Most people don’t realize they have certain rights when it comes to renting an apartment. In fact, there are many things you, as a renter, are entitled to in your living situation. It’s important to know your tenant rights so that you are aware of what you can and cannot do in certain situations. With that in mind, here’s the skinny on renters’ rights.
1. What are my basic rights?
Every renter is entitled to the same basic rights in terms of the home or apartment’s condition. They are the rights to:
- A habitable home
- Working appliances
- Hot water and operable toilets
- Doors that lock
- No leaks in the roof
- Windows in working condition
- Lights for exterior walkways
2. How long should it take for a landlord to fix something?
You should give your landlord a reasonable amount of time to fix a problem or issue with your rental. Provide your landlord 30 days (again, check your state laws) to make repairs, replace appliances, or fix maintenance issues before raising suspicion.
3. Can you withhold rent for repairs?
Yes–depending on your state laws. Withholding rent means you essentially stop paying rent to your landlord because they have yet to fix something in your rental that affects its habitability. This can be something like not having hot water or dealing with a broken heater in the winter. It can’t be something like a squeaky door or a leaky faucet; these are considered minor repairs and aren’t grounds for withholding rent.
Before you withhold rent, make sure you’ve put your repair requests into writing and have given your landlord sufficient time to make the repairs. Make sure to look up specific city requirements before withholding rent; some cities
4. What is normal wear and tear?
Normal wear and tear are things that happen over time while living in a rental. Examples include:
- Small stains on the carpet
- Knicks/marks on the walls
- Loose door knobs
- Appliances losing their shine
Wear and tear is not the same thing as damage. When landlords do their move-out walk-through, they are looking to see if you’ve damaged any part of the rental. This could include:
- Holes in the walls, doors, or floorboards
- Broken appliances for which you haven’t made maintenance requests
- Damaged doors
- Large stains on the carpet (think: a whole bottle of wine)
5. How many days notice does a landlord have to give to evict a tenancy at will?
If a landlord has given you a notice to quit, they need to give you one of the two:
- A 7-day notice
- A 30-day notice
You have a few options once you’ve received the notice.
- Accept the notice and move out within the 7-day or 30-day period
- Fix the problem that your landlord used as reason for eviction; if you had too many people living in your rental, weren’t taking care of the yard as the lease specified, etc. then resolve the issue and speak to your landlord about allowing you to stay
- Do nothing and stay in the rental
If you choose option three and do nothing, your landlord may file an unlawful detainer (UD) suit against you so that the eviction process continues to move forward. This will require you to appear at a hearing on a specific date to go over the details of your eviction, and see if there’s anything you can do to fight it.
6. Can a landlord charge you to paint?
Usually no, but it depends. A tenant is not responsible for normal wear and tear on the apartment and, depending on your state’s laws, landlords are almost always responsible for painting the interior of the apartment. If you’ve caused damage to the walls during your time there and the landlord needs to paint them while you’re still residing in the rental, the landlord may charge you to have the walls painted. Work this out with your landlord before signing the lease so each of you knows what’s expected.
7. Can you sue a landlord for emotional distress?
Yes! We all know our emotional wellbeing can be affected by our living situation, and that’s something your landlord should keep in mind. If your landlord has failed to make a repair that has, consequently, affected your health or wellbeing, has discriminated against you for illegal reasons, or done something that has caused you physical or emotional harm, you can sue them for emotional distress.
If there’s a repair you want fixed, make sure you put it in writing and give your landlord reasonable time to make the repair. Should the landlord refuses to fix the problem, keep all documentation of your request and any correspondence you’ve had with them. The same goes for any form of discrimination you may have endured; keep all related documentation that shows you’ve been discriminated against. You can take your landlord to small claims court and sue for emotional distress, using your documents as evidence.
8. Is housing discrimination illegal?
Yes, there are many things that are illegal for landlords to discriminate based upon. The Fair Housing Act, passed in 1968, made it illegal to discriminate a tenant based on race, color, origin, religion, sex, familial status, or disability. If you think you have been discriminated against because of one or more of these, you can fill out the online form on the HUD website.
As a renter, you have many rights, and it’s our goal to help you understand them. Use this as a guide and get familiar with your rights before moving into your new apartment.