What are a landlord’s legal responsibilities?
A landlord’s legal responsibilities include, in almost every state, keeping the rental unit in a condition that is fit for habitation. Thus, they generally must make major repairs to problems that make the unit unlivable. They must fix environmental hazards or hazards that could cause accidents and injuries. A landlord also must take security precautions to reduce the risk of foreseeable crimes in or around the premises.
A landlord must respect the tenant’s right to privacy and generally provide notice before entering the apartment. They cannot discriminate against tenants based on their membership in a protected group, such as people of a certain race or national origin. Landlords also cannot retaliate against tenants for exercising a legal right, such as blowing the whistle on a building code violation. If they want to end the tenancy, they need to comply with state rules on notice, and they need to follow specific procedures if they want to evict a tenant.
Can a tenant deny entry to a landlord?
Often, a tenant can deny entry to a landlord based on their right to privacy, although there are exceptions. A tenant cannot deny entry if there is an emergency that the landlord needs to address, if the tenant has abandoned the property, or, in some cases, if the police are responding to a crime. The landlord needs to provide notice if they need to enter the unit to make repairs or improvements, or if they are showing the apartment to a prospective tenant or purchaser. This notice needs to be reasonable and generally must be at least 24 to 48 hours in advance.
Do you have to pay rent if there is no lease?
Yes, you still have to pay rent if there is no lease. If there is no written lease, but there is an oral agreement, this is valid if your tenancy is one year or less. If there is no oral agreement or written lease, this means that you have a month-to-month tenancy at will, and you should pay rent on a monthly basis. Ideally, to prevent confusion, you should pay rent on the first day of each month. There is no grace period for paying rent, and you can be evicted for non-payment, so it is important to keep up with payments if you can.
Is there any situation in which a tenant can withhold rent?
Yes, a tenant can withhold rent if there is a major problem or hazard in the rental unit that makes it unlivable. You should find out about the specific situations in which your state allows withholding rent, however, since you can be subject to eviction if you wrongfully withhold it. In some states, a tenant still needs to pay rent to a court or place it in an escrow account while the repairs are underway. You should prepare to start paying the full rent as soon as the repairs are completed and the unit is livable again.
How long does a landlord have to make a repair?
A landlord has varying periods of time to make a repair, depending on whether it is major or minor. If the issue is major, such that it is an emergency that makes the apartment unlivable, the landlord should respond immediately. If they do not, you may be able to withhold rent or even break your lease and move out. If the issue is minor, on the other hand, the landlord has more breathing room. You cannot withhold rent or break the lease without repercussions if the landlord fails to fix a minor repair. Some tenants may find it easier to make minor repairs on their own and then recover the cost from the landlord.
What do you do if your landlord won’t fix anything?
If your landlord won’t fix anything, the options available to you will depend on whether the problem is major or minor. Tenants have a wider range of options if the landlord is refusing to make major repairs. They can break the lease and move out, arguing that the landlord essentially evicted them (a “constructive eviction”) because the unit is unlivable. In many states, they can withhold rent until the repairs are completed. Tenants also can make the repairs on their own and then deduct their cost from the rent, although this is not an option in every state. Other options include making the repairs and suing the landlord for the cost of the repairs in small claims court, as well as compensation for related injuries or property damage. Or you can alert a housing inspector to the problem if it violates a building code.
If the issue is relatively minor, and you cannot persuade the landlord to address it, you can sue the landlord in small claims court. You may be able to get your rent reduced to reflect the reduced value of the unit. Also, you can make your own repairs if you get the landlord’s consent, although you will be on the hook for any injuries or property damage that you cause in making them.
Can a landlord just kick you out?
No, a landlord cannot just kick you out. They need to follow the formal eviction process provided in your state. If a landlord uses illegal self-help measures, such as changing the locks or throwing out your belongings, you should be able to hold the landlord accountable and remain on the property. You can also get compensation for property damage and any other related losses.
How much notice does a landlord need to give a tenant to move out?
The notice that a landlord needs to give a tenant to move out depends on the reason behind the notice. If this is a simple termination of a lease or rental agreement that does not have a particular reason, such as a violation of the lease, the landlord usually needs to provide at least 30 days’ notice. This is true for both written leases and month-to-month tenancies. Some states require a somewhat longer period.
If the landlord is terminating a tenancy based on an alleged violation of the lease, they need to provide a termination notice stating the violation. The period until an eviction begins can vary. A Pay Rent or Quit notice usually gives a tenant three to five days to pay the rent or move out. A Cure or Quit notice gives a tenant an opportunity to fix a non-rent violation of the lease within a certain time, which is usually longer than the period allowed to catch up on rent. If you get an Unconditional Quit notice, this means that you must move out, often within five to 10 days. Tenants who commit or are reasonably suspected of committing crimes may have an especially short time window to move out.
How much notice do I have to give my landlord before I move?
You generally will need to provide 30 days’ notice to your landlord before you move. If you pay rent more often than once a month in a month-to-month tenancy, however, some states allow you to give a shorter period of notice that matches the interval at which you pay rent. Some leases and rental agreements have specific rules about the date on which a tenant can provide notice, so you should check to see whether this type of rule applies to you.
Can a landlord evict you for being late on rent?
Yes, a landlord can evict you for being late on rent. This usually will result in a Pay Rent or Quit notice, which means that you need to pay what you owe or move. If you do neither, the landlord can start the eviction process. If you have repeatedly failed to pay rent on time, and especially if you have received a previous Pay Rent or Quit notice, you may be at risk of receiving an Unconditional Quit notice based on failing to pay rent. This means that you do not have the opportunity to pay what you owe and are required to move.
However, if the landlord accepts a partial payment of the rent, this likely will negate the existing Pay Rent or Quit notice. The landlord would need to start over with a new notice if they want to collect the remaining rent.
Can a landlord evict you if there is no lease?
Yes, a landlord can evict you if there is no lease. If there is no written lease, it is possible that you have an oral agreement based on a verbal understanding with the landlord. This oral agreement and its terms will be valid and enforceable if the lease period is one year or less. If there is no lease, either written or oral, a landlord still can evict you. This is because the lack of a lease means that you are in a month-to-month tenancy at will and must pay rent on a monthly basis, or more frequently if you have an agreement to that effect. However, a landlord generally must provide notice of terminating your tenancy. (“Evicting you” means starting eviction proceedings if you fail to comply with the notice. A landlord cannot legally evict you without a court order, whether or not you have a lease.)
How long does it take for a landlord to evict a tenant?
A landlord can evict a tenant only by going through a formal eviction proceeding, which can take a few weeks from start to finish. Depending on the type of termination notice that the landlord sends, the eviction process might not even start for a week or more after the tenant gets the notice. (Or it might be expedited if you are alleged to have engaged in serious misconduct, such as committing a crime or posing a safety risk.) Then, if the landlord’s service of process is deficient, the tenant may be able to extend the process by getting the initial case thrown out. This can give you extra time to plan a move if you believe that the eviction may go through. Once a landlord gets a judgment of eviction, however, the process tends to move very quickly. The sheriff or marshal will probably come to remove you within a few days if you have not left before then. Grounds for getting an eviction stopped or postponed are limited and usually require proof of an extreme hardship.
Can a landlord sue for back rent after an eviction?
Yes, a landlord can sue for back rent after an eviction. This is a debt that you owe the landlord. In many cases, a landlord can use the tenant’s security deposit to cover back rent. If the security deposit does not cover the full amount of back rent or property damage that you caused, however, the landlord can go to small claims court to get a judgment for the rest of it. You should make sure to participate in this proceeding to avoid having a default judgment entered against you, which can harm your credit rating. You may even be able to convince the judge or the landlord to let you pay the back rent in installments or compromise on a lesser amount.
Can you sue a landlord for injuries?
Yes, you can sue a landlord for injuries that you suffer in an accident on the premises. You can bring a personal injury claim that tries to prove the landlord’s liability, usually under the theory of negligence. This means that the landlord was responsible for the area where the accident occurred or the issue that caused the accident, but they failed to take reasonable care in addressing it. The accident also must have been a foreseeable result. Sometimes an accident results from a landlord violating a building or safety code, which means that the landlord’s negligence is presumed automatically. You can potentially get compensation for your medical bills, lost income and earning capacity, costs of future treatment, pain and suffering, emotional distress, and other losses, especially if the injury is serious or permanent. However, you should be aware that your compensation award may be reduced if you were also partly responsible for causing the accident.
In some egregious, less common situations, a landlord may act recklessly or intentionally in causing injuries to a tenant. This may support an award of punitive damages in addition to compensatory damages, although the availability of punitive damages depends on state law.
Is a landlord responsible for damaged property?
A landlord is often responsible for damaged property. You would need to show that they created the condition that caused the property damage, such as by failing to make major repairs when needed. If you caused the condition that resulted in the property damage, however, the landlord will not be responsible. Specific rules apply to property that is left behind after a tenant moves out. A landlord sometimes may be liable for property damage or loss that was a foreseeable result of how they stored abandoned property, if the property has some objective value.
Is a landlord responsible for mold?
A landlord may be responsible for mold if they created the condition that caused the mold to develop. They also may be responsible for failing to fix an outbreak of mold in your unit, even if they include a clause in the lease or rental agreement that aims to negate this liability. A landlord may be required to compensate you for property damage that resulted from the mold if they were responsible for the condition that caused it. If you were responsible for the condition that caused the mold, you cannot get compensation from the landlord.
What is considered harassment by a landlord?
Landlord harassment can range from annoying to criminal. Tenants often feel that a landlord’s unexpected or unauthorized entry of their unit violates their right to privacy and constitutes harassment. However, a landlord also has a right of entry as the property owner, so you should look into the situation carefully before suing the landlord to make sure that your right to privacy was actually violated and that the landlord failed to follow any required procedures. More obvious forms of harassment include defamation and telephone harassment. A landlord is not allowed to spread false information about you, and they cannot disrupt your work environment by criticizing you to employers or coworkers.
Some landlords even break the law and assault, sexually assault, or spy on their tenants. This is not only a basis for a civil harassment claim but also possibly a basis for criminal charges, so you should get the police involved if your landlord has engaged in extreme misconduct.
When do I need a lawyer?
Each situation is different, but generally you need a lawyer if the stakes are high or the matter is complex. For example, the outcome of an eviction proceeding can have a huge impact on the quality of your life and your financial stability, so you may want to retain an attorney in this situation. If you suffered serious injuries in an accident and want to bring a claim against your landlord for hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars in damages, you should probably hire a lawyer to make sure that you make the strongest possible case and do not overlook any nuances. If a dispute involves a novel or technical area of law, such as the placement of satellite dishes in your unit, you may want a professional to advise you.
On the other hand, you may not need a lawyer to negotiate with a landlord about making repairs or making changes to a lease. If you just want to know more information about your rights and obligations, you are probably better off researching your questions on your own rather than paying a lawyer a fee to talk with you. For example, if you want to understand better how to rent a home as a group of roommates, or how to sublet your apartment to someone else, you may be able to find an answer to these questions online (and perhaps even on this website).
Who is responsible for maintaining common areas in my apartment building?
In most places, state law mandates that landlords are responsible for maintaining common areas by, at a minimum, keeping them clean and safe. If your landlord is unresponsive to requests for cleanup or repairs, you may be able to obtain assistance by contacting the city, county, or other local government office charged with implementing building codes, safety codes, and/or rental housing standards.
Can my landlord force an eviction by turning off the utilities in my house?
It is not legal for your landlord to force you out of a rental property by cutting off water, electricity, or other essential services. Your landlord is required to maintain your unit in a safe and habitable manner, and shutting off your utilities amounts to a constructive eviction. If your landlord wants to evict you in a lawful way, all applicable eviction procedures, which include sufficient notice and possibly a court judgment, must be followed.
Can a landlord refuse to rent to me because I have children?
Under federal law, it is illegal for a landlord to discriminate against you on the basis of any of several protected characteristics, which include, race, national origin, disability, age, and family status. This means that the landlord cannot refuse to rent to you because you have children under the age of 18, and is also prohibited from listing discriminatory preferences in a rental ad. Similarly, a landlord cannot take action to end your tenancy for discriminatory reasons. In many places, analogous protections exist at the state and local levels as well.