Know Your Renter Rights

Do you rent? Better know your rights. Here’s a state-by-state guide with links to statutes for both landlords and tenants. If you want to negotiate down your rent, get a drippy ceiling fixed, fight an eviction, or squelch a noisy neighbor, first bone up on your renter law.

State by State Rights of Landlords and Tenants [The LPA]

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  1. spamtasticus says:

    I rented for many many hears in Florida and one law that I constantly used “against” my landlords was the fact that they are not allowed to mix the money of my deposit with their own.

    • spamtasticus says:

      “hears”. I guess that is what the Preview button is for. Since I”m reposting, another trick I learned after the 5th time a landlord kept my security deposit even though nothing was damaged was to not pay the next to last month. Basically, here it is customary to give first month, last month and a full month security deposit when you rent a house. I would make up an excuse for not paying the next to last month. That way, at the end of the lease, instead of them having a full month of my money to steal from me, I would owe them whatever damage needed to be taken care of. Before people start to crucify me; two of the most egregious examples of what they pulled on me are:
      I told one landlord during the initial walkthrough before moving in to fix several damaged and sub par details. Throughout the entire year lease they where never fixed. During the final walkthrough at the end of the lease he cited them as things I had done and kept my whole deposit.
      On a second occasion, I rented a house and received a $500+ water bill on my first month. Turns out the previous tenants had never paid their bill. At the end of the year the landlord charged it out of my deposit along with other invented charges even though they knew all along it was not mine.

      • twonewfs says:

        I took a landlord to small claims court to get my deposit back, and that was a nail-biter. It lso took literally years to get the deposit back!
        He came tp court with a quote to replace the carpet he claimed I had ruined – I came in with bunches of family pictures to show the hardwood floors: there was no carpet in the entire house! Neither of us ever whipped out our pictures. The judge looked at the landlord and said “She gave you two months notice, and paid every penny of rent up to the day she moved? You might want to go into the hall and discuss this” The slimeball told me he was a federal marshal, and I’d be sorry if I didn’t cave. Two months later the judgment came in my favor, landlord claimed poverty (should have kept the deposit separate and paid me the interest, but…) and -very eventually – paid me $20/month!

      • Bativac says:

        This is why I finally bought a house. I got tired of dealing with landlords refusing to fix things and trying to pin pre-existing problems on me.

        My last landlord at least cheerfully fully returned the security deposit plus a portion of the pet deposit (I guess he forgot it was stipulated as “non refundable” in the lease). But the leaky roof and broken spigot in the front yard never got fixed in the 3 years I lived there.

      • GearheadGeek says:

        I guess it has served me well to be a cynical, suspicious bastard. In my very first non-dorm rental, a 4-plex apartment managed by a company that managed most of the rentals in that college town, I was given a fairly detailed “move-in inventory” form to fill out. I documented every detail I could find, down the all the paint that was splattered on switch plates, plug plates, cabinets, etc.

        When I went to their office to turn it in, I told them I needed a copy with a signature from someone there and got a deer-in-headlights look in response. Then she actually LOOKED at the form I handed her (which had a line for their signature) and commented that she’d never received one with that much ink on it. I lived in the apartment for 3 years and got every dime of my deposit back, though I had to mail them a photocopy of that form before they relented.

        We may be moving to a new city and renting a house for a year or so if my partner doesn’t get a position here for residency, so I’m not looking forward to that process again. I’m going to do a digital-camera expose’ of the place and get anything that’s not up to snuff signed off by the landlord if we rent for a while.

    • pecan 3.14159265 says:

      All of these rules and the heartache about getting your money back when you move makes me glad I didn’t have to pay a security deposit.

  2. obits3 says:

    The rent is too damn high!

  3. BuyerOfGoods3 says:

    Well I know the Texas links are all incorrect or no longer valid.

    Too bad, but I think I know better sites. Basically, in TX, renters have very few to Zero rights/the law sides with the Landlord 90% of the time (we like homeowners and landowners here, I suppose).

  4. Tim says:

    In most states, AFAIK, the only rights you really have are the ones in your lease, which are often none.

  5. Hoss says:

    I’ve rented to Section 8 (Federal assistance) individuals in three rental properties for over ten years and I have had no negative renter experiences I greatly endorse this program as a worthwhile way to get good renters and timely payments.

    • Loias supports harsher punishments against corporations says:

      It’s funny you say that because my sister is a supervisor at one of the companies in Boston that manage the Section 8 housing. Much of her job before being the supervisor was dealing with renter’s who wouldn’t pay their rent and/or complain to high heaven about all sorts of nonsense.

      • Hoss says:

        I guess if you answer the complaint phone, you’ll hear complaints

        • Loias supports harsher punishments against corporations says:

          That’s not how those places work. You’re a case worker, talking in person with people requesting Section 8 housing, and then helping them with any problems they have. Most interaction is done at their office.

    • Bativac says:

      My mother has had the opposite – nothing but negative experiences in dealing with Section 8 tenants.

      • Nigerian prince looking for business partner says:

        That was basically my experience and the reason I sold off my rental property. I ended up paying a tenant $500 just to make her go away.

    • Froggmann says:

      And… complexes renting to Section 8 renters have run me out of 3 complexes. I like the stuff in my car to remain mine.

    • Me - now with more humidity says:

      I loved renting to Section 8. Especially working single moms. Best tenants ever.

  6. MamaBug says:

    Does this say anything about when balconies collapse due to failed maintenance? and how to hold them accountable?

  7. fatediesel says:

    I was at a friend’s house this weekend and she had a letter a lawyer friend had sent to a former landlord. When she moved out of her previous place the landlord refused to give any of her deposit back and gave a list of reasons why. She took the list to the lawyer and he wrote the landlord a letter pointing out that almost all of the charges on the letter were illegal and threatened to sue. The landlord gave my friend her entire deposit back to make the matter go away.

    • mythago says:

      I help a lot of friends with these letters. It’s amazing how quickly landlords go from “I had to spend all your deposit on repairs, so sorry” to “Here’s your check” when they realize their former tenant knows their rights.

  8. thompson says:

    Makes me glad to live in a city with extraordinarily strong renters’ protections. Bank forecloses on the property? They can’t evict me. Pretty much the only thing they could evict me for are non-payment of rent, damage to the property, or failure to sign a new lease that is substantially similar to the old lease. They can’t even refuse to sign a new lease, so long as I want to stay.

    Go Berkeley :)

  9. kingmanic says:

    http://tenant.landlordandtenant.org/home/default.aspx

    If you live in Alberta, Canada this may help in the same way.

  10. Thyme for an edit button says:

    This is handy as I am going to be moving across country and don’t know a damn thing about landlord-tenant law in the area I plan to relocate to.

  11. earthprince says:

    This coupled with the other post about weather proofing windows will hopefully solve the problem of EVERY window not being able to close properly. Here’s hoping for a warm winter that doesn’t cost a ridiculous amount.

  12. jrwn says:

    Um, the Nebraska link does not go anywhere. What does that tell you about our laws?

  13. post_break says:

    None of the links for Texas work.

  14. CBenji says:

    I have been a renter with idiots for landlord’s and had to sue and won in PA. I had to take pictures, and they always helped. I had a landlord who claimed after I only lived there 3 months that I had mold in the bathroom, and I ruined his industrial carpet. He was a moron and lucky I had pictures of everything and there was nothing wrong as he just wanted to keep the security deposit. Unfortunately he was from out of state and I had to accept a smaller payment than what I was owed or just wait it out, and it could have taken forever and I might have never gotten my money.

    I have also rented to people with a lease and have thought I have put everything in the lease to protect myself, and there was always something that people came up with that I didn’t expect and I would always be happy to see them leave.

  15. webweazel says:

    Here’s some ideas:
    Take detailed notes of defects upon move-in. Check everything. Hot water, cold water, toilets flushing, light switches, appliances, under cabinets for leaks, doors, drawers, etc. Take photos of everything. Take one photo with a copy of the current newspaper.
    Save photos to CD. Make copies of everything.
    Mail, certified or registered, one set of notes to landlord, and one (or two) set to yourself. Regular stamps so they have to be cancelled with a date. Give a set of copies (plus CD) to a friend or family member for safekeeping. Or keep in a safe deposit box. Do not open the letter to yourself. Just archive it for proof of date of mailing.
    At the end of the lease, do the same thing all over again.
    Communicate any issues with the apartment to the landlord only through written means, not over the phone. Email, etc. is good. BCC: all emails sent to the landlord. Keep all emails. Print out copies for your files. Make sure dates are included on them.
    Save everything.
    The letters can be opened freshly in court, if the need be, as proof. Printed emails are acceptable in court. Keep the electronic emails just in case there is any questions of authenticity, or the printouts are damaged or lost. This will give you some bulletproof means of recourse (court), WHEN, not if, the landlord decides to keep your deposit because he feels like it. Those landlords who operate in this manner usually don’t have proof of anything, hoping you’ll just give up and go away, and you’ll have hard evidence to win in court.
    SUE!

    • Kingeryck says:

      Holy crap.

      • webweazel says:

        Damn right holy crap. It’s called covering your ass.
        One of my landlords at one time was a corporate lawyer. At the end of our lease, we had all our documentation and we mailed him the letter along with our forwarding address, as we were supposed to do. He did NOT follow state law, and did not give an accounting, a letter of notice, or a check of any kind within the 30 days required by law. He just said he’s not giving it back when we called him 40+ days later, probably hoping we would just go away. Went to a lawyer with our evidence to write him a letter, and got our full deposit back, no problem. (Wish we lived in a triple-damages claim state at the time.)
        Looking back, we should have just written to the Bar ethics committee to put a fire under his ass. You’d think that a lawyer would, maybe, know about and follow the laws?

  16. denros says:

    I sure hope this guy doesn’t get his way, or “renter rights” would preclude just about everything except for the right to be marginalized.

    http://www.oliverwillis.com/2010/11/30/tea-party-leader-makes-sense-to-restrict-voting-to-landowners/

    • MrEvil says:

      That tea party guy is an idiot. There’s no way that’ll pass the constitutional muster in the 21st century. It was shot down previous because it was used as a means to exclude blacks from voting. Probably women too after the 19th amendment.

  17. Awesome McAwesomeness says:

    Do you even look at the quality of the link before you posted it? One of the links to Texas was broken, and the other took me to a page unrelated to Texas Landlord laws.

  18. Daniellethm says:

    So I checked the link, and it couldn’t help me with my question regarding IL renter law. So here if a landlord has so many rental units (Around 30, if I remember correctly) they’re required to put each security deposit in a separate account that accrues interest, and pay their renter the interest on a yearly basis or they can apply it to the rent owed.

    My landlord does neither of these things. He’s a nice guy, and this is the second apartment my husband and I have rented from him (We moved into a 2 bedroom from a 1 bedroom in the same building). Things get fixed within a day or two when needed, our parking lot is always shoveled and salted, blah blah. I want to know what I can do about this, or if I should even bother in the interest of keeping the peace. The interest that would come from my security deposit would total less than $50.

  19. NinjaPanda says:

    I got really luck with a previous apartment complex. Long story short, out apartment flooded three times in two months. First time they thought it was the water heater, so they “fixed” that. Shortly after, it flooded again, and they figured it was the a/c, (same closet) so they fixed that. Less than a month later, we came home late one Saturday night (wife and I worked in a restaraunt) to find our entire bathroom and parts of the apartment flooded with gross, black gunk coming out of the bathroom sink. We called the emergency maitenance number, woke up the owner, and got told “what do you want me to do about it?” They didn’t fix it until middle of the following week.

    Each time this happened, they had to pull up carpet and run giant industrial fans to dry it out. The last time it didn’t get put down correctly. Once or twice a month, we would tell the lady in the office, who claimed she put in a work order for it. Nothing. Eventually, the dog realizes there is a hole and starts digging in the carpet, continuously making it worse. They still never fixed anything.

    When we moved out, they wanted our entire security deposit, plus the same amount twice over to re-carpet the whole place. We went to one of the university-provided lawyers on campus and got our full deposit back because it the certified letter they sent their claim in was post-marked 31 days after our lease ended, and Florida state law requires it be sent by 30 days. We even got the money they spent to have our carpets professionally cleaned, (a lease requirement) because they gave you the option to use their company and take it out of your security deposit. Let’s just say we have learned our lesson since then.

  20. Mr. Pottersquash says:

    your linking to the Landlord Protection Agency?? Really??? For shame CONSUMERIST. How bout giving publicity to a Tenant first organization since, ya know THERE THE CONSUMERS. Lawhelp.org people, click on your state, click on housing. If your low-income there are programs that can even provide you with free legal representation.

    • buddyedgewood says:

      That’s right ‘there‘ the consumers!

      Nothing like making a bold statement, only to be marginalized because of your own illiteracy.

      But we know what you meant to say…

  21. Icetrey74 says:

    What a timely article for me. My landlord called me up just yesterday saying he wanted to add a clause in my lease stating I am responsible for any slip and fall accidents in the driveway.

    The driveway is cracked and warped pretty badly, and I have asked over the past couple of years if he would repair it. I have even patched the driveway twice myself (and later reimbursed by landlord), but he has not made any attempts to repair it himself.

    Would my signing the addendum a mistake? Or would he be responsible for accidents even after I signed if he did not make the requested repairs?

    I live in KY, and the Landlord/Tenant Act is a bit grey in this area. I welcome the hive mind for their advice before I sign anything.

    • qualityleashdog says:

      Here’s a good one from the Landlord Test on the LPA site:
      5. Select the phrase you should avoid when encountering one of your tenants.

      a) “Nice weather we’re having.”
      b) “Have a great day!”
      c) “How’s everything?”
      d) “Nice seeing you.”

      Correct answer: c) “How’s everything?”

      WHAT?! The ‘good’ landlord wants to avoid reminding the tenant to mention the leaky pipe under the sink? The nightly domestic violence occuring in the next unit? What kind of site is this, and what kind of ethics do they have? A good landlord is the landlord that is uninformed about the condition and events concerning his rental units?

      Our house has rotten window sills, water running into the ceiling because the gutters aren’t attached properly– a whole slew of problems that could be solved with a little money from the landlord, but he prefers to let them grow into awful messes that will really cost a lot to fix. Ignorance is bliss, I suppose, and easy on their profit!

    • qualityleashdog says:

      Sorry, stuck that comment in as reply.

    • pecan 3.14159265 says:

      I don’t know the particular laws in KY, but from a common sense point of view, I would not sign it. The fact is, he has never made much of an effort to fix the driveway so adding a clause definitely means he won’t fix the driveway. It’s not just you who is at risk – if you sign, others will be pressured to sign as well. And if anyone of you slip, you have medical bills to pay and the landlord is off the hook? That doesn’t seem right. Check your state housing authority.

    • Kingeryck says:

      Why would you ever sign that?

  22. qualityleashdog says:

    The LPA site stinks! Anyone with half a brain could find the statutes relevant to their state online via google or by going to http://www.yourstate.gov and searching the statutes.

    Landlord Protection Agency? Tenants need protection, not landlords. They expect rent paid on a certain date, and if you’re out of town for that entire particular day, the world comes crashing down. But let a water leak spring up, furnace go out or have some other problem happen, they cannot be found by phone or in person until the day your rent is due.
    Then they turn around and try to provide the materials if we, the tenants, will provide the free labor. Living in an old house, things like this happen a good three times a year, and I’ve told them forget it…I get no breaks cut for me, so they can go hire a professional that will charge $100 just for showing up to fix plumbing or electrical problems. Not even a thank you when you save them a dollar, let alone a little leeway on the rent.

    Comes time to move, we always have to stop paying the rent a month or two early so we make sure we get what we’re owed. Don’t trust a landlord, let them walk away owing you money, and you’ll never see it again. Crooked bastards, co-mingling deposits with their own funds…And they wonder why they have so much to gripe about.

    • PTB315 says:

      Did a landlord touch you inappropriately or something? Get off the soap box.

      • qualityleashdog says:

        My current landlord did brag to me about taking other forms of ‘payment’ from his female tenants. Then he wonders why he lost two properties to tax sales last year, and is behind on taxes on the remaining three.

  23. qualityleashdog says:

    Here’s a good one from the Landlord Test on the LPA site:
    5. Select the phrase you should avoid when encountering one of your tenants.

    a) “Nice weather we’re having.”
    b) “Have a great day!”
    c) “How’s everything?”
    d) “Nice seeing you.”

    Correct answer: c) “How’s everything?”

    WHAT?! The ‘good’ landlord wants to avoid reminding the tenant to mention the leaky pipe under the sink? The nightly domestic violence occuring in the next unit? What kind of site is this, and what kind of ethics do they have? A good landlord is the landlord that is uninformed about the condition and events concerning his rental units?

    Our house has rotten window sills, water running into the ceiling because the gutters aren’t attached properly– a whole slew of problems that could be solved with a little money from the landlord, but he prefers to let them grow into awful messes that will really cost a lot to fix. Ignorance is bliss, I suppose, and easy on their profit!

  24. qualityleashdog says:

    More good advice from the LPA: Security does NOT = Rent
    “Let the tenants know at the lease signing that security may not be used as rent. Then ask for their word of honor- that they will not break the agreements in your lease. Point out that if the tenant stops paying rent- even if they are giving notice to vacate asking you to use the security deposit as the rent- that they will be breaking their word of honor sealed this day with their signatures. And if this happens, you (your manager or your lawyer can be the “bad guy”) have no choice but to use the security deposit for attorneys fees to swiftly evict them and destroy any good credit they may have because if their word and their signatures are NO GOOD, why should you believe that they’ll move out when they say they will? – John N., NY”

    Great advice! Here in Indiana, security deposits may only be used to pay for damages to the property (which must be proven, they can’t just say ‘you ruined the carpet,’ and then not replace it, they have to either spend money cleaning or replacing), unpaid utilities at the address (in this town, that would only be water/sewage– gas, electric, everything else would follow ME around, not stick to the address), and UNPAID RENT.

    That’s great, give out some advice to stick an illegal clause in the lease agreement, so possibly the whole arrangement could be deemed unenforceable and thrown out. Wonderful site, that LPA.

    LPA also advises landlords to not bother renting to any tenant that demonstrates they have anything more than a basic knowledge of landlord/tenant law. Evidently, that’s an unwise move because the playing field may be leveled and it will be harder for the landlord to take advantage of the tenant.

    The Consumerist really screwed the pooch with this post!

  25. Me - now with more humidity says:

    I love my landlord. He used to be my neighbor and we just moved into his house.

  26. mythago says:

    Better resources:

    - Nolo.com (no, I don’t get any money from them)

    - Your local tenants’ rights organization

  27. Luckie says:

    Oh wow, I got one for this post.

    Two years ago I lived in the Old Fourth Ward and had the sleaziest slumlord complete with a bridesmaid’s-horror-seafoam-green Jaguar. His English was terrible until the words “break my lease” were mentioned and then it got substantially better. He came by at all sorts of stupid hours, like after 11pm on a Tuesday night and routinely on weekends. He insisted he had an office but never happened to have the address on him (apparently he couldn’t just remember it). Luckily I wasn’t on the lease, as I was just rooming with a friend so he could make rent for the last six months of his lease while his wife was overseas, but this dude was terrible. He hired crackheads off the sidewalk to do yard work, and unsurprisingly one of them and some of their friends broke into our apartment. Landlord promised that night to install window bars and a motion light at the very least, then weaseled out of it. The heat went out constantly and he would put off getting it fixed as long as possible. He tried to more than double the charges estimated to replace one gutterspout that my roommate had accidentally damaged (and was nice enough to tell landlord it was him). When my roommate gave him the “keep deposit as last months’ rent especially cause you did x x x and x” the landlord photocopied a signed letter from his immigration lawyer and marked out what the lawyer had written leaving just the header and signature areas, and, with typewriter, wrote in his own letter in god-awful English, making it hilarious and very clear that no lawyer wrote it. He was nice enough to leave the lawyer’s number on there so we could call to verify that the letter was a forgery, though. On top of all that, he would always refer to us as his brother/sister in Christ and such.

    Man I hate that dude.

    • qualityleashdog says:

      Stories like yours are why landlords need organizations like the “Landlord Protection Agency.”

  28. Farleyboy007 says:

    That sucks, the MD link is dead.

  29. FrugalFreak says:

    What about lot rent rights? Most tenants laws cover house renting, not land renting.

  30. Kingeryck says:

    My landlord stuck me with a $250.00 non-refundable fee for having a dog. Under MA law they cannot charge anything more than first, last and one month’s rent for security when you move in. I was charged after I moved in because i didn’t get a dog for 6 months, so it’s kinda of grey. They also charge $20.00 a month to have the dog, but I think that may be legal because it’s rent and is in the lease.The one time fee definitely sounds illegal to me though. They are just pocketing the cash because they can [well until they get called out on it, class action lawsuit for all tenants with dogs renting from this corporation perhaps?]. I brought it to their attention over a month ago, took $250.00 out of the rent and they said they’d have their lawyers look at it. Haven’t heard back.