Living Well and Stress-Free: Know Your Landlord-Tenant Rights

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Living Well and Stress-Free: Know Your Landlord-Tenant Rights

Cassie Damewood · Dec 1, 2020

Landlord-Tenant Act

Building a strong relationship with your landlord is akin to having strong ties with your parents or siblings. It’s often difficult, and sometimes it can even seem impossible, but in the long run, it’s more than worth it. When you need a favor, a landlord who likes you (like a trusted family member) can be a real lifesaver.

Of course, that doesn’t mean you have to bake them cookies or mow their lawn. Just pay your rent on time, let them know immediately if you ever need a little more time to gather the money, and don’t make a habit of paying late. Beyond that, just make sure you know your landlord-tenant rights both locally and nationally, and your relationship should be easy-going and mutually beneficial.

Rental Rights Handbooks

Stay informed. You can get free handbooks either in person or online from local housing authority offices on federal, county, and city regulations covering your specific rights as a tenant and those of your landlord. These publications are compiled based on their corresponding Landlord-Tenant Acts and/or Federal Fair Housing Acts and regularly updated. Specifics may vary from state to state, but laws regarding general civil rights and accountability are fairly consistent across the country.

Hard and Fast Rules

No matter where you live, specific rights apply to all tenant-landlord relationships, regardless of whether they’re spelled out in or omitted from your particular lease agreement. These include but are not limited to the right to receive police assistance in emergency situations free of charge, the right not to cover a landlord’s legal fees in the event of a dispute that ends up in court, and the prohibition of landlords from discriminating against prospective tenants on the grounds that they have children.

Obligations of Landlords

Clean Common Area

According to the U.S. Landlord-Tenant Acts, your landlord is legally obligated to keep the rental premises, including all the units, parking lots, and laundry rooms in it, in a safe and habitable condition. More specifically, they are legally obligated to make repairs, provide provisions for waste disposal, supply hot and cold water service, and make appropriate heating and cooling systems available as the weather dictates. The landlord is also obliged to keep all common spaces clean and safe, including yards, driveways, storage spaces, etc. If any potential health risks are present on the property, such as mold, asbestos, or anything else that may be hazardous to tenants, the landlord is bound by law to post warnings in places that are highly visible to all residents.

Responsibilities of Tenants

Similarly, the law dictates that all tenants have a certain set of responsibilities inherent to their rental agreements. For instance, tenants are required to pay their rent in full on the day outlined in their lease. Tenants must use amenities like parking lots and laundry rooms responsibly and without causing harm or destruction to them. Tenants are obligated to dispose of all waste materials such as car batteries, motor oil, and electronics in a safe and proper manner.

Tenants may not let people live in their rental units that are unnamed on the original lease without the written consent of their landlord — the length of time a person may stay with tenants as “visitors” varies from state to state. Tenants are also required to live in their rental unit without disturbing their neighbors. This includes, but may not be limited to, keeping all noise (voice, music, and television volume, pet sounds, operating tools and machinery) at levels that do not interfere with your neighbors’ rights to a peaceful and pleasant living environment. Some states may call for the landlord to periodically alert their tenants of particular accountabilities such as maintaining smoke or carbon monoxide detectors.

In addition, some states, counties, cities, and municipalities have laws and statutes in place that expressly prohibit tenants from participating in gang activity, physical assault, or the sale/purchase of illegal substances. Unlawfully using a firearm on the premises is another hard no.

Keeping the Peace

For the most part, Landlord-Tenant Act guidelines and requirements are based on common sense. They generally follow the golden rule of “treat others as you would like to be treated.” Keep your behavior low-key and avoid extremes. If you’re hosting a party for many guests, invite your landlord and neighbors, alert them to the possibility of increased traffic and additional noise, and encourage them to let you know if they are being disturbed so you can take care of any problems. This approach keeps the peace and helps you avoid your landlord citing you for violating the terms of your lease.

If you feel like your rights have been violated, contact your local tenants’ rights organization for assistance. In the event that they agree that your rights may have been violated or that the landlord’s demands are illegal, seek legal assistance to determine your options. Ignoring disputes usually only escalates the problem and creates bad blood between you and your landlord — a situation that can seriously tarnish your peaceful home life.

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