Renting is a popular alternative to homeownership, especially for young families trying to find accommodations in up-and-coming neighborhoods bustling with new employment opportunities. Real estate statistics show approximately one in three American families rents rather than owns their homes. 

Dealing with property taxes, HOA fees, maintenance, and upkeep is burdensome. Renting a property is one way to escape the hassle. Even though renting is a convenient alternative to homeownership for many, renters need to understand their legal rights as defined in the written agreement of the lease or rental contract.

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Read on to learn more about what things landlords cannot do and what your rights are as a renter.

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Entry Without Proper Notice

Landlords are not permitted to enter rental units without giving proper notice. Approximately half of the states have specific laws on when a landlord can access a rental unit legally. Even if your state has no specific statute regarding privacy protection, there may be something called a reasonable clause in your lease agreement covering when the landlord can enter your unit and how much notice they have to give you. 

In many rental agreement clauses, the agreement will state that the landlord will only enter your unit to make needed repairs or to deal with an emergency. In all other cases, the landlord would need to give you at least 24 hours’ written notice of entry and the reason for the entry.

Many states require landlords to give 24 to 48 hours notice before entering your apartment for a non-emergency. Some state statutes only say the landlord must give “reasonable notice.” Regardless of the state’s statutes, all landlords are supposed to allow for “quiet enjoyment,” which simply means that you have the right to be free of unreasonable disturbance from your landlord.

Eviction Without Due Notice

An important part of knowing your rights as a tenant includes understanding the eviction process. Your landlord may not evict you before your lease expires without due cause and not without proper notice. Even if you are behind on your rent, the landlord cannot evict you without taking legal action against you.

The landlord must provide you with written notice of eviction. If you have maintained occupancy of the rental unit once the eviction date has passed, the landlord must then file suit against you and obtain a court order for the eviction to occur. The landlord must prove that you did something to deserve the eviction, such as having unpaid rent or late fees, causing undue damage to your rental unit, or conducting illegal activities on the premises.

The eviction without notice statute applies to a fixed-term lease agreement. Even if you rent on a shorter lease term, such as on a month-to-month basis, your landlord must still provide you with the days’ notice required by state law. However, the landlord may not have to provide you with a cause.

Prompt Return of Security Deposit

Specific time requirements will vary by state, but if you have paid this month’s rent, made no unreasonable wear and tear, left no damages to the rental property, and left a forwarding address, the landlord should provide a return of your security deposit within a reasonable time. Some states require the landlord to return your deposit within a month, and some states give the landlord a bit longer, but in no case should it be for an extended period. 

If your property manager has not promptly returned your security deposit and doesn’t have a valid reason for withholding it, such as nonpayment of rent, call your landlord and keep records of any conversations and correspondence you have. In some states, you may have to send a demand letter before you can file a suit against your landlord.

Tenant Rights FAQs

If I move to another state, will I be under different landlord-tenant laws?

Landlord-tenant laws do vary by state. However, many states have very similar laws. The best course of action would be to research the laws of the state you are moving to. It pays to know your rights before signing a new lease. 

What can I do if I feel I've been discriminated against?

The Fair Housing Act of 1968 prohibits housing discrimination based on race, religion, sexual orientation, color, national origin, familial status, or disability. This act applies both to buying or renting a property. If you feel that you have been discriminated against, you may contact the Department of Housing and Urban Development to file a housing laws complaint at 1 (800) 669-9777.

What if my landlord won't make necessary repairs?

It is a landlord's duty to make sure your rental is safe and habitable, including making any needed repairs to the unit due to normal wear and tear. If your landlord has not responded to your request for a repair, make the request in writing. The tenancy laws of most states require the landlord to make requested repairs within 30 days after the request was received. 

Landlord-Tenant Laws: Know Your Renter’s Rights

Renting can be an appealing and sometimes more affordable alternative to buying your own home, but it is important to know your tenants’ rights. Both tenants and property owners should understand their legal rights before entering into a rental agreement. When in doubt about a specific situation, check the landlord-tenant laws for your state. And if you’re ready to protect your belongings, compare renters insurance quotes with Insurify

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Updated June 24, 2021

Janet Hunt received her B.S. in Business Administration with the University of Phoenix. She has worked in the insurance industry for over 20 years. Janet likes to spend her spare time coming up with gourmet recipes and trying them out on her guests. So far, all have survived.