What to Know About Tenant Rights

By Kaitlin Hurtado on May 29, 2023

Depending on your experience as a landlord or property manager, you may be well-versed in the terms and responsibilities placed on tenants under their lease agreement, but you may not be as mindful of tenant rights. Federal, state, and local laws are in place to protect tenants and as a landlord, you should have a thorough understanding of tenant rights.

Keep reading for what to know about tenant rights.

Photo: Pexels

Right to Freedom from Discrimination 

The Fair Housing Act outlines several tenant rights. The act protects people from discrimination when they are renting or buying a home, getting a mortgage, seeking housing assistance, or engaging in other housing-related activities.”

Under the Fair Housing Act, landlords and property managers are unable to refuse to rent, change a lease’s terms and conditions, limit privileges, or evict a tenant based on a tenant’s race, color, religion, sex, disability, familial status, or nationality.

Similarly, there are other local and state-level definitions of discrimination. In some areas, landlords can be prohibited from discriminating against tenants/potential renters based on their citizenship, veteran or military status, sexual orientation, age, gender identity or expression, source of income, or criminal history.

Even prospective tenants have their own rights, as protected by the Fair Credit Reporting Act of 1970. The act requires the landlord to disclose why a prospective tenant’s apartment application was rejected because of their credit. The prospective tenant must provide a written request to the landlord in order to receive the information.

Right to Privacy

While you may own the property as a landlord, you do not have open access to the property as you wish. Every tenant has their right to privacy within their own unit or home, and as a landlord, you can only enter for specified reasons. If you are entering the property to complete a repair or an inspection, you likely will have to give a notice in advance. Depending on your state, you may have to give at least 24 hours’ notice.

This protects against visits made during inappropriate hours, with the exception of an emergency.

Right to a Habitable Home

All tenants have the right to live in a habitable home that meets building, health, and safety codes. As a landlord, you must:

- Ensure that the building’s basic structural elements are safe and intact.

- Provide sufficient hot water and reliable heating.

- Ensure that environmental hazards, such as asbestos and lead paint dust do not pose a danger to tenants. Landlords must also disclose information about lead-based paint and other hazards to new and current tenants.

- Exterminate any pests, such as cockroaches, rodents, and bedbugs.

- Maintain safe electric, heating, air conditioning, plumbing, ventilating, sanitary, and elevator systems.

- Keep common areas, such as stairways and hallways, safe and clean.

With state laws, you must also install smoke directors, and depending on the state you are in, you may also be required to install carbon monoxide detectors.

This extends to maintenance requests and the timeliness of a resolution.

Right to a Disability Accommodation 

If your tenant has a disability, you must accommodate their needs within reason, or allow tenants to make reasonable modifications to their unit and common space. The accommodations must give the tenants equal opportunity to use and enjoy their unit and/or common space.

A common example of this is giving the tenant a designated parking space close to the tenant’s use. When it comes to accommodating within reason, it should be taken case by case. For example, if there are plenty of first-floor, accessible units available, but a tenant wants a third-floor apartment unit when there are only stairs, you are not expected to install an elevator as a landlord.

Right to Advance Notice of Eviction

In the event you want to evict a tenant, you must give them notice, typically in writing. Depending on where you are located, it must be provided within 30 to 60 days. However, if a tenant has violated their lease, the notice can be given in three to five days.

The two common types of eviction notices are for cause and without cause. With for cause, landlords have identified that the tenant has done something wrong, or violated the lease terms (most common: extensive property damage or delinquent rent payments). Without cause, eviction notices can stem from a landlord terminating a month-to-month lease, even if the tenant has not done anything wrong.

While these are general tenant rights you should keep in mind, you should also verify whatever local laws that may outline additional tenant rights in your area. Many states will have more specific laws regarding eviction, rent control, security deposits, right to information, and so on – be sure to read up on your local laws.

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