10 Renters Rights You Should Know

By//Chandler Rollins

If you find yourself in a situation with a landlord, don’t feel powerless. Exercising your rights as a renter is easy. Luckily, you don’t need to memorize your state’s landlord tenant laws to protect yourself. In the current issue of JET, which is on newsstands now featuring Lauren London on the cover, we offer up a few basic renters rights. But here we offer up 10 additional key renters rights you should familiarize yourself with before signing a rental agreement. They will guarantee your success and protect you from experiencing problems in the future.

1. The Fair Housing Act applies to all aspects of  the landord-tenant relationship. Housing discrimination is prohibited by federal law on the basis of race, color, national origin, religion, sex, familial status, age, disability or handicap.

2. The landlord must keep the rental habitable at all times. This generally means the unit is in compliance with all health and housing codes: structurally safe, sanitary, weatherproofed, approved and adequate plumbing, heating and electric.

3. Your landlord must give you at least 24 hours notice before entering your apartment. Entry is permitted for work/repairs, other agreed upon services and inspections. Exceptions to this rule are for extenuating circumstance such as emergencies, tenant’s prolonged absence and certain legal situations.

4. A landlord should make necessary repairs and perform maintenance tasks in a timely fashion, or include a provision in the lease stating that tenants can order repairs and deduct the cost from rent. If a landlord has violated important terms related to health, safety, or necessary repairs, you might have a legal right to break your lease.

5. A landlord cannot legally change the locks, shut off (or cause to have shut off) your utilities, or evict you without notice; eviction requires a court order.

6. Landlords are legally prohibited from evicting tenants as retaliation for action a tenant takes related to a perceived landlord violation.

7. Landlords usually can’t legally seize a tenant’s property for nonpayment of rent or any other reason, except in the case of abandonment as defined by law.

8. If you leave your apartment early for any reason except in cases where your rights as a tenant have been violated and have not arranged it with your landlord, you will be expected to pay rent for the remaining months specified by your lease.

9. Most states require a landlord to return a security deposit (other than explained deductions) within a month after a tenant leaves the premise, even in the case of an eviction. This is contingent upon the fact that the tenant has paid all rent on time, gave suitable notice of termination, returned all keys, and left the unit clean and in good repair. In addition, the landlord must deliver within the same period a written statement of the amounts and reasons for all deductions taken from the security deposit.

10. Your landlord cannot keep your security deposit for “normal wear and tear,” meaning worn carpet or floors, faded or dingy paint and small holes in screens. Examples of things that are not “normal wear and tear,” include broken windows, holes in the walls, leaving trash, or leaving your apartment dirty.

Note: All of the above information is subject to change by state. Please make sure to check your state’s regulations for the most comprehensive information on renting rights, laws and protection.