What are my rights as a tenant?
If your heat stops working and the landlord fails to respond to your repair request for days or the maintenance staff enters your apartment without notice, you may wonder – what are my rights as a tenant?!
And you should. Both of the aforementioned would be a violation thereof.
Just because the space in which you live is owned by a landlord or property management company, it's still your apartment. Though renters' rights can vary from state to state, certain aspects are universally true. Read on for a brief summary.
The Fair Housing Act
Your rights as a tenant begin before you even sign the lease. Under the FHA, it's illegal to discriminate against current and prospective tenants on the basis of race, gender, religion, ethnicity, disability, national origin or familial status. LGBT protections are afforded in some states, as well.
The right to a habitable home
Even if your lease doesn't include the above phrase, it applies. You cannot sign this right away. A landlord must provide tenants with a livable, safe and clean apartment. Public areas of an apartment complex are covered by this, as well.
“Habitable" homes have working water, plumbing, heat and electrical systems. The roof doesn't leak and there are no pest infestations. If any of these things require attention, written notice to the landlord should get you a swift response wherein maintenance or extermination services can be scheduled.
Matters of privacy
Generally speaking, most leases have a clause stating that neither the landlord (nor the landlord's agent – meaning maintenance staff, repair technician, exterminator, realtor and the like) will enter your apartment except in cases of emergency or to make necessary agreed upon repairs.
“Agreed upon" is the key phrase.
Notice is required before anyone enters your apartment to do something like fix a stove burner. However, if you're out of town and a window gets broken, this could be seen as a reasonable “emergency" that allowed for entry without permission.
Reasonable security deposits
These payments are standard procedure and are placed in escrow and returned when you move out – minus any cash needed to cover things like repairs or unpaid rent. But most states have limits on how much. A pet, for example, is a legal reason for a higher security deposit.
Safe and sound
Smoke detectors and working locks are among the features required by law. The former must be installed within 10 feet of each bedroom, clearly visible (and, more importantly, audible!) to tenants. Tenants interested in beefing up their security can, in some cases, add locks but would be required to furnish management with a key.
Exterior safety is important, as well. Be sure to immediately report any hazards on stairs, walkways or other places where people could get injured.
It's important to note that all tenants, including those in HUD or low-income housing, have the right to live in safe, habitable apartments, to timely repairs when necessary and to notice – in writing – of any non-emergency inspection or other entry into their homes.