Understanding your rights as a tenant (Landlord Tenant Laws)

Posted on February 13, 2019

In a perfectly balanced real estate market there would be enough demand from buyers or renters to equal the supply from sellers. However, these are precarious times, and demand won’t always equal supply. Depending on how wide the gap is, the market could skew to favor either buyers/tenants or owners/landlords. Some markets have a wide discrepancy in terms of demand and supply. And this could affect leasing strategies. For example, some owners might see themselves shortchanged in an effort to fill their rental vacancies. On the other hand, tenants could also find themselves bound by unreasonable terms in high demand real estate rental markets. This is why it is essential to understand the rules and regulations governing leasing in order to be fair to both parties.

The laws are in place in order for all people to enjoy safety, security and freedom to live as they see fit without infringing on other people rights.

As a landlord, you want to make sure that your investment property will not be vandalized, left to fall into dilapidation, or used for criminal activity. As a tenant, you would want to be able to be secure in the knowledge that your rental home is a safe haven for you and your family – that it is not infested, ill-maintained, or be uninhabitable. Both would want to be safe, secure, and make sure that they get what they are paying for. It is important to know your rights as a landlord or as a tenant in order to have the safety and security that the law affords.

For the sake of fairness, we will take a look at how the law affects both tenant and landlord. We started by taking a look at the rights of owners or landlords. Let us now dive into understanding the rights of a tenant. Here’s what you need to know about your rights as a tenant:

At the Federal Level:
The same laws that apply to landlords or owners, govern tenants and prospective buyers. Tenants or real estate buyers in the US need to refer to the Fair Housing Act and the Fair Credit Reporting Act.

Tenants or prospective buyers should be able to enjoy the right to buy, rent, or negotiate for a property regardless of race, color, national origin, religion, sex, familial status, or disability status as stated in the Fair Housing Act. It extends beyond leasing to include advertising, preventing landlords from marketing their properties to a protected class.

While landlords can exercise discretion when screening and choosing new tenants, factors such as a potential tenant’s race or gender shall not be taken against them when applying for tenancy. The Fair Credit Reporting Act outlines the different procedures in which a landlord may use a tenant’s credit history for screening purposes. Under this act, a landlord has to get an applicant’s permission in order to run a credit report, provide information on the credit reporting agency used, and inform the applicant if the information contained on the credit report was the basis for denial or adverse action.

As always, it is best to familiarise yourself with these laws especially if you are a potential tenant or buyer. Ignorance of the law excuses no one.

At the State level:
Laws would differ from state to state but only slightly. Generally, state laws would outline practical matters such as (but not limited to) tenant’s rights and responsibilities and a landlords’ rights and responsibilities, lease terms and conditions, lease termination rules, handling of evictions, fees and charges, deposits, and legal handling, among others.

Most property managers are familiar with state landlord-tenant laws. Would be tenants (and buyers) should brush up on these laws in order to know their rights and what they are legally entitled to. If you are a tenant, you can brush up on your knowledge of the state laws here.

Your rights as a Tenant:
Tenants rights relate mostly to protecting their health, safety, and security in their rented home. For example, tenants have to make sure that there are no unfair provisions or anything that would endanger their health, safety, and peace of mind in their lease contract.

You have the right to a fair screening – The Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, gender, religion, national origin, familial status, or color. It requires landlords to provide the applicant with the name and address of the credit reporting agency should the landlord decide to reject an application.

You have the right to examine your lease contract – Read your lease agreement very, very carefully. If you can go over it with a lawyer, then better. Do not sign anything you have not read. Most landlords are flexible with their terms and can make certain concessions if you negotiate with them. Explain your point calmly so that you can come to an agreement. You can walk away if the terms are something you can’t live with.

You have the right to guard your privacy – The landlord may own the whole property, but they have no right to enter your unit without verbal or written permission. A landlord must inform you 24 hours prior to entering your unit and would have to state the reason for entering your home. An exception would be emergency cases such as a gas leak or life or death situations.

You have the right to request (insist) repairs – If problems such as a leaking roof, faulty electrical wiring, sanitation issues, structural faults, or bad drainage (among other things) is a problem, you must insist on having them repaired. These things can affect the health, safety, and quality of life of the property inhabitants and must be swiftly addressed before they cause harm to the tenants.

You have the right to protect yourself – Tenants must always feel safe in their home so should you feel the need to install window locks, bolts, cameras, or screens – you should do so. Most landlords are prudent enough to install safety features (like locks, gates, cameras, or intercoms) to ensure the protection of their tenants and their rental property. It is up to you if you want to reinforce those safety measures.