State and federal laws every renter should know

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November 19, 2019
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State and federal laws every renter should know

Eight years after the fact, Business Insider reported that the 2008 financial crisis had caused the biggest disruption to the housing market of any event since the Great Depression. In 2016, the Pew Research Center found, more households (43.3 million) were renting their homes than at any other point in the past 50 years. And with the myriad financial struggles millennials are facing, it seems likely that the number of renters vs. homeowners will continue to rise for the foreseeable future.

Renting can look different depending on where you live in the country. Each state may create its laws and regulations through its independent governments, meaning that a renter's rights in Texas could differ from those in Maine. Additionally, local culture and history can play a huge role in shaping these laws. For example, Southern states have historically valued land ownership, and their rental laws favor landlords, while Northern states, home to some of the nation's most crowded cities, tend to favor a renter's rights.

Here, Stacker has highlighted 60 state and federal laws that all renters (tenants) should know. The list features laws ranging from general rights that a renter has, to rights and responsibilities that landlords have and that tenants should know about. As a renter, understanding these laws can help you be a better tenant. Knowing the federal and local rental laws allows enforcement of them as needed and helps ensure that rental space is safe and habitable.

Read on to find out which states are required to disclose if a property has been used as a meth lab in the past and which one doesn't have a habitability law on the books. After taking a closer look at these 60 laws, you will be a more educated renter regardless of where you live.

Federal: Fair Housing Act

Passed in 1968, the federal Fair Housing Act protects renters from discrimination when renting a house or apartment. Landlords may not discriminate against potential tenants based on race, color, national origin, sex, familial status, or disability. Those who have been a victim of a violation of the act may file a complaint with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Federal: Fair Credit Reporting Act

Passed in 1970, the Fair Credit Reporting Act put stipulations on how landlords could access a potential tenant’s credit report and how they use it for screening purposes. Landlords are required to obtain a tenant’s permission before running a credit report and must inform a tenant if the credit score is the reason for rejecting an application.

Federal: Acceptance of service animals

Under the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Fair Housing Act, landlords are not allowed to refuse service animals. The service animals must be licensed, registered, and vaccinated according to local laws. Housing providers are expected to allow these working animals as a “reasonable accommodation.”

Federal: Refusal of children

Because of the Fair Housing Act, landlords are not allowed to limit the number of children in a given unit, restrict children’s use of common areas, or require families with children to live on certain floors or in certain units. The only exception to the law is “housing for older persons.”

Federal: Landlord's ability to choose a tenant

Legally, landlords are free to choose whoever they want to live in a rental unit. This means they can set whatever income requirements they'd like for a unit to mitigate their risk. In addition, landlords may reject a candidate based on a character judgment (where they relate to a tenant's references or past rental history) as long as these judgments don't apply to a particular group of people.

Federal: Discriminatory housing advertisements

Under the U.S. Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Fair Housing Act, discriminatory housing advertisements are illegal. Such ads are those that indicate, through words (“no wheelchairs”) or pictures, a preference for the type of applicant or tenant desired for a given unit or building.

Federal: LGTBQ+ discrimination

The HUD Equal Access Rule requires equal access to Housing and Urban Development programs, including housing providers that receive HUD funding or loans, for LGBTQ+-identifying individuals. Every state also bans discrimination based on someone’s sexual orientation, and all but two states ban gender identity/expression discrimination.

Federal: Disclosures about lead hazards

Many homes and apartments built before 1978 were finished with lead-based paint. The toxic paint and the dust it creates are now known health hazards, and a great number of renters are concerned about the possibility of lead-based paint being present in their homes. Under federal law, landlords of units built before 1978 must provide renters with knowledge of the presence of the paint in the home or building, including in common areas, and are required to provide a lead hazard inspection from a certified inspector upon a tenant’s request.

Federal: The collection of a security deposit

While there is no specific federal law that supports a landlord’s rights to collect a security deposit, every state in the union has a law in place that allows landlords to collect security deposits upon move-in. That being said, there is no federal limit on how much a landlord can charge—the exact amount is determined by each state.

Federal: Illegal lockouts

Again, there is no single federal law that prohibits landlords from locking out, or freezing out, a problem tenant. However, this is generally considered taking the law into one's own hands rather than going through proper channels, and there doesn't seem to be a court in the nation, at any level, that would rule in favor of the landlord in such a case. Legally, the only way to get rid of a tenant is to go through the eviction process.

Alabama: Tenant’s right to demand needed repairs

In many states, tenants may withhold rent if a landlord does not make repairs necessary to make a unit habitable. In Alabama, that’s not the case. The repair law passed in 1975 requires tenants to put their repair requests in writing and landlords to fulfill them within 14 days. If the landlord fails to complete the repairs within the allotted time, tenants may move out with no responsibility for future rent or may stay in the unit and sue the landlord for damages, but legally they may not withhold rent.

Alaska: Tenant’s right to change the locks

Upon moving in, many renters will have the locks on their new home changed for greater peace of mind. In Alaska, renters should know that they must secure the written agreement of the landlord before doing so. According to the Uniform Residential Landlord & Tenant Act, renters may only change the locks on their own if the landlord cannot be contacted after a reasonable effort has been made.

Arizona: Short-term rental termination notice

Thanks in part to the large number of snowbirds who spend anywhere from three to six months in Arizona during the coldest times of the year in many parts of the country, there’s a high demand for short-term rentals in the state. Renters who sign a weekly or monthly lease in any of Arizona’s cities should be clear on their rights when it comes to termination. According to the Arizona Residential Landlord and Tenant Act, last updated in 2015, landlords must give tenants 30-days’ notice to terminate a month-to-month lease, and 10 days to terminate a weekly lease.

Arkansas: No implied warranty of habitability

Arkansas is the only state in the nation that doesn’t have a law regarding the implied warranty of habitability. Essentially, this means that the state has no standard for what makes a unit fit and safe enough for humans to live there. Therefore, landlords are generally not liable for repairs or upkeep of rental properties unless stated in the lease.

California: Disclosure of deaths on the premises

California state law requires landlords to alert potential tenants of any deaths that have occurred on the rental property within the past three years. The only exception to the law is deaths caused by HIV/AIDS and related illnesses.

Colorado: Landlord’s responsibility for repairs

Renters in Colorado need to be pretty handy with repairs, or have a specific clause in their lease regarding a landlord’s obligation to fix things in the rental unit. According to the state’s landlord-tenant laws, landlords are only obligated to make repairs if conditions are materially dangerous or hazardous to a tenant’s life, health, or safety. This means that unless your lease otherwise states it, you’re likely to have to fix that leaky sink on your own, or hire someone else to do it.

Connecticut: Non-electronic rent payment

While the ease of paying rent electronically appeals to many renters, not everyone feels comfortable paying such a large bill via the internet. The Connecticut Superior Court has ruled that residents shouldn’t have to pay rent online. Under state law, a non-electronic rent payment option must be provided to tenants by landlords for leases that started on Oct. 1, 2013.

Delaware: Disclosure of the location of the security deposit

Delaware goes above and beyond in ensuring that tenants have a fair shot at getting their security deposits back. Title 25 of the First State’s law requires landlords to place security deposits in “an escrow bank account in a federally insured banking institution with an office that accepts deposits within the state” and to let tenants know the locations of the security deposits. The intention of this law is to reduce lost, missing, or inaccessible security deposits and to help ensure tenants get back what’s rightfully theirs at the end of a lease.

Florida: Reasonable notice period for repairs

Florida might not be a great state to live in for renters who like to have extensive time to plan. Under 2019 Florida statute, landlords need only give tenants 12 hours’ notice as long as they are coming to make a repair between 7:30 a.m. and 8 p.m. Some renters may not feel like that is enough notice, especially if they’d like to be present when the landlord is there.

Georgia: Flood notice

There's nothing worse than moving into the perfect new apartment only to find later that it could flood. The state cracked down on this type of concealment, and under 2010 Georgia State Code a landlord must inform a prospective tenant about an apartment's "propensity toward flooding" before a lease is signed. The law applies only to leases entered into on or after July 1, 1995.

Hawaii: The legality of subleases

Some states have strict “no subletting” laws, while others defer to the individual leases signed by landlords and tenants. However, in Hawaii tenants may sublet their rental home or apartment without the landlord’s consent. Under a 2018 Hawaii Revised Statute, renters have this option without having to jump through dozens of hoops to make a sublease official.

Idaho: No deposit or fee regulations

While the cost of living in Idaho is relatively cheap compared with other states in the country (Idaho has the 19th-lowest cost of living in the nation), moving in the Gem State can be rather expensive. According to state law, there are no regulations about what a landlord may charge a tenant for a security deposit and other fees. While other states limit the security deposit to one or two months’ rent, Idaho landlords would be within their rights to charge three to four months’ rent for a deposit.

Illinois: Class X felony terminations

In Illinois, a Class X felony is the most serious criminal offense category, short of first-degree murder. Ramifications of the offense go beyond a mandatory six to 30 years in prison and could include loss of a rental home. According to the state’s Landlord and Tenant Act, landlords can void a lease if a tenant is charged with a Class X felony during a lease. To evict the person charged, a landlord simply must provide written notice and the tenant must vacate the property in five days.

Indiana: Functional smoke detector laws

Since 2017, Indiana state law has required that landlords obtain written acknowledgment from tenants that any unit being rented is equipped with functional smoke detectors. While many states require landlords to provide functional smoke detectors in rental units, few go as far as Indiana in following up that the required devices are in place.

Iowa: Late fee laws

Even the best tenant may need to pay rent late at least once or twice in their lifetime. With overdue rent, Iowa has specific laws renters should be aware of to make sure they aren't being overcharged. According to state code, late fees on rent of $700 a month or less can only amount to $12 a day, and overall late fees may not exceed $60 per month. Late fees for rent above $700 can go up to $20 a day but may not exceed $100 in a month.

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Kansas: Move-in inspections

Common renter wisdom encourages new tenants to document and photograph pictures of any existing damage upon move-in to ensure they won’t lose part or all of their security deposit when they move out. Kansas rental laws take this process a step further, requiring landlords to do a walk-through inventory with renters within five days of the initial date of occupancy. At the end of the inventory, both landlord and tenant should be provided with a copy of the inventory record, which can be used to settle any disputes at the end of the lease.

Kentucky: Breach of tenancy labor contracts

While not all that common these days, the use of a home in exchange for work provided by the tenant used to be a more popular rental agreement. A 1942 Kentucky law provides that tenants who occupy a unit under a contract that stipulates they will provide labor for the landlord in return can be kicked out at will if they do not begin the work without good cause.

Louisiana: Security deposit return period

For years, Louisiana law firms found that the most frequent complaint they were getting from tenants was landlords refusing to return security deposits. In response to the complaints, the Louisiana Legislature passed the Lessee’s Deposit Act in 1972. The law stipulates that landlords have a single month to return the security deposit or send an itemized statement that accounts for how the deposit was used.

Maine: Required rent receipts for cash payments

As of 2017, a study revealed that 82% of renters still paid their monthly rent in cash. While this can feel like a risky move for some, Maine rental laws took steps to ensure there is a paper trail for that money. A 2018 update to a 1979 Maine law requires all landlords (or their agents) to provide a written receipt for every rent or security deposit payment made in cash. These receipts could be vital evidence for those who pay their rent in cash and find themselves in court proceedings connected to their living situations.

Maryland: The Maryland Fair Housing Act

While the federal Fair Housing Act protects renters against most forms of discrimination, it doesn't quite cover them all. Maryland's fair housing policy, which was passed in 2017, provides that landlords are not allowed to discriminate against tenants based on marital status, national origin, gender identity, or sexual orientation.

Massachusetts: The Massachusetts Sanitary Code

Every state has a different set of criteria as to what makes a rental unit habitable. The Massachusetts Sanitary Code provides that list of criteria for the Bay State. The code covers everything from the number of outlets and windows in a unit to the number of square feet required per tenant, to who’s responsible for a bug or mouse infestation. Tenants in the state should become familiar with the list to hold landlords accountable for a lack of maintenance or dangerous living conditions.

Michigan: Termination of a lease based on age

At a certain age, many individuals find that living alone is no longer a suitable option. In Michigan, according to a 1995 addition to state law, elderly renters who have occupied a rental unit for more than 13 months may terminate their leases (with 60-day notice) as long as they can provide a notarized statement from a doctor declaring them incapable of living alone.

Minnesota: The cold weather rule

Minnesota spends a significant portion of the year buried under feet of snow, with residents shivering in below-freezing temperatures. As a result, the cold weather rule was first introduced into Minnesota state law in 2007. The rule protects tenants from having their heat source permanently disconnected during the colder months (Oct. 15 to April 15) regardless of their ability to pay their entire utility bills each month.

Mississippi: Tenants rights to repair and deduct

The reality of being a renter is that not all landlords are attentive and willing to make repairs as needed. In Mississippi, if a landlord neglects a necessary repair for 30 days or more, tenants who are current in rent can have the repair done themselves and deduct the cost from their monthly rent. The repair cannot total more than a single month’s rent or a “reasonable charge,” but the law still gives tenants a way to get their problems taken care of.

Missouri: Disclosure of methamphetamine production

Missouri passed a law in 2005 mandating that landlords must disclose to lessees whether a unit had previously been a site of methamphetamine production. In addition, landlords must disclose in writing whether the unit was ever the residence or laboratory of a person convicted of creating or selling the controlled substance. Missouri is not the only state with this law on the books, but methamphetamine disclosure laws are not universal.

Montana: Written statement describing the condition of the property

Like every other state in the country, landlords in Montana can require a security deposit from new tenants upon move-in. However, according to the Montana Residential Landlord and Tenant Act, they also are required to provide tenants with a signed written statement describing the property’s condition. If a landlord does not supply this statement, he or she isn’t eligible to keep any of the security deposit when tenants move out, regardless of how much damage the tenants may have caused.

Nebraska: Pet deposits

Many states allow landlords to require a pet deposit for tenants’ non-service animals. While some states allow up to a full month’s rent for pets, Nebraska law provides for only one-quarter of a single month’s rent as a pet deposit, making the state a good place for animal lovers to be renters.

Nevada: Displaying the flag of the United States

File this one under “weirdest rental laws:” Nevada state law stipulates that landlords cannot prohibit tenants from displaying the U.S. flag on their properties. A stipulation to the law requires that the flag be presented and displayed under federal law governing the flag.

New Hampshire: Landlords return interest on security deposits

In some states, landlords are allowed to keep any interest that’s accumulated on a tenant's security deposit. In New Hampshire, that’s not the case. State law requires landlords to give tenants any interest the security deposit has earned, as long as the deposit has been held for over 12 months. One stipulation of the law says that landlords who have one, single-family property, aren’t required to pay tenants interest upon return of the security deposit.

New Jersey: The New Jersey Safe Housing Act

The New Jersey Safe Housing Act allows victims of domestic violence and their children to end a rental lease early to find safe, long-term housing. The law stipulates that domestic violence victims must provide their landlords with written notice 30 days before they intend to move. The notice must include language that affirms the victim and/or the victim's children will face an imminent threat of violence from another if they stay in the unit, as well as supporting evidence. This may include doctors' notes detailing sustained violence, a permanent restraining order signed by a court, or an official statement from a certified domestic violence specialist.

New Mexico: Nonpayment eviction laws

New Mexico does not play around with landlords’ rights to evict tenants based on failure to pay rent. According to state law, as soon as rent is late, landlords can provide tenants with a written notice declaring that they have three days to pay the rent in full before the rental agreement is voided. While the eviction still must go through the courts, tenants only have that specified three days to come up with the money.

New York: The Roommate Law

According to an old New York City housing law, only three unrelated adults may live together in a rental property at any given time. While the law is rarely enforced in the overcrowded, roommate- and single-filled city, there have been instances in which tenants have been kicked out of their apartments for breaking this law. Generally speaking, New York City landlords have bigger issues to focus on, but as long as the law remains on the books it’s a good thing for tenants to know about.

North Carolina: Expedited eviction of criminals

North Carolina law allows for landlords to immediately evict tenants who have been engaged in drug trafficking or other criminal activity. The law doesn’t require the person in question to be convicted of a crime at the time of eviction, or to even be on trial. As long as the crime has occurred on or near the rental property, landlords are free to kick such tenants out at will.

North Dakota: Lease violation eviction laws

Similar to New Mexico, North Dakota law allows landlords to evict tenants three days after they have violated a lease. The landlord must provide written notice of the intent to evict, as well as what lease clauses were broken, before proceeding with the eviction.

Ohio: Mandatory security deposit interest

While New Hampshire requires landlords to return any interest that's accumulated on a tenant's security deposit throughout a lease, Ohio requires landlords to place the security deposit in an account that earns 5% interest annually, as long as the tenant remains on the premises for at least six months. Landlords then must compute and pay out that interest to the tenant each year.

Oklahoma: Accommodation for assistance animals

While not the only state to do so, Oklahoma has a section in its Residential Landlord and Tenant Act that gives tenants a right to request reasonable accommodation for their service animals. While the state mandates, with proper proof, that landlords accommodate these animals, the law also ensures that they aren’t liable for any injuries to service animals while on rental premises.

Oregon: Statewide rent control

In 2019, Oregon became the first state to enact statewide rent control. The law caps rent hikes at 7%, plus inflation, in a single year. If an Oregon landlord breaks this law, the landlord is liable for three months of a tenant’s rent, plus actual damages.

Pennsylvania: Abandonment of personal property

In 2012, the Pennsylvania Landlord and Tenant Act was expanded to cover the abandonment of personal property. Upon quitting the rental, tenants are required to take all personal property. If anything is left behind, they have 10 days to contact the landlord to arrange a pickup (the landlord must then hold the property in a secure location for 30 days). If a tenant fails to contact the landlord within that time, the landlord can do whatever he or she wishes with the abandoned items.

Rhode Island: Utility turnoffs

In many states, it’s illegal for landlords to turn off a tenant’s utilities (heat, hot water, electricity, gas, etc.). The Rhode Island Residential Landlord and Tenant Act ensures that tenants are protected from this behavior by mandating that landlords who turn off utilities can be liable for three months’ rent or three times the damages (whichever is greater). Within the state, utility turnoff is also grounds for a tenant to break a lease and have the security deposit returned in full.

South Carolina: Creation of new rules

The South Carolina Landlord and Tenant Act includes a specific provision that defends the landlord's right to create new rules and regulations regarding the rental unit and its common spaces at any time throughout a lease. The law only demands that the rules be "reasonable" and provided to all tenants in writing to be enforceable.

South Dakota: Disclosure of a meth lab

Under South Dakota law, landlords are required to disclose to potential tenants whether a rental property was once used as a meth lab. Living in such a unit, especially one that hasn’t been properly cleaned, can lead to migraines, skin irritation, and both liver and kidney problems.

Tennessee: Grace period for missed rent

While New Mexico doesn’t give tenants long to come up with rent money after missing a payment, Tennessee allows one of the longest grace periods in the nation. Tenants who miss a payment have 14 days to pay, and an additional 16 days before they must vacate upon failure to pay. Only New Jersey and Washington D.C. have longer grace periods.

Texas: No security deposit cap

Texas is one of the few states in the nation that has no limit on what a landlord can charge as a security deposit. While this law certainly works in a landlord’s favor, those looking to rent an apartment may pay an exorbitant amount of money simply to move into a new home.

Utah: Trash laws

In Utah, as in many states, landlords are required to provide and maintain trash receptacles and facilitate their removal. While some states require that a building have a half-dozen units or more before the landlord is responsible for the trash, the Utah Fit Premises Act requires a building to have only two residential units before the trash law takes effect.

Vermont: Rent increase notice

Rental laws in Vermont often work in favor of tenants. Case in point: landlords must give tenants 60 days of notice before a rent increase can legally take effect. This law, added in 1985, gives tenants time to ensure they can pay the rent or give the landlord notice if they move.

Virginia: Required damage insurance

The Virginia Landlord and Tenant Act allows landlords to require tenants to get commercial insurance coverage as a condition of tenancy. The tenant would be on the hook for “damage insurance” premiums, as well as a security deposit unless the cost of both would be over two months’ rent. In that case, the landlord may add an amount to the monthly rent to act in place of this insurance coverage.

Washington: Fair Chance Housing

In 2017, the City of Seattle passed Fair Chance Housing legislation that banned landlords from unfairly denying housing to those with criminal backgrounds. The ordinance, which is designed to help prevent bias and get those who have served their time back on their feet, went into effect in February 2018. Some landlords in the city are contesting the law.

West Virginia: Termination due to death

Under West Virginia Real Property, leases can be terminated early by an heir or personal representative after a tenant dies. Upon final termination of the lease, no further rent is owed by the deceased’s family or estate. However, this law only applies to leases that have signed on or after July 1, 2012.

Wisconsin: Proceeds from abandoned property sales

Wisconsin rental laws decree that the proceeds from the sale of any property abandoned in a rental unit must be sent to the Wisconsin Department of Administration. The department then re-administers the money as grants to homeless shelters around the state. Landlords are only permitted to keep money that covers the cost of the sale and storage of the items.

Wyoming: Nonrefundable fees

Wyoming is one of the few states that has no statute regarding what non-refundable fees landlords are allowed to charge. However, a 1999 statute says that a lease must state what portion, if any, of a deposit or fee is nonrefundable to be enforceable.

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