Renter Guides

Renters rights: what they are and how to use them

Knowing your tenant rights can help you have a happier rental experience.

When you’re renting, sometimes tricky situations come up, and it can be tough to decide how to sort them out. Knowing your renters rights is a big help. These rights, also known as tenant rights, help ensure you have a safe place to live where you’re treated decently. Understanding what they are—and how to protect them—can help you decide the best way to handle all sorts of rental issues.

Your renters rights include:

  • You must be treated fairly when applying for an apartment.

    You’ve got a lot of protections on your side when searching for an apartment. The Federal Anti-Discrimination Law, Federal Housing Law, and Fair Credit Reporting Act guarantee you the following:

    • You can’t be denied an apartment based on your race or skin color, national origin, gender, age, religion, familial status (like if you have kids or you’re pregnant), or physical or mental abilities. Some cities include gender identity and sexuality on this list, too. Use Trulia’s Local Legal Protections tool to research your community.
    • A landlord can’t tell you a property isn’t available anymore when it is.
    • You have a right to know if your rental application was rejected because of a bad credit report.

    What to do if this renters right is violated: If you feel a landlord has discriminated against you, you can file a claim with the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).

  • Your landlord is bound by the terms of your lease.

    A lease is a legal agreement. Read yours carefully so you know if your landlord is in violation of it. If it says the landlord will give you 60 days notice before raising your rent, and they try to tell you a higher rate is due next week, they have to give you more time.

    What to do if this renters right is violated: Talk to your landlord first. If they refuse to comply with the language in your contract, you can send them a certified letter stating what the issue is and how you’d like to resolve it. If that doesn’t do the trick, you can take your landlord to small claims court.

  • You have the legal right to break your lease.

    You’re never stuck in a rental where you no longer want to live. While you do have to follow the rules of your lease if you want to continue living there, you can get out of lease by breaking it, or leaving the agreement. You will likely pay a penalty to break your lease, but your lease must outline how you can go about getting out of it. Also, keep in mind that breaking your lease can create a blemish on your credit report.

    What to do if this renters right is violated: Same as the above: talk to your landlord about how to break your lease. If that doesn’t work, a certified letter followed by small claims court are the next steps.

  • Your security deposit (probably) has a limit.

    Each state has its own rules on security deposits, but many are limited in some way. For example, in New York, there’s no statewide limit on security deposits for most rentals, but some cities in the state have limits. In Alaska, most security deposits can’t exceed two months’ rent. Your state attorney general’s website or local housing authority can often provide your state’s security deposit rules.

    What to do if this renters right is violated: Same as the above: talk to the landlord, send a certified letter, consider small claims court.

  • You must get your security deposit back (or proof of how it was spent).

    When your lease is up, you have a right to get your security deposit refund, usually, within 30 days (but it varies by state). If the landlord only partially refunds you, you have a right to ask for an itemized list explaining how your money was spent. If you have proof the noted damage was there before you moved in, you can insist the landlord to return the full deposit.

    What to do if this renters right is violated: Ditto: talk to the landlord, send a certified letter, consider small claims court.

  • You have the right to peace and quiet.

    This is a pretty nice renters right: you’re entitled to live in a place without constant disruptions from loud neighbors or a landlord knocking on your door every day. This is called your right to “quiet enjoyment” of your space, and it’s what’s known as an implied covenant, meaning it’s not necessarily written in the lease, but it’s still your right.

    What to do if this renters right is violated: Talk to your noisy neighbors or landlord first. If the noise can’t be stopped, you can ask your landlord to move you to another apartment at no cost. If they don’t comply, proceed with a certified letter and small claims court.

  • You can live in a healthy, safe environment.

    Your tenant rights say your apartment must be livable. That means it shouldn’t have bad wiring, holes in the floor, mice, or anything else that threatens your health and safety.

    That includes the doors and windows having working locks. The locks should be secure, too. If your lock isn’t secure, you can pay to have it changed immediately and ask your landlord to reimburse you.

    Most states have laws requiring smoke and carbon monoxide detectors, too.

    What to do if this renters right is violated: First, make sure you’re safe. If you need to install your own smoke detector and send your landlord the bill or deduct the cost from your rent, do it. In many states, you do not owe landlord rent for months that you live in an unsafe apartment. If your landlord doesn’t address a health or safety issue immediately, call your local housing authority to make a report and ask them advice.

  • You have the right to maintenance requests.

    If something is broken and needs repair, you have the right to ask for maintenance. Your landlord is responsible for major repairs that have to do with your safety and your basic comfort.

    What to do if this renters right is violated: Again, in many states you do not owe landlord rent for months that you live in an unsafe apartment. If your landlord ignores a maintenance request, call your local housing authority to report the issue and ask their advice.

  • You’re guaranteed an orderly eviction.

    If your landlord starts the eviction process, you have a right to know the reason why. Legally, you are required to have time to pay any unpaid rent or fix whatever led to the termination process. If you don’t, the landlord will file an eviction notice in court. You must receive notice of this and have a chance to appear in court.

    What to do if this renters right is violated: Talk to your landlord first. If you’ve received notice that you’re being evicted that doesn’t explain why, send them a certified letter explaining the issue and how you’d like it to be fixed. If they don’t allow you time to address the problem, you can take your landlord to small claims court.​ It’s a good idea to contact your local housing authority too, as early in the process as possible. They can help you understand your state and local laws, and give you some needed support.

  • Your state and city give you tenant rights, too.

    In addition to defining some of the renters rights above, many states and cities outline other tenant rights. Often you can find these online by visiting the attorney general’s website and searching for landlord tenant law.

    Now that you’ve learned about your renters rights, want to dig in deeper? Here’s what you should know about landlord tenant law.