Renting a home can be highly beneficial for anyone seeking a short-term housing option or a lower commitment than a home purchase.
However, this option can lead to uncomfortable issues in the event a landlord is lax in following the terms of the lease agreement – or otherwise forgets that renters have legal rights.
Here are some of the more common issues that arise between renters and landlords. If you think your landlord is acting outside the bounds of state and federal housing laws, be sure you have a little legal ammo to make your argument.
Security deposits for leasers are highly regulated in most states, and lease agreements must clearly and unambiguously detail the specific instances in which a landlord may withhold all or some of a deposit.
First, the deposit must be in a sensible amount (such as the sum of two months’ rent).
Second, a landlord may only keep the deposit if there is a definitive reason that falls within the terms of the lease. Wrongful withholding is undoubtedly fodder for a claim against the landlord for the return of the money, as well as for costs and fees associated with bringing the issue to court.
All renters have a right to reasonable accommodations for a disability. In the context of apartment complexes, a landlord must set aside a certain number of units that are accessible to people with a physical handicap. This means rooms must be accessible from the ground floor, fitted with accommodating bathroom and/or kitchen fixtures, and generally compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Also, all landlords must accommodate renters who rely on specially trained service animals, even if the building as a whole maintains a no-pets policy.
Renters have the right to timely, competent repairs to major appliances and fixtures – provided the damage occurred as a result of normal wear and tear or other forces outside the renter’s control.
By contrast, damage that the renter causes is generally not the landlord’s responsibility to repair. If a landlord is taking an unreasonably long time to fix the problem, a renter may usually arrange for the repair himself and withhold rent in the amount of the repair. Be sure to save your receipts as proof.
Renters have a right to both privacy and safety in their leased unit. This means that a landlord is not permitted to enter a renter’s private unit unannounced.
Further, a landlord must contact the renter prior to sending repair technicians or inspectors – and must respect the renter’s schedule when scheduling maintenance.
With regard to safety, a landlord must maintain the premises to control known dangers or hazards – which may include extensive locks, deadbolts, or special entrance codes as well as the presence of security personnel and surveillance cameras.
Of course, renters are obligated to pay rent each month. However, as mentioned above, the payment of rent may be premised on the dwelling’s habitability – and renters may be within their rights to withhold rent if the landlord fails to attend to certain major repairs.
Additionally, renters have the right to fulfill the terms of the lease agreement, and may not be evicted arbitrarily without cause during the rental term.
If a landlord attempts to evict a tenant prior to the conclusion of the lease, the renter may initiate a lawsuit against the landlord for the costs – both direct and incidental – associated with finding a new place to live on unreasonably short notice.
Moreover, a landlord who is believed to be evicting tenants for discriminatory or fraudulent reasons could face criminal culpability in many jurisdictions, if proven guilty.
Renters enjoy a long list of rights pursuant to the lease agreement and state and federal laws. Any violations of these rights can lead to a lawsuit by the renter, as well as bad publicity for the landlord. So renters take heed: You’re covered.
Note: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or position of Zillow.
Stephanie Reid obtained her J.D. from Regent University School of Law and her Bachelor of Arts degree from Florida State University. After two years in private practice, Stephanie has opened her own law firm, Stephanie Reid Law. Her practice offers innovative web-based legal services for estate planning, family law and business clients. She also writes about legal issues in everyday life on the Avvo Stories blog.
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