Calling All Tenants: Here are Your Rights

by J-Snow on October 1, 2013

(US property law) If you’re renting, you have a lot of rights you may not realize. Each state has different laws, and because of that, it can get confusing. However, there are some pretty basic rights you have, no matter where you call home.

Right Against Discrimination


Image via Flickr by U.S. Mission Uganda

Your landlord cannot discriminate against you on the grounds of your:

  • Religion
  • Race
  • Sex
  • Color
  • Family status
  • Disability
  • Nation of origin

This means that if a landlord doesn’t agree with your religion, it doesn’t matter. They legally can’t deny you because of this. Unfortunately, these protections against discrimination don’t cover everything. There is still discrimination that happens at times. However, if you find that a potential landlord denies you based on one of the grounds listed above, you have the option of recourse.

Right to Prior Notice

Your landlord does not have the right to simply walk into your home. They need to give you prior notice. The amount of time varies from state to state, however, it’s usually required that they let you know they’ll be entering the property at least 24 hours in advance. In addition to this, they need to have a reason. In most cases, this is because of an emergency or to make repairs.

In some cases, the right to prior notice may be waived. This is usually in the case of an extreme emergency. However, in these cases, it’s still smart for the landlord to try to let you know they’re entering the property.

Right to a Safe Environment

When you’re looking at apartments for rent, remember that it’s your right to live in a home that is safe and habitable. The house must comply with all health and housing codes. If it doesn’t, the landlord is responsible for ensuring that it does live up to code. Some things that are included in this is that the home is weatherproofed, structurally safe, sanitary, and has adequate utilities. Keep in mind that this doesn’t mean you won’t have to pay for the utilities — they simply need to be available to the home.

Right to Your Deposit

Day 4 - Paying off debt

Image via Flickr by Quazie

Your right to your safety deposit is a little confusing and frustrating for most people. However, when considering your deposit, it’s important to remember that the deposit needs to be refundable. If a landlord tells you that the deposit is not refundable, consider looking elsewhere. In addition to this, deductions to the deposit cannot be because of normal wear and tear. Many states require that the landlord produce and itemized list of reasons they deduct money from your original deposit.

Almost all the states require that a landlord return the portion of the deposit that is refundable within a specific time. While each state is a little different, most require this within 14-30 days of leaving the home. Some states limit the amount of money that can be required for the security deposit, as well.

Right to Access

Once you have signed a contract, you have the right to the property at the time specified in the contract. More specifically, you have the right to access the property through the term of the lease, unless evicted. The landlord is not allowed to shut off your utilities, have them shut off, change the locks, or otherwise restrict your access to the property. The only way they are able to legally do any of this is if they have legally evicted you. In most cases, an eviction requires a court order.

The landlord is also unable to take your property because of lack of payment. They only time they are able to do this is under the terms of abandonment, which is defined in the state law.

Right to Service Animals


Image via Flickr by Sean Freese

While in most cases landlords are able to restrict the animals in a home, or charge an extra deposit for pets, this is not the case when it comes to service animals. If you’re worried about getting an apartment because you have a service animal, stop worrying. Landlords are not allowed to either refuse or charge for these animals. As long as the animal is legally a service animal, and you are able to prove this, they cannot keep them out of the home.

Remember, all of these rights are general and basic. This is because the laws in each state, and even in each area within a state, the laws can vary significantly. If you’re concerned about the rights you have, there are many people you can contact, from lawyers to rights advocates for the state.


Jessica Snow is a freelance writer, traveler, foodie and dog lover.

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