Understanding Your Basic Rights as a Renter
Laws help protect renters in a range of situations, from getting repairs made to breaking your lease — or being evicted.
Understanding your renters rights – determined by state and federal law as well as what’s in your rental lease – can help protect you in a range of situations. Here are some basic issues you may encounter:
Your tenant rights
According to the federal Fair Housing Act, tenant rights actually begin when you first start looking for a place, and they extend until your security deposit is returned after moving out. These laws make it illegal for landlords to discriminate based on race, religion, national origin, family status, age, disability, or gender. (If you believe any of these rights have been violated, you can submit a complaint to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.)
Also be sure to review your rental lease agreement periodically to ensure you understand the rights and responsibilities specific to the terms of your contract.
Regardless of whether you’re renting an apartment or a house, you have the right to a safe, clean place. Every window, door, lock and appliance should be in working order. The building itself should be maintained, and the landlord is responsible for making any necessary fixes within a reasonable amount of time. If you have questions or concerns, you may want to seek advice from legal counsel.
What to do when repairs aren’t made
Depending on your state’s laws and individual circumstances, you may have the right to withhold rent payment, break your lease or even sue your landlord if repairs that affect your health and safety aren’t made.
Breaking a lease
It’s technically legal to break your lease at any time. However, it’s likely that you’ll have to pay a financial penalty, which will be stipulated in your rental lease. (At least one month’s rent is typically the minimum fee, with additional costs possible, including responsibility for remainder of the rent on your term). Also remember that knowing how to break a lease doesn’t mean that you should do it; your next landlord will likely want a reference from your current one.
If you are wondering how to deal with bad roommates, be aware that getting rid of them legally is challenging if they are listed on the lease.
Providing written notice
Always provide written notice of your decision to break a lease and send it in a method that shows proof the landlord received it, such as by certified mail. Also be sure to make copies of the letter for your records.
You can keep the letter brief, but it must include:
- Reason(s) for breaking the lease
- When the decision is effective
- Current and future contact information
If you are in a month-to-month rental agreement, you can generally provide a 30 day notice to landlord. However, you should always check your agreement for specifics.
Handling eviction notices
Eviction is never pleasant, but you still have rights even if your landlord has given you notice to vacate. The terms of your lease will determine what grounds the landlord has for eviction. Typically, he or she must notify you and provide an opportunity to fix the problem. The notice must be delivered to you by hand or mail and include all affected tenants’ names, the effective date of eviction and the reason for termination.
A landlord cannot evict you due to discriminatory reasons or for their convenience or benefit. Tenant eviction laws are very specific, with different rules applicable in each state and city.