A rental home legally belongs to the landlord, however, when he rents it to tenants he gives them certain rights by law. Tenants have the right to enjoy the home as their own, free from harassment, uninhabitable conditions and unlawful persecution by the landlord. Though each state has specific tenant right laws, there are generally accepted tenant rights protected by federal law.
The federal government prohibits landlords from discriminating against potential tenants for religious beliefs, ethnicity, race or gender. In addition, landlords cannot refuse to rent to a tenant based on whether the tenant has children or a disability. Some states further prohibit discrimination based on a tenant's sexual orientation or age, as long as the tenant has reached legal majority, in most cases, 18 years old.
Once a tenant rents the home, he and his family have a right to enjoy it as their own with regards to privacy. Entrance by the landlord is allowed only to make necessary repairs or in an emergency situation. Landlords can also show the property to prospective buyers or future tenants. Many states require landlords to provide tenants with 24 hours notice any time they need to enter the property, except in an emergency, such as flood, fire or other damaging conditions.
Even if the tenant signed a lease, a landlord must provide a habitable environment, or the lease can be broken without penalty to the tenant. Habitable condition includes the ability to have running water and heat, subject to the tenant having utilities turned on at the property. In the event the heating unit breaks or plumbing work is needed, the tenant must allow a reasonable amount of time for the landlord to make repairs, before the tenant can consider breaking the lease. Any time the home becomes uninhabitable, such as destroyed by natural disasters, the tenant has the right to vacate the property without fulfilling the lease.
Landlords are prohibited from evicting a tenant, simply based on the tenant exercising tenant rights. For example, a landlord that turned off the property's heating source and was reported by the tenant for that action, cannot proceed with eviction based solely on anger that the tenant turned her in. Retaliatory eviction is illegal.
- Findlaw.com: Defenses to Eviction
- Joint Center for Housing Studies at Harvard University. "America's Rental Housing 2020," Page 9. Accessed March 20, 2020.
- Nolo. "State Laws on Landlord's Access to Rental Property." Accessed March 20, 2020.
- Nolo. "How Evictions Work: Rules for Landlords and Property Managers." Accessed March 20, 2020.
- U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. "Housing Discrimination Under the Fair Housing Act." Accessed March 20, 2020.
Candace Webb has been writing professionally since 1989. She has worked as a full-time journalist as well as contributed to metropolitan newspapers including the "Tennessean." She has also worked on staff as an associate editor at the "Nashville Parent" magazine. Webb holds a Bachelor of Arts in journalism with a minor in business from San Jose State University.