With the rising cost of homes, more people are turning toward renting instead of buying. Some renters are disappointed because they do not have as much control over their household when they rent a property.
While there are some limitations, there are also advantages and legal protections renters may not be aware of.
These are known as renters’ rights, which refer to any federal, state or local law that ensures your landlord provides a safe living space.
If you are planning on renting a property or are currently in disputes with your property owner, it may be a good idea to brush up on the rental laws in your state. While some laws change based on where you live, the majority are federally enforced, meaning they are the same across all states.
Listed below are some rights that are guaranteed to you as a renter.
Fair Housing Act
Renters’ rights begin before you even find a home or apartment to rent. The Fair Housing Act guarantees a property owner cannot deny your application based on your race, skin color, religion, age or gender.
You also cannot be denied based on any physical or mental disabilities or family status.
Many states offer further protections. There are some limited exceptions to these rules if the housing units or apartments are designed for specific individuals.
For example, there are senior citizen communities which have age requirements, as well as retirement communities or specialized apartments built for disabled renters.
Another aspect of the Fair Housing Act relates to disabilities. If a property owner accepts your application, he or she must make reasonable accommodations for your new home.
For example, if you are in a wheelchair, your property owner must install ramps and prioritize lower-level units. There are some limitations, which may vary based on your state.
Property owners are not required to make major remodels to accommodate a single tenant. What constitutes a major remodel will vary depending on where you live.
The Fair Housing Act also involves protection from retaliation. If you have an issue with your property owner, he or she is unable to legally raise your rent or deny you assistance.
Fair Credit Reporting Act
The Fair Credit Reporting Act has a similar purpose to housing rights.
The most common reason a property owner denies your request is because of your credit score. Legally, this is a valid reason for property owners to reject an application.
However, they must inform you that this is the reason. Additionally, you can request in writing what aspect of your credit report caused them to deny your application.
The bulk of Renters’ Rights centers around having a habitable residence. Legally, your property owner must provide you with safe living conditions.
The exact requirements may vary based on state, but there are some common federal guidelines. This includes having access to usable heat, utilities and clean water.
An important aspect of a habitable residence that is often a source of disagreement between tenant and renter is repairs and upkeep.
Legally, your property owner is responsible for making repairs to your home. These repairs must be conducted in a reasonable amount of time, and they cannot charge you any additional fees for these repairs.
You cannot be penalized for requesting a repair. Your property owner can only act against you if you willingly cause damage to the home or apartment.
Another often overlooked aspect of habitable residence rights centers around your legal right to privacy.
While the property belongs to your property owner, he or she cannot enter your rental unit without providing notice. How much notice your property owner provides changes depending on your state.
Some states also allow limited exceptions if the property owner believes there is an immediate concern, such as another tenant reporting smoke coming from your unit.
Security Deposit Rights
Most landlords require tenants to pay a security deposit before moving in.
A security deposit is an agreed upon amount which your property owner uses to pay for any repairs or damage you cause to the property. If there is no damage when you move out, the security deposit is returned to you.
There are fewer federal restrictions regarding security deposits. The most important rule is landlords cannot unreasonably charge higher security deposits for their tenants.
There are situations where a property owner is allowed to charge more.
For example, if you have a pet, your property owner can include a reasonable pet fee as part of the deposit, since pets are more likely to cause damage to a housing unit or require additional cleaning when you move.
There are limits on how much a property owner can charge for a security deposit, but these vary depending on your state.
Some states also have laws requiring a property owner to document and report how the security deposit is used. This keeps the property owner from making up damages and pocketing your deposit.
Eviction rights have greater variance because the requirements are largely based on your lease agreement. Each property owner handles lease agreements in different ways.
Some common reasons for eviction in a lease include:
- Failure to pay your rent on time
- Allowing unlisted individuals or pets to live in your home
- Breaking apartment rules, like curfew, guests or noise
While a property owner can set stipulations for your eviction, you cannot be evicted immediately or without notice.
For example, if your lease has an eviction stipulation regarding missed payments, your property owner must notify you about the upcoming eviction and give you the opportunity to pay the missing rent.
When you are given an eviction notice, you can challenge the eviction in court. Keep in mind, if you lose the court case, you may face additional charges, such as legal fees for your property owner.
Protecting your Rights
Many renters feel powerless if their property owner ignores their rights. If you are having an issue with a property owner, your best option is to try and resolve it directly.
If that does not work, you can hire an attorney. If your property owner is denying your Fair Housing Act rights, you can file a claim with the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).