7 Things Landlords Can’t Do (And One That They Can)

State and federal regulations specify the rights and responsibilities of both property owners and tenants.

Courtney Washington
Courtney Washington

Courtney Washington is a Texas A&M University graduate. Her extensive knowledge and background in auto, home, and umbrella policies make her a one-stop shop for insurance advice and information. She loves to help her readers understand their insurance choices so they can make informed decisions about their coverage.

Katie Powers
Edited byKatie Powers
Photo of an Insurify author
Katie PowersAuto and Life Insurance Editor
  • Licensed auto and home insurance agent

  • 3+ years experience in insurance and personal finance editing

Katie uses her knowledge and expertise as a licensed property and casualty agent in Massachusetts to help readers understand the complexities of insurance shopping.

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Updated November 20, 2023

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Around 35% of U.S. households rent, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.[1] Tenant-landlord laws apply to all 50 states and Washington, D.C., and it’s important to know your specific state laws.

This guide will help you understand your rights as a tenant and the landlord’s legal responsibilities. Keep reading to learn what your landlord can’t do while you rent out their space.

1. Discriminate against tenants

The Fair Housing Act is a federal law passed in 1968 that applies in all 50 states plus Washington, D.C. It provides legal protection from landlords discriminating against new tenants for specific traits, like religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, race, disability, national origin, and familial status.[2]

Examples of landlord discrimination include:

  • Refusing to rent to someone based on a protected basis

  • Providing a person with different housing services or facilities

  • Failing or delaying to make necessary repairs or maintenance

  • Setting different conditions, privileges, or terms for the rental of a dwelling

  • Discouraging the rental of a dwelling

  • Evicting a tenant or their guest

2. Enter your rented home without proper notice

In most cases, landlord-tenant laws require landlords to give a tenant notice before entering their home. Notice requirements vary by state, but landlords must provide reasonable notice, usually between 12 hours and six days before they plan to enter.

How much notice depends on state statutes and the local governments. Landlords can notify tenants via written notice or verbal communication, depending on local laws.

In certain circumstances, landlords can enter a tenant’s dwelling without additional notice. Landlords can give prior notice by posting advanced notice in a common area. They can also enter without prior notice in emergencies, like a severe leak or a fire.

Laws regulating security systems vary by state. However, landlords generally can only install security cameras with the tenant’s permission or in public areas where there’s no violation of the expectation of privacy.

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3. Evict you without warning or due process

Early termination of the leasing agreement, known as eviction, happens when tenants violate the terms of their rental agreement. Violations can include:

  • Non-payment of rent

  • Failure to move out once the lease is over

  • Damage to rental property

  • Criminal or illegal activity in the rental unit

All landlords must follow the eviction processes based on their state’s laws. They have to give the tenant notice about their plans to evict and allow them to fix the issue or move out. If the tenant does neither, the landlord must appear before a judge to get a court order mandating the tenant vacate the residence. Local police can physically remove the tenant and their property from the rental unit.

4. Increase your rent in the middle of your lease

Both landlords and tenants need to adhere to the rental agreement. This means landlords can’t violate any of the parameters of the leasing agreement by changing the dates or the rates that everyone agreed to when originally signed.

However, once the lease ends, landlords can increase the rent and allow the tenant to either agree to the new rental amount and sign the new lease or find a new place to live. While rent-controlled homes exist in each state, their locations depend on each city’s fair housing laws.

5. Check your background without your consent

The Fair Credit Reporting Act, or FCRA, states landlords can only conduct a credit and background check for permissible purposes, such as housing. They can’t pull your credit or background for the following reasons:

  • In an attempt to collect past due rent

  • For marketing purposes

  • In search of a criminal record

Based on local landlord-tenant laws, landlords must inform tenants of their intent to check their background and credit reports. They also must get the tenant’s consent before running the checks.[3]

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6. Fail to make health- and safety-related repairs

By law, landlords must provide habitable housing by making any repairs that could materially affect the safety and health of the average tenant. While this might exclude minor fixes like a leaky faucet, landlords have to take care of significant problems, including:

  • Heating, electrical, and plumbing issues

  • Extermination for pests, including rats and cockroaches

  • Hot and cold water supply

  • Heat and air conditioning supply

  • Severe damage to floors or stairways

  • The presence of black mold in the walls

  • Removal of lead-based paint

7. Prohibit service animals

While landlords can impose fees for pets or even deny renting to tenants with pets, the federal Fair Housing Act provides an exception for tenants with disabilities. Under the FHA, discriminatory practices include denying a tenant with disabilities the full-time use of their service, assistance, or emotional support animal.[4]

You shouldn’t need to pay fees for service animals because a trained service animal is technically a working animal instead of a pet. The law requires landlords to allow service animals and make reasonable accommodations, even if the lease agreement doesn’t allow pets.

Examples of service animals include:

  • A bird that reduces a person’s anxiety or depression

  • A dog that can detect and alert its owner to an imminent seizure

  • A cat that minimizes a person’s pain from a stress-related stimulus

And one thing landlords can do: Require renters insurance

While current laws don’t require tenants to carry renters insurance, landlords can add it to the lease agreement as a stipulation. Renters insurance ultimately benefits tenants. The standard policy covers a renter’s belongings and loss of use and adds liability protection for a low monthly price.

Why Renters Insurance Is Always Worth It

Why Renters Insurance Is Always Worth It

What to do if your landlord breaks the rules

If your landlord breaks these rules, you can try to rectify the damage yourself or take legal action and bring your landlord to small claims court to sue for damages. If the landlord refuses to make repairs on time, you have several options. You can withhold rent payments until they make the repairs, make the repairs yourself then deduct the cost from the rent, or move out.

If the landlord fails to return a security deposit, you can file a lawsuit at your county courthouse. Tenants can collect double the security deposit amount in small claims court, depending on the state.

You can also file a claim with your local government or state housing authority. Review the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) website for your rights and the legal recourse in your state.[5]

Tenant and landlord rules FAQs

Find more information below about what a landlord can and can’t do while renting a dwelling.

  • What should you do if you feel a landlord has discriminated against you?

    You should file a fair housing complaint. The HUD website has information about how to file and where to send your complaints. It also has information in several languages.

  • Can a lease change what a landlord can do?

    As long as the lease doesn’t violate the tenant’s rights under the laws of their state, the landlord can add whatever they want to the lease agreement. The tenant and the landlord can negotiate the terms of the lease before signing. After both parties sign, neither the tenant nor the landlord can change the terms.

  • Can you refuse to allow your landlord to show your apartment?

    No, you can’t refuse entry, but you can request prior notice before a showing. Flat-out refusal could qualify as a violation of your lease.

  • When can a landlord keep your security deposit?

    The laws vary by state. However, if the tenant breaks the lease, the landlord can keep the security deposit for the unpaid rent. They can also keep the deposit if the renter leaves property damage beyond normal wear and tear, leaves utilities unpaid, or leaves a substantial mess beyond normal wear and tear that the landlord has to clean up before renting the unit out again.

Sources

  1. United States Census Bureau. "QuickFacts United States."
  2. Civil Rights Division U.S. Department of Justice. "The Fair Housing Act."
  3. Federal Trade Commission. "Fair Credit Reporting Act."
  4. The Humans Society of the United States. "The Fair Housing Act and assistance animals."
  5. U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. "Tenant Rights."
Courtney Washington
Courtney Washington

Courtney Washington is a Texas A&M University graduate. Her extensive knowledge and background in auto, home, and umbrella policies make her a one-stop shop for insurance advice and information. She loves to help her readers understand their insurance choices so they can make informed decisions about their coverage.

Katie Powers
Edited byKatie PowersAuto and Life Insurance Editor
Photo of an Insurify author
Katie PowersAuto and Life Insurance Editor
  • Licensed auto and home insurance agent

  • 3+ years experience in insurance and personal finance editing

Katie uses her knowledge and expertise as a licensed property and casualty agent in Massachusetts to help readers understand the complexities of insurance shopping.

Featured in

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