15 Common Renter’s Rights


October 9, 2006   •   Fact checked by Dumb Little Man

It’s unfortunately time for me to begin searching for a new tenant for a my rental townhouse. The end of the year is not an ideal time to do this, but it’s out of my control. Our current tenants need to move.

I am up early on a Sunday to make sure my application and lease forms are up to date and I came across a good list of tips and explanations on MSN Money. This is good info for anyone that’s currently renting.

  • The Fair Housing Act makes it illegal to deny housing to a tenant on the grounds of race, color, sex, religion, disability, family status, or national origin.
  • Residential rental units should be habitable and in compliance with housing and health codes—meaning they should be structurally safe, sanitary, weatherproofed, and include adequate water, electricity, and heat.
  • Many states limit the amount landlords can charge for security deposits. (See this page on Nolo.com to find out if yours is one of them.)
  • A landlord should make necessary repairs and perform maintenance tasks in a timely fashion, or include a provision in the lease stating that tenants can order repairs and deduct the cost from rent.
  • A landlord must give prior notice (typically 24 hours) before entering your premises and can normally only do so to make repairs or in case of an emergency.
  • Illegal provisions in a rental agreement (provisions counter to state law) are usually not enforceable in court.
  • If a landlord has violated important terms related to health, safety, or necessary repairs, you might have a legal right to break your lease.
  • If you have to break a long-term lease, in most states landlords are required to search for a new tenant as soon as possible rather than charging the tenant for the full duration of the lease.
  • Damage or security deposits are not deductible for “normal wear and tear.” Some states require that a landlord give an itemized report of any deductions.
  • Most states require landlords to return refundable portions of a security deposit within 14 to 30 days after the tenant has vacated the premises, even in the case of eviction.
  • Landlords usually can’t legally seize a tenant’s property for nonpayment of rent or any other reason, except in the case of abandonment as defined by law.
  • Landlords are legally prohibited from evicting tenants as retaliation for action a tenant takes related to a perceived landlord violation.
  • A landlord cannot legally change the locks, shut off (or cause to have shut off) your utilities, or evict you without notice; eviction requires a court order.
  • If a landlord makes life so miserable for you that it forces you to move, it may be considered “constructive eviction,” which is usually grounds for legal action.
  • In many states, it’s illegal for a lease to stipulate that the tenant is responsible for the landlord’s attorney fees in case of a court dispute.

If any of this is hitting home for you, Read 15 common renter’s rights at MSN Money.

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