Renting a home is a great option for people looking for flexibility, and it makes more financial sense than buying a home for some people. Rental prices are on the rise in many areas, but so are home prices and mortgage payments. Plus, renting usually comes with less maintenance responsibility and commitment.
Just because you're living in a home you don't own doesn't mean you have to relinquish all of your rights as a tenant, however. Many laws are in place to protect renters as well as landlords. This guide will explain renter's rights and responsibilities and how to protect your property with renters insurance, along with other valuable advice and resources.
Understanding Your Renters Rights and Responsibilities
As a renter, you have rights and responsibilities that have been determined by federal, state and local laws to prevent discrimination and rent gauging and assure that you're offered a clean, safe and habitable home. However, some tenants may not understand their renter's rights or responsibilities. Knowing your rights is essential so you can have access to safe and fair housing to which you're entitled.
The Fair Housing Act is a federal law that prohibits prospective renters and homebuyers from being discriminated against based on color, race, religion, national origin, disability, sex and familial status. A separate law prohibits discrimination based on age in housing programs that receive federal funds. The Fair Housing Act is enforced by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
Laws can be complicated, but the rights afforded to renters are pretty straightforward and easy to remember. If you're not afforded the rights you're entitled to, you can take recourse. The following list of rights stands for all renters regardless of locations, age, sex, race or other characteristics.
What It Means
The landlord may not discriminate against you based on race, disability, sex, religion and national origin, or because you're pregnant or have children under 18 living with you.
You have the right to a safe and habitable dwelling.
Proper notice of eviction
You must be given a minimum amount of notice, usually 30 or 60 days, if you are to be evicted.
You have the right to timely communication if an item, structure, or device in your rental home needs to be fixed.
Notice of entry
You have the right to be notified before the landlord enters the residence.
You are entitled to get your security deposit back within 21 days of vacating the unit.
Even though you have several rights as a renter, you also have renter responsibilities to uphold. Renting property is a mutual agreement between you and the landlord. When each party keeps their end of the deal, the transaction is smoother, and ideally, you have a comfortable and well-maintained space to rent. Your responsibilities as a renter include the following:
- You must promptly notify the landlord of any problems with the property, such as a water leak.
- You must take reasonable steps to keep the property clean and sanitary.
- You must pay the required rent until the end of the lease.
- You may not inflict any damage or make permanent, unauthorized changes to the premises.
- You are responsible for the repair costs of any damage due to your negligence or misuse of the property.
Frequently Asked Questions About Renting
You might find yourself in a situation where you can't pay your rent or you need to break your lease. The property you're renting could need repair, and you're uncertain who is responsible for paying. The following list of commonly asked questions addresses these scenarios and more.
How to Protect Yourself as a Renter
The rental process is typically straightforward, but it can be tricky in some circumstances. It's common for people to not fully understand their renter's rights or how local and national laws come into play. Your landlord may not even be aware of all of your rights as a tenant. By doing your homework ahead of time, you can prevent headaches later on.
The following sections will help you identify red flags in your lease and documentation of terms as well as renter scams. It will also help you understand inspections and why they're vital before you move into a property.
Read and Understand the Lease or Documentation of Terms
Legal documents are never fun to decipher, but thoroughly reading and understanding your lease is an essential step in knowing the landlord's expectations and the responsibilities you have as a renter. It will also help you identify potential issues and be aware of anything you should ask the landlord about.
Identifying Red Flags
Red flags in a lease include anything that seems to take your rights away or can come back to haunt you after you've signed your lease. The last thing you want is to misunderstand something that ends up becoming an important issue later on. The easiest way to identify these red flags is to know what you're looking for. Below are five red flags renters may encounter.
Right of entry clause
Every landlord has the right to enter their own property, but it's important to understand the terms your landlord has set out in your lease. For example, they may say they can enter your property at any time as long as you're notified before, which means they could send a text as they're driving over. It's better to ask for at least 24-hour permission or a timeframe you're both comfortable with.
Late fee clause
Keep your eyes out for a late payment fee on your rent. For example, "If the tenant fails to pay rent on time, a 10% late fee will be added to the balance each day until the payment is made" is a major financial red flag. More common late fees are 3–5%, and you want to understand when late fees will be applied.
Responsibility of repairs
You don’t want to get blamed for damage to the property that wasn't your fault. It's best to clearly understand what damage the landlord will repair and what will be considered your responsibility. For example, if a ceiling leaks, will the landlord repair it, or will he try to claim it was damaged because of poor maintenance on your part?
Revisions to the lease
Sometimes, a lease will say something similar to, "the landlord has the right to change provisions at any time during the lease." This is a red flag because the landlord could change important things, like your grace period for late fees, without you having any input.
Security deposit clause
A security deposit serves as an up-front payment for any potential damage done to the property by the renter. Many renters expect to get their security deposit back at the end of their lease if they didn't cause any damage to the house. However, often landlords will use security deposits for general maintenance things like repainting the walls or cleaning the carpets, which is money you'll never get back. Understanding the terms of your security deposit can control your expectations.
Before you sign anything, an inspection can help you identify any maintenance issues or other damage that needs to be addressed in the home before you move in. Inspections help you take a closer look at the apartment or house and communicate with the landlord about any concerning issues. Technically, your landlord should order several inspections throughout your time in the home, including a move-in inspection, move-out inspection and seasonal inspections.
Recognize Renter Scams
Rental scams are on the rise, and it’s not just landlords who never give back security deposits. Increasingly, scammers are taking rent money and deposits for properties that they don't even own. Remember that if something feels "off," it probably is. In addition to listening to your gut, watch for the following scam warning signs.
- Odd landlord behavior: If a landlord is doing things like refusing to meet you in person, wanting payment and deposits before you’ve seen the property or is located in an obscure place, the rental property is probably a scam. If you’re experiencing odd landlord behavior, it’s best to pursue a different property.
- Hijacked ads: This type of rental scam occurs when a scammer takes over a legitimate rental ad. Scammers hijack the ad by replacing the actual property owners' contact information with the scammer's contact information. More audacious scammers may even hack the email accounts of the property owners. If you see a low price for a pristine apartment on Craigslist, for example, perform a Google search on the property address. You may find the actual ad (with a much higher rent) pop up on another site.
- Phantom rentals: A phantom rental refers to properties that aren't available for rent. The property may not even exist. Any photos are likely of another house or apartment entirely. Phantom rental con artists will try to get a large deposit or rent from you before you ever see the property.
The Importance of Renters Insurance
Renters insurance is essential protection that can protect your personal property and give you liability coverage if a third-party sustains an injury on the property. While your landlord will have proper home insurance, if there is an event like a fire or flood and your personal property is destroyed, the landlord's insurance company won't cover the cost to replace it. Those losses would be covered under your renters insurance.
The only time your landlord's home insurance would cover damage to your personal property is if the damage is caused due to the landlord's negligence. Fortunately, the cost of renters insurance is not very expensive and usually only costs around an average $13 a month. Shopping for renters insurance is relatively easy, as most major insurance companies offer it. Consider getting quotes and comparing several renters insurance policies to find affordable and reliable coverage.
Advice on How to Resolve Conflicts With a Landlord
You may find yourself in a dispute with your landlord over a disagreement related to the house or apartment you're renting or your lease. For example, your landlord may show up at your home without notice. Perhaps something in your home needs repairing, and the landlord is not responding. Having a good relationship with your landlord starts from day one and can have a major impact on future conflicts.
"Renters can start by making a good first impression, including showing up on time for the property showing, dressing respectably and being courteous as they meet the landlord and walk through the property," recommends Brian Davis, a real estate investor and co-founder of Spark Rental. "Landlords should be doing all of these things as well," Davis says.
If you find yourself in a conflict with your landlord, these five steps will help you navigate the situation.
Know the law
Many conflicts can be avoided by simply knowing the law and your renter's rights.
Yelling and using derogatory language will not win you any points with your landlord and will most likely result in them not wanting to work with you to resolve the issue.
Work it out together
Thoroughly discuss the issue with your landlord and be sure to consider all sides. Work together to come to conclusions. Davis suggests that landlords should be respectful to tenants throughout the lease terms. "They should be responsive, return phone calls and emails within a reasonable timeframe and supply all required documentation with their rental application." Taking these proactive measures will make it easier to work together if a conflict arises.
If you have to come back to a conversation or point made, having documentation on any discussions you have with your landlord can make referencing those things easier.
Use the legal system
Going to court should be a last resort, but if necessary, you can use lawyers and the legal system to resolve the issue.
Your Landlord’s Rights and Responsibilities
While some landlords may feel like they have more responsibilities than rights, they actually have many rights, just like renters. Even if you're a renter and not a landlord, it can be beneficial to know what responsibilities are the landlords and which are yours. Plus, knowing the landlord's rights can help in any conflicts or scenarios that arise while you're living on their property. The following are the most common landlord rights and responsibilities.
8 Most Common Landlord Rights and Responsibilities
1. Make sure the property remains safe, livable and up to code.
2. Carefully follow state rules for evicting tenants in violation of the lease; for instance, you can't simply change the locks or remove the tenant's property.
3. Provide a minimum amount of notice before refusing to renew a lease.
4. Limit the amount charged to the tenant for a security deposit.
5. Return the former tenant's security deposit within a certain amount of time.
6. Landlords are entitled to keep any or all of the security deposit if there is damage to the rental property other than normal wear and tear or if it requires excessive cleaning.
7. Landlords can collect all rents due according to the terms of the lease, even if the tenant moves out.
8. Landlords can lawfully remove tenants from the property via eviction for any reason stated on the lease or if the tenant breaks any rules on the lease. This includes noise, the number of people living in the home and a pet that hasn't been approved.
Expert Insight on Renter’s Rights
MoneyGeek spoke with several experts on renter’s rights, fair housing and how to negotiate with landlords. Learn what they suggest when it comes to protecting yourself and when and how to get help with rental housing if you need it.
- What's the best way to approach a negotiation?
- What is a renter's right that landlords try to bypass or of which renters might not be aware?
- Even though the fair housing act exists, what are the most common types of discrimination seen in housing/apartment rentals?
- What's your No. 1 tip for protecting yourself as a renter?
Business law and Ethics Adjunct Professor at Roseman University of Health Sciences, and Attorney
Realtor and Certified Property Manager at Keller Williams Realty South Bay
Real Estate, Business and Transactional Attorney in Denver, Colorado
Real Estate Investor and Founder at SparkRental.com
Where to Find Help and Support
For renters looking to increase their knowledge or general support, there are plenty of resources to help. Not only are there several federal organizations, agencies and laws designed just for renters, but most cities also have local resources and regulations in place. In this section, we'll provide various helpful resources, from general resources for renters to places you can go if you're navigating illegal landlord practices, looking for low-income rentals or seeking rental assistance or counseling.
- HUD Renter’s FAQ Page: The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development provides a variety of valuable resources to renters, starting with this FAQ page that can lead you to helpful tips for renters.
- Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity: The FHEO advocates against discrimination in the housing market and helps promote fair housing policies and laws.
- 211: This number provides access to local resources and assistance on various topics, including renters assistance.
Navigating a Landlord Taking Advantage of You or an Illegal Practice
If your landlord is taking advantage of you or you realize they're performing an illegal practice, it's best to seek professional assistance. The following resources can help.
- Landlord-Tenant Laws by State: Lists state-specific rules, laws, regulations and requirements of local laws for tenants and landlords.
- Apartments.com's Landlord Resources: Resource and reference for all renters with various summaries of state-by-state landlord/tenant laws, issues and relevant topics.
The following resources assist renters seeking protection from rental scams and offer relief if they’re getting evicted or renting a home that’s facing foreclosure.
- Consumer Financial Protection Bureau: Provides resources on protection for renters against various issues, including eviction and rental scams.
- Coronavirus Resources for Renters: Assistance for renters facing financial troubles due to COVID-19 and updated information for renters regarding COVID-19.
- Federal Trade Commission’s Rental Listing Scams: The FTC explains some of the more common rental scams, as well as how to look out for them.
- National Housing Law Project: This site lists each state's applicable laws relating to tenant protections when living in a property that's being foreclosed.
- US Department of Housing and Urban Development's Tenant Rights: HUD provides resources for finding a comprehensive list of tenant rights for each state.
Low-Income Housing Resources
Several organizations and resources are dedicated to finding housing for all citizens, including those who qualify as low income. Low-income assistance programs help renters find affordable housing, offer support for housing insecurity and provide rent-relief programs and additional resources to help keep renters in a home.
Section 8 Housing
Section 8 housing is part of the Housing Act of 1937, providing rental assistance to qualified low-income tenants. HUD runs the Section 8 housing program. If you qualify, you'll receive a voucher that can be provided to your landlord to pay for rent. Not all landlords accept Section 8 vouchers.
According to Brian Davis, "Section 8 renters have a right to advance written notice if the landlord will be discontinuing their participation with Section 8. The required notice may be as much as a year in advance." He says that renters using Section 8 also have the right to live in a home in good repair. "Section 8 usually inspects the property annually to check for habitability. The inspector will demand certain repairs or upgrades, and the landlord must comply by law," says Davis. "My personal experience has been that the inspectors will always list seven to 10 repairs, like clockwork, to show their bosses that they're actually visiting each property on their list."
To qualify for Section 8 housing, you must meet four criteria based on family status, income level, citizenship and eviction history.
- Housing Choice Vouchers Program: Also known as Section 8, the Housing Choice Vouchers Program provides rental subsidies directly to landlords for tenants to afford a specific rental property.
- LowIncomeHousing.us: This website provides contact information for low-income housing options in a particular geographical area.
- National Council of State Housing Agencies’s HFA Directory: The NCSHA is a coalition of state Housing Financing Agencies that work together to provide affordable housing.
- National Low Income Housing Coalition: The NLIHC works to change laws and policies in order for individuals and families with low incomes to obtain affordable housing.
- Section 811: The Section 811 program provides financial assistance to individuals and families who also suffer from disabilities and have extremely low incomes.
- U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Housing Resource Locator: This resource allows users to search for low-cost rental housing by state.
Renter Assistance Organizations
Renter assistance organizations can help you pay the rent and find a place to live if you meet certain qualifications. Because funds are limited, it’s good to contact a service organization at the first sign that you may have trouble paying rent.
- Catholic Charities: Offers affordable housing programs that provide emergency shelters & long-term assistance to vulnerable populations.
- Rent Assistance: This is a directory of rental assistance agencies and organizations that help pay rent for those who qualify.
- United Way: People can access community resources that provide rental assistance.
Housing Counseling Agencies
Housing counseling agencies assist renters with a number of issues, including housing discrimination and affordability.
- Housing and Education Alliance: This organization offers bilingual housing counseling services to the diverse communities they serve.
- HUD Housing Counselor Locator: Use this tool to find housing counselors in every state.
- National Council of State Housing Agencies: Learn about this nonprofit organization created by the state Housing Financial Agencies that helps advocate for affordable housing.
Fair Housing Resources
The U.S. has stringent fair housing laws. If you believe you have been discriminated against in your search for housing or as a renter, use these resources to determine your next steps, including filing a complaint.
- Fair Housing Accessibility FIRST: FHAF focuses on promoting housing design that accommodates residents with disabilities and complies with the Fair Housing Act.
- Fair Housing Initiatives Program: This HUD-organized program helps people identify government agencies that handle housing discrimination complaints.
- Filing a Complaint: HUD provides victims of housing discrimination multiple avenues of filing a complaint, including submitting a complaint online.
- National Association of Realtors's Fair Housing Resources: NAR offers a collection of videos, articles, publications and other resources related to fair housing.
- National Fair Housing Alliance: The NFHA combats housing discrimination using a multipronged approach, including education and enforcing existing housing discrimination laws.
About Sara East
- Entrata. "Renting in a COVID-19 World." Accessed February 13, 2021.
- FindLaw. "Tenants' Rights Basics." Accessed February 15, 2021.
- HUD. "Tenants Rights and Responsibilities." Accessed February 13, 2021.
- Joint Center for Housing Studies of Harvard University. "The State of the Nation's Housing 2020." Accessed February 13, 2021.
- Rent.com. "The 2020 National Apartment Average Rent Price Analysis." Accessed February 13, 2021.
- U.S. Census. "Quarterly Residential Vacancies and Homeownership, Fourth Quarter 2020." Accessed February 21, 2021.