaware of their tenant rights—rights that are guaranteed to every renter under state and federal law.

Laws may not ensure that landlords won’t violate those rights, but understanding what you’re entitled to may be the basis for your ability to get fair treatment, even if you need to enlist legal help to do so.

Fair Housing Act guarantees anti-discrimination

If you’re looking at leasing a home, condo, or apartment, you have the right to be treated as every other potential renter regardless of any aspect of your identity. Under the Fair Housing Act, landlords are prohibited from discriminating on the basis of:

  • Race
  • National Origin
  • Religion
  • Sex
  • Familial Status
  • Disability

In addition, discrimination isn’t merely a matter of refusing to show or rent a unit based upon the list above. Landlords are barred from offering different terms in a lease agreement or restricting the rights or privileges granted to other renters on the basis of the above aspects as well. Nor can the landlord fail to perform their responsibilities, otherwise violate renter privacy, or harass tenants for those same reasons.

Fair Credit Reporting Act protections

A credit check is a standard part of the leasing process, but, for your protection, there are certain requirements under the Fair Credit Reporting Act that landlords must follow. Before getting a credit report, a landlord needs to get written permission from you as an applicant or tenant. And if the information in that report results in a landlord taking what’s termed “adverse action”—denying your application, requiring a larger deposit, or a co-signer for the lease—they are required to inform you and grant you the opportunity to fix any potentially incorrect information on the report.

Providing a habitable home

Laws may vary by state on specifics, but every state requires landlords to maintain a livable home for their tenants, regardless of any other aspect of the landlord-tenant relationship. Broadly speaking, that means the unit needs to be safe and structurally sound, with hot and cold running water, electricity, and heating and, in some places, air conditioning that is maintained. Those are standards codified in law, so regardless of what your lease says, your landlord has an obligation to meet those standards, and if they don’t, you may have the right to refuse to pay rent, terminate your lease or even sue your landlord, based upon the laws in your state. Before taking any of these actions, you should seek a lawyer’s help.

Security deposit concerns

Your security deposit refund can be a thorny issue when moving out of a rental unit. The lease should specify the number of days that the landlord has to return the security deposit and the conditions that are required for a full refund. If that information is not in the lease, your state has laws dictating the date by which your landlord needs to return your deposit. As for the amount, you need to read your lease and talk with your landlord to understand the expectations for the material condition of the unit that needs to be met for a full, or close to full, refund. Also, it’s important to understand who pays to do a final clean and whether professionals need to be used.

When does eviction apply?

Your lease will outline the conditions by which you can be evicted from the rental property, but an eviction still requires a procedure for landlords to follow and rights for tenants to plead their case.

Before a landlord can evict a tenant, they need to give them a Notice to Quit. Notices to Quit are generally of three types:

  • Pay Rent or Quit
  • Cure or Quit
  • Unconditional Quit

Protecting your rights with LegalShield

Tenants have the option of addressing the issue in the first two instances or allowing the matter to proceed to an eviction lawsuit so they can make their case before a court as to why the eviction is unfair or unwarranted. At no point throughout the process is the landlord permitted to shut off utilities or remove your property from the premises and change the locks.  However, after the matter has run its course through the legal system, a landlord may take the step of forcibly removing a tenant, and even then, law enforcement must be present.

Tenants need to be vigilant about protecting their rights and prepared to take legal action if necessary to do so. Get started with a LegalShield plan to talk with an attorney about what steps to take if your tenant rights have been violated.

LegalShield provides access to legal services offered by a network of provider law firms to LegalShield Members through member-based participation. Neither LegalShield nor its officers, employees or sales associates directly or indirectly provide legal services, representation or advice. See a plan contract at legalshield.com for specific state of residence for complete terms, coverage, amounts, and conditions. This is not intended to be legal or medical advice. Please contact a medical professional for medical advice or assistance and an attorney for legal advice or assistance.