What Are the Biggest Tenant Rights When You’re Renting?

The American Dream used to mean owning a single-family home. Today’s career-driven culture has led many people to eschew the traditional dream for an apartment so they have the ability to move from city to city as they grow within their career.

There are a ton of benefits that come along with renting an apartment. You don’t have to worry about paying for or finding someone to make emergency repairs, and you’re not tied to the property until it can be sold. That said, many renters find that their landlords leave a bad taste in their mouth because of violations of their rights.

What are tenant rights? Read on to learn all about them!

Housing Discrimination Concerns

Landlord-tenant law is a well-developed body of law in the United States for a reason: landlords have a history of abusing their power. For years, landlords were allowed to deny housing to otherwise qualified tenants on the basis of race, sex, marital status, and other protected classes.

That all changed when the US government passed the Fair Housing Act. The Fair Housing Act stops landlords from discriminating against prospective tenants on the basis of several protected classes. If a tenant qualifies to live in an apartment, then the landlord must rent to them and not take any adverse action to get them to leave.

Habitability Explained

Just like housing discrimination issues, landlords historically did not have a legal obligation to prove habitable living spaces. That has changed significantly as landlord-tenant law has developed and an emphasis has been placed on tenant rights. Most courts now hold that landlords have an implied warranty of habitability in the lease contract.

Landlords must deliver housing to you in habitable condition and they must keep it habitable for the duration of your time there. This means housing that is clean, free from pests, with hot water and heat at a minimum. In some states, air conditioning may also be a requirement.

If the heat goes out or you find yourself with an infestation, then your landlord must take immediate action to return your home to a habitable condition. 

Housing Affordability

In theory, your landlord can charge whatever they want for their property as long as they charge the same amount for each person who applies to live there. Once you are in the apartment, however, they may be limited in the amount they can raise your rent when your lease is up for renewal.

Many cities that have particularly robust housing markets have rent control. This means landlords only allowed to raise your rent by a certain percentage. If you’ve recently received a rent increase, it doesn’t hurt to check to see if your city or state has rent control laws.

Your Lease and the Law

You can contract to do a lot of things when you sign a lease. You can even agree to waive certain rights when you sign a lease agreement. You cannot, however, agree to anything that would violate the law.

For example, if you live in a city with rent control that caps increases at 10 percent, you cannot agree to a 20 percent increase in your rent each year. If you find something like this buried in your lease, your landlord is not legally allowed to enforce that portion of your lease, and its existence might invalidate your whole lease.

If you think your landlord has slipped illegal provisions into your lease, be sure to meet with an attorney to discuss your rights and next steps.

All About Eviction

Can a landlord sue you? Yes, they absolutely can!

When you move into an apartment, you sign a lease which is a binding contract between you and the landlord. If either party fails to live up to lease agreement, then you are considered to be in breach of the lease and subject to litigation.

In most cases, when you are in breach of your lease, your landlord will give you the opportunity to cure the issue or move out. This usually occurs when you fail to pay your rent on time, you keep an animal without permission, or you have too many people living in your apartment.

If you fail to cure the issue, then your landlord is within their rights to sue for eviction. Most landlords are required to file a lawsuit in order to evict a tenant. It is only in very limited cases when the landlord is permitted to evict a tenant on their own.

Check your local laws to make sure that your landlord is following the proper procedures if your landlord is suing you or trying to evict you.

Documentation, Documentation, Documentation

Whenever something happens with our landlord that doesn’t seem right, your first thought isn’t to grab a notebook and document everything that’s going on. In fact, you might let a lot of things slide until you reach your breaking point.

Unfortunately, court cases are won and lost based upon the amount of available evidence. That’s why it’s important to make it a habit to document everything that goes wrong with your apartment long before you reach your breaking point.

Start out by filling out the checklist your landlord gives you when you move in and making a copy of it. This checklist gives you the opportunity to comb through the apartment and document any pre-existing damages or flaws. This gives your landlord a heads up to make necessary repairs and prevents your landlord from charging you for those damages when you move out.

Next, photograph and document anything that breaks while you’re a tenant. If those issues cost you money, then you should also keep a copy of the receipts for those expenses. If your landlord fails to make a repair, keep a copy of any correspondence you send to them.

Remember, you cannot keep too many records, but you can keep too few!

Are You Concerned About Your Tenant Rights?

Tenant rights are an incredibly important part of your rental agreement. They may not always be explicitly laid out in your lease contract, but your landlord is still required to abide by federal, state, and local laws and maintain a habitable living space. Always document everything that your landlord does or fails to do, and if you believe your rights have been violated, contact an attorney to help you navigate what to do next.

Are you interested in learning more about life as a tenant or how to become a landlord yourself? You’ve come to the right place! Check out the rest of our blog to stay informed!