Property Management, Tenant Selection, Real Estate News & Tips

Top 10 Landlord-Tenant Laws to Remember

By on September 20, 2017 in Education with 40 Comments

landlord-tenant lawsLaws pertaining to rental housing are established to protect both parties of the landlord-tenant relationship.  Knowledge of and compliance with federal, state and local regulations is crucial for both landlords and tenants.  Rental property owners want to run a profitable business and protect their investment.  Tenants want to live peacefully in a rental home and protect their personal rights.

As a landlord, understanding your rights and legal obligations will help you protect yourself, your rental business and your investment property.

Federal Landlord-Tenant Laws

The major federal laws that affect all landlords and property managers are the Fair Housing Act and the Fair Credit Reporting Act.

The Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination due to race, color, national origin, religion, sex familial status or disability.  The Fair Housing Act extends beyond leasing to include advertising, preventing landlords from marketing their properties to certain groups of people.

The Fair Credit Reporting Act dictates the ways in which a landlord may use a tenant’s credit history for screening purposes.  Under this act, a landlord must get an applicant’s permission to run a credit report, provide information on the credit reporting agency used, and inform the applicant if information contained on the credit report was the basis for denial or adverse action.

State Laws

States laws regarding rental properties and tenant rights typically concern practical matters.

These include things like the rights and responsibilities of tenants and landlords, what terms and conditions can be set as part of a lease, lease termination guidelines, and how evictions must be handled.  

State laws can also dictate how much a landlord can charge for security deposits, how those funds can legally be handled, and how property managers must use trust accounts for rental income.

A Landlord’s Legal Responsibility

It is very important to become familiar with landlord-tenant laws specific to your state and city.  Ignorance of the laws is no excuse and you can be sued for not obeying state laws, even if you were unaware of their existence.

Nolo provides a great starting point when conducting your own research on state landlord-tenant laws.   

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) is responsible for regulations covering discrimination and other federal issues affecting your tenants.  You can also check with your state real estate board or join a local professional agency for property managers or landlords who should be able to provide guidance on state regulations.    

Important legal responsibilities landlords need to remember:

  1. Discrimination :
    Whether you are advertising your property, screening new tenants or setting apartment rules, make sure that you are in compliance with Fair Housing laws and that any actions or policies apply to everyone (with supporting documentation), and cannot be construed as affecting some people but not others.
  2. Legal Lease Document:
    Providing a lease agreement and any other legal paperwork is all part of a landlord’s duties. It’s your responsibility to ensure the rental contract is legally written and abides by all laws. Leasing periods, monthly rental rates and tenant names must be clearly indicated. In some jurisdictions, legal disclosures, such as security deposit details, must be included. The lease should also contain all appropriate clauses, such as advising tenants to purchase renters’ insurance.
  3. Disclosures:
    Many states require landlords to inform tenants of important state laws, individual landlord policies, or facts about the rental, either in the lease agreement or in another writing—typically before the tenant moves in.
    Federal law requires landlords to disclose lead-based paint hazards to tenants.  Every state has different requirements, but common disclosures that may need to be part of your lease agreement could  include – notice of mold, notice of sex offenders, recent deaths, lead-based paint disclosure, meth contamination or other potential health or safety hazards.
  4. Providing a Safe Environment:
    Another obligation is to make sure the rental unit is in a safe, habitable condition. The property must not have any serious deficiencies, and any supplied appliances, fixtures, plumbing and heating must be in good working order. The property must be free of insects and pests. Landlords are generally responsible for getting infestations under control, even if they occur after tenants have moved in, although in most states landlords can avoid this by specifying in the rental agreement that pest control is the renter’s responsibility.
  5. Refusal to make repairs:
    Tenants have the responsibility of reporting any repairs that need to be done. Landlords’ responsibilities include responding to these reports and completing repairs in a timely manner. A tenant may be within their rights to withhold rent money if a landlord fails to make a repair that affects the health or safety of a tenant, like a broken heating unit in freezing temperatures.
  6. Keeping Security Deposits:
    Most lease agreements require a tenant to pay a security deposit to cover damage caused by the tenant or if a tenant does not pay rent.  A landlord can only keep security deposit funds that are used to cover default rent payments or fixing property damage.A landlord must provide the tenant with an itemized list of deductions and must pay the balance of the deposit back to the tenant. The failure of a landlord to provide an itemized statement or the failure to return the unused portion of the security deposit can result in the landlord owning more than the kept security deposit funds.
  7. Disregard to Privacy:
    Most landlord-tenant laws protect a tenant’s right to quiet enjoyment. — meaning they have the benefit of living in a home without being disturbed. Once a tenant has possession of a property, the landlord may not interfere with this right. It’s therefore the landlord’s responsibility to ensure he or she does not
    enter the rental unit without proper notice (usually 24 – 48 hours, except in emergencies). When a landlord enters the rental property, it must be at a reasonable time of day and for a valid reason.
  8. Mishandling of Abandoned Property :
    When a tenant leaves items behind after vacating the property, the landlord must treat it as abandoned property. The landlord must notify the tenant of how to claim the property, the cost for storage, where to claim the property, and how long the tenant has to claim the items. If the property remains unclaimed and it is worth more than a certain amount, the landlord may sell the property at a public sale.  If the property is worth less than the state-specified amount, the landlord may either keep the property or throw it away.
  9. Allowing Criminal Acts to Take Place : If a landlord becomes aware of any criminal activity taking place in one of their rental units, they must report it to authorities. Illegal tenant activity could involve drug use or distribution or much worse.  A landlord is typically responsible for protecting the neighborhood of the rental property from the criminal acts of his tenants and could be held liable or face a variety of legal punishments if illegal activities occur at the property.
  10. Safety Features: It is your duty to protect your tenants, to a point. In some jurisdictions, landlords must provide specific safety measures. These may include fire and carbon monoxide detectors, fire extinguishers, front door peepholes, deadbolt locks on exterior doors and window locks.And a bonus law:
  11. Mishandling Evictions:  An eviction is a legal action by a landlord to remove a tenant from a rental property. Every state has laws that regulate the eviction process.A landlord can evict a tenant for the nonpayment of rent, for the failure to vacate the premises after a lease agreement has expired, for a violation of a provision in the rental contract, or if the tenant causes damage to the property and it results in a substantial decrease in the value of the property.Before throwing out a tenant, a landlord must go through the legal eviction process. Every state has different guidelines, but most require giving the tenant a termination notice before filing an eviction lawsuit. If the landlord attempts to remove the tenant without a court order, the tenant may recover damages for the landlord’s actions.

Landlord-tenant laws change often, so it is always a good idea to re-evaluate your rental business’s policies and seek legal counsel from someone familiar with landlord-tenant laws in your state in order to proactively address these potential issues before it is too late.

Related Reading For You:

Landlord Disclosures: What You Have to Tell Your Tenant – State Guide

Fair Housing Update – Illegal Use of Criminal Records for Tenant Screening

5 Rental Laws You Didn’t Know About Roommates

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About the Author

About the Author: Kaycee (Wegener) Miller manages marketing and media relations for Rentec Direct, bringing a unique perspective to the world of property management and proudly shares industry news, products, and trends within the community. .


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There Are 40 Brilliant Comments

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  1. CATHY CLARK says:

    what are the laws in a travel park having 613 sites on having a minimal number of security guards we have no security guards at nite there are drug dealers in this park and they come in at nite and steal from us the owner wont hirer any security guards and we have just a very few cameras we are in holiday fl and in an area where there is a lot of drug activity please respond we need help even the owners have failed there own drug test in the past we need guards the owners entire family is drug riden. this has to stay between us

    • That sounds like an unfortunate housing situation. While I can’t offer you legal advice for your particular situation, I would recommend contacting your local housing authority to report your landlords and talk to them about next steps. If you feel like you or your property is in danger contact the police.

    • Angela London says:

      What if you landlord moves in occupied rental house under false pretenses. And almost a year layer you find out they were court ordered from their own home do to spousal beating. Also we have lived in home going on 9 years w 8 of those years w know lease renewal?

  2. shellligraham says:

    I have been asked 2 vacant my unit. Apt by June 30.I notified my recertification team ohfa. They came out did a inspection. I sen5 off insulation to a lab in my state. Its not what you know its who you know. The fiber is horrible. Anyway I received a extension to search for another apt. But my voucher is very low I qualify for only 570 u barely can find that. The substance is so offensive. If it is asbestos and mis diagnosed then I will suffer. Five people have died on this property with respitorory unfection..

  3. Diana Smith says:

    Just a quick note: I Love your posts/stories! Very informative but are you going to reply to the above questions? One is almost 6 months old.
    I wanted to follow your activity and posts however you don’t respond with comments or replies that I’m aware of. In doing so we know that you actually read/follow after you post.

    • Hi Diana,

      We are glad to hear you enjoy the blog. And thank you for your comment.

      We try to review all comments and answer when appropriate. Please remember we cannot offer legal advice but can provide educational resources to help landlords, property managers and tenants conduct their own research. Questions involving specific legal needs should be directed to a local housing authority or attorney. While we do reply privately to some comments, we have made the response back to the comments on this page public, with hopes to help other readers gain insight from this rental experience.

  4. Diana Smith says:

    Apologies Kaycee, I did not see your reply on the date in question. I must have been reading w/my eyes closed again! LOL Thanks for replying. ENJOY:)

  5. Tony Hoffer says:

    We own a mobile home in a mobile home park and there are new owners and they want a lease that contains outrageous rules, such as; they want us tenants to all pay a flat fee of $75 a month for water/sewar and we do not have individual water meters. Is this even legal, let alone ethical?

    • If there are not individual meters on the properties it is pretty normal for the management company to apply a flat fee to all tenants. Did you used to pay for water and sewer and have an idea how much it should cost? Did the old owners previously cover the cost of the water and sewer for you? It doesn’t sounds like anything illegal is happening here unless you can prove that the owners are unjustly charging too much and making a huge profit on the utilities.

  6. Marco Valdez says:

    What if the HOAs trying to inforce a no parking comercial vehicle rule directly to me as a renter? there cc&rs does say no parking comercial vehicles but the landlord did not give me a copy before I rented or at the time of move in. Even to this day the landlord has not said anything. Can the HOA still take legal action against myself?

    • Does your lease say anything about needing to follow the CC&Rs or the HOA rules? Most leases will say something along those lines to cover all the rules established by the HOA without needing to specifically include them in the lease.

      • Marco Valdez says:

        No it does not it does not say anything about following The HOA rules.

        • So perhaps there might be a case for the landlord paying the fine since he did not inform you you needed to follow the CC&R stipulations, at least for now. But he should have you sign a lease addendum about your agreement to follow the CC&Rs. And the HOA does probably have something in their terms that all tenants must follow the CC&Rs, including rental tenants. If you are unable to meet the HOA rules, hopefully your landlord should let you break the lease without penalty.

  7. Carol Smith says:

    I have rented from a private landlord for 6 years. Lease is up 2/28. She informed us she is putting house up for sale before lease is up. She walked through the house a few weeks ago and made a list of items she wants fixed/addressed/cleaned including carpet (realtor told her to replace, she doesnt want to spend money). She is harassing us to fix this stuff so she can put her house on market asap. Everyone I talk to says this is unheard of and landlord should be using security deposit. I know she has the right to sell house and put on lockbox but do I have to address these issues? Isnt this her responsibility? Let me also add that she never made yearly inspections of property so she had no idea what condition the house was in prior to 1/2.

    • You are required to return the property to the exact condition it was upon moving in when your lease is up. Even if you moved in six years ago. Do you or the landlord have any proof or a checklist for what the move-in condition was six years ago? If not, it will become your word against hers. It’s usually normal for a landlord to require a tenant get the carpet cleaned before moving out, check you lease agreement, it should provide move-out details. Depending on your state’s laws, you technically do not have to pay to get the property fixed, but the landlord can charge you if the required repairs were proved to be caused by the tenant. The landlord can typically only use the security deposit after you move out of the property and a move-out inspection has been completed. Landlords are advised to make yearly inspections (even quarterly) but they are not required to. If you never reported any required repairs that were the fault of the property, the landlord can reasonably assume that you cause the damage and thus you would be responsible for paying to have it fixed. For example, a leaky sink was never reported and now there is water damage under the kitchen sink…that would be considered tenant negligence and you would be responsible for paying for the repair. Check your state’s laws about what is considered normal wear and tear, you should not be responsible for restoring normal wear and tear issues.

  8. christopher math says:

    i rent a duplex side by side my end being the last in a one road coldasack the landlord hires a guy to plow the property of snow. while doing so he broke a bunch of things on my half of the duplex ive verbally told the plower face to face i can take care of my own snow so instead of not touching my stuff he assumes to just block me in by plowin the lots snow to my end right behind my car ive sent 2 text to the landlors with no reaponse or resolve. the guys perceeds to do it again exhausted after digin nails out of my parking soace spend 3hrs replacing landscaping an removing my snow on my lot the guy does it again i called the landlords cell no answer 2times left msges explaining the whole thing to him yet gain he doesnt respond 6am until almost 7 pm that night he finally came over to tell me that because its only my wifes name on lease if i dont move my stuff an let this guy plow on my side of the property hes kicken me off his property i live here for almost 2 yrs with my wife an 2 kids for one. for two nvr had a problem with the landlord till now. an he tells me im have to let this guy plow what am i supose to do i told the plower i dnt want him on my stuff cuz he broke shit i told the landlord i can do my own snow were am i to get some resolve from thia

    • It is reasonable for the landlord to hire a snow removal person and require that you oblige. Each city might have specific snow removal laws for rentals that your landlord has to follow. If the snow remover is breaking or damaging your property, keep a list and ask the landlord to have it replaced/repaired. That stinks that your landlord is threatening you. Threats in retaliation are almost always illegal. I am not sure how it will work in this case though, since you are not on the lease. It still sounds like retaliation though and I don’t think that is right. I would speak with your local housing authority for further guidance and clarification of your local landlord-tenant laws and how they apply to your circumstance.

  9. I bout a trailer and decided to rent out the property in the trailer court I asked my landlord for a copy of the lease he replied saying the owner wants a dollar for each page can they do this ?dont I have a legal right to get a copy of my lease ? ( from Texas ) what should I do ?

    • Your landlord should have provided you with a copy of the lease at the start of tenancy. If you have misplaced your copy, you can request a new one from your landlord. It is reasonable for the owner/landlord to charge you for a replacement copy of the lease, while $1/page sounds kind of high, that might what it costs to have it printed. Can you ask for an electronic copy (PDF) of the lease be emailed to you to save on printing? Or perhaps you can ask to just see the lease at the landlord’s office, and that you don’t need to keep your own copy.

  10. Tina R Dotson says:

    My landlord came to fix the toilet in my apartment. He closed the door and would not let me see what he was doing. Several days later I received a letter in the mail saying that he had taken pictures of my bathroom and it wasn’t clean. I feel so violated. My bathroom wasn’t spic and span but it wasn’t filthy and I feel like he violated my privacy. I pay my rent 100% and I have never been late or missed a payment but my landlord has me inder constant surveillance and scrutiny and its ruining my livelihood. Do I have any legal rights?

    • Oh no, I am sorry to hear about your situation. It sounds super stressful. Did your landlord give you notice to fix the toilet? Did you let him into your apartment after you called to request a maintenance situation? If so, that sounds legal to me. While he is there, it makes sense that he would conduct a routine inspection, this includes taking pictures. Is the landlord charging a fine, or just notifying you to keep the place clean? Again this sounds super normal. Grime and dirt and mildew and trash, especially in the bathroom, can damage the property and attract bugs and vermin. I would check your lease, there might be specific language about keeping the inside of the property clean. Is it just this one instance of surveillance that makes you feel bad? If your landlord is actively ruining your right to quiet enjoyment, I would contact your local housing authority or speak with an attorney about your next move for enforcing your legal rights.

  11. Brooke seay says:

    Our landlord/employer falsely accused my boyfriend of stealing tools off job site then fired him , told us we might have to move , then cut our power off all in the same week. Can he do this??

    • One typically cannot cut the power to a rental property, unless their is evidence of recent missed payments for utilities, or if the tenant cancels power in their name and the power defaults to an owner account. Your exact circumstance sounds like a tricky situation. I would speak with an attorney about the next step. Retaliation and threats are illegal in almost every state.

  12. Biederman says:

    I Live in a hud property permanent supportive housing. I have lived here 1.25 years. This property is subsidized by hud. The property is owned by a domestic violence center that also owns a supervised visitation center where I am court ordered to visit my 12th yo. In January after over and year of complaing about a bed bug problem I learned of upon move in. The furniture that was provided by landlord , mattress was bug infested. I threw it awAy on a Friday nite and was called by manager and made to return property back into apartment or be evicted for destroying psh property.on Monday. I complied. They never retrieved bug mattress for 4 to 5 weeks. I was told bed bugs were not their problem. Or they die in dryer. I asked tenents about bed bug problem and it was confirmed 2 people had complained for up to 3 go 6 years. One ten was the perzon that occupied my apt before me and other was next door neighbor. The infestation spread in lower units and throw out building to every apt. In Jan of this year I again asked for assistance in extermination. Told again they don’t cover bedbugs. Upon review of landlord tenant law in my stAte I sought help from my right thAt wAs they must exterminate. During the time before I knew my right and wrote a 10 day notice to demand they remedy the problem the apt manager called me into office and said ” if u don’t if you don’t quit spreading rumors that psh has bed bugs then you’re going to get your supervised visit cutoff” the next day my visits were cut off. I haven’t had visits worth my daughter since Dec2017. So many other abuses like this.what can I do

    • This sounds like a terrible situation. I would absolutely contract your local tenant’s authority. They will be able to set you up with the right resources and help to remedy this issue. Good luck!

  13. Alex says:

    I just moved out of my house. Hired a cleaning crew to clean up the house. Other hhan normal use the house is basically the same as when I moved in. My lease was up in January and at the time I gave my landlord a written notice that we were moving out soon we just did not know when. He agreed and decided not to renew our contract. Now he’s upset that we moved out and is calling my new landlord telling them he’s going to send pictures of how we left the house and how we “broke” our lease when in fact he was the one that said we should go month by month. I feel he is invading my privacy.

    • I suggest being up front with your new landlord about what is happening. If you go to your new landlord first, then he is less likely to listen to any negative remarks your old landlord has to say.

  14. joe says:

    i notified my tenant that we not re signing a new 1yr lease via text. On 5/25/18 our lease is up end of july 18′. Am i as the landlord in the wrong?

    • I have heard that courts are accepting text message communication as valid forms of communication between landlords and tenants. Did the tenant respond? Do you have a screen shot with the date of the original message and the tenant’s response? You can still follow up with the tenant and send an official notice that the lease will not be renewing and provide the tenant with move-out instructions.

  15. Mary says:

    I live on the Southwest side of Houston and I been asking the office staff to come see about the mold in my kids restroom and all they did after waiting three months was sprayed it with some bleach and painted over it. What can I do about this ?

    • You can ask to have it test for toxicity. If you find dangerous levels, you might be able to break your lease and move out. Depending on your state laws, you might be able to request the property manager cover the cost of the test. I would speak with your local housing authority or an attorney for further advice.

  16. Gale Marshall says:

    I have lived in my apartment for six years now. There have been small and large issues that have not been addressed. One in particular was when the ceiling in the kitchen and bathroom had water in it. The manager came over With a large screwdriver and poked holes in the sagging ceiling’s. This released the water and left a message for me to clean up. There have been small issues such as a broken kitchen drawer, a ceiling fan that doesn’t work properly and a button on the stove that works intermediately. I was told I would get mini blinds for all my windows over four years ago. New tenants coming in get new mini blinds while I am still waiting. Also does the management have to repaint the walls after six years? Does the management have to replace the carpeting, although when knew when I moved in, it was cheap and thin. Please advise as to what rights I have regarding these situations. I reside in Ohio.

    • Make sure to keep excellent records of maintenance issues and damage with photos and notes. You should also have records of all communication between you and your landlord. I would check your state laws about repair and deduct options that might apply to you.

      It is not typical for a landlord or manager to replace the carpet or repaint the walls in the middle of a lease term, even if it has been six years.

  17. collette marcsis says:

    Hi. I’m going round with the property manager of my unit regarding my fridge. I noticed that there was condensation along the seals and water dripping into the fridge. I bought thermometers and noticed that both the fridge and freezer do not maintain steady temps for food safety. She ‘swapped’ my fridge with one from another unit and I am having same problem. She came with appliance man and the temps happened to be normal WHILE they were there. When I pointed out that my thermometers show lowest and highest temps they both claimed my thermometers weren’t accurate and there are no food safety concerns. I disagree. I know that my food shouldn’t be getting wet! Is this something I can push or is this something not considered important. I will not store food in either because I don’t trust the temps to be maintained evenly.

  18. Christy Summers says:

    I have a friend in Lebanon Mo that has a celling falling in rain comes in! Black mold in celling bad! The landlord has known about it for four years! I’ve reported this to the department of aging! Still nothing done! He is award of the state so the state pays his rent! They have not done anything to get the landlord to repair it! They keep pay the rent every month! Should they refuse to pay the rent tell the landlord fixes the celling and the MOLD! The state of Missouri is well aware! Don’t know how to help my friend! Any advice please!!

  19. Christina Martinez says:

    My daughter rents w condo hoa has opened her garage and made her get ride of her property she had sitting in there nicley they said if she didn’t get ride of it she’d be fined ..also my nephew rents there as well and hoa lady is all ways telling them they can’t have nothing in the porch balcany area but others have allot on there’s I think she’s just harrassing them

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