A Guide to Basic Renters' Legal Rights

Renters' legal rights vary from state to state. Consult your state for specifics, but most renters have access to some variation on these basic legal rights:

Renters have the right to notification if the landlord enters your property.
The landlord can't just come in and out of your apartment whenever he wants. Most states have provisions for the landlord to notify you in advance, typically 24 hours or more before entering your property.

Additionally, you have the right to insist that someone is home when the landlord enters your property. If you can't be available, you have a right to ask the landlord to reschedule the visit. There is some flexibility around this rule when it comes to landlords showing the property for the purpose of finding tenants.

Renters' legal rights include withholding rent if repairs aren't made.
This varies greatly from state to state, but many states have provisions for renters to withhold rent if the landlord doesn't make repairs. In some cases, this applies only to money that renters pay out-of-pocket to make repairs that landlords fail to make. In other cases, with significant repairs, renters have a right to withhold a portion of their monthly rent until the landlord makes the repairs. Consult your state's policies on withholding rent before you engage in this tactic.

Renters are protected by the terms of the lease.
When you have a written lease with a landlord, it's not just for the landlord's protection; it protects renters, too. For example, landlords cannot raise rent during the terms of the lease unless the lease incorporates a specific provision enabling that. If you have a one-year lease at $1,000 a month, the landlord can't decide after two months that you have to pay $1,500; the landlord must wait until the lease is up to raise rent.

Likewise, a landlord can't rent the apartment to new tenants during your lease terms unless you otherwise violate or "ify the lease. The landlord can't tell you to move out after four months because he finds someone willing to pay more for the apartment; if you have a one-year lease, you're entitled to live in the apartment for one year. Some exclusions apply if the landlord starts an eviction process.

Renters have the right to recover their security deposit.
A security deposit is just that; a deposit, designated for your landlord to hold in a separate bank account until you move out. The landlord can deduct fees from the security deposit if your rental property is not in good condition when you move out, and the landlord must pay to repair or clean it. However, depending on the security rules of your state, the landlord must provide a detail of what fees he is withholding from your deposit, and must return the rest to you within a specified timeframe.

Consult your state's landlord/tenant laws for specific details.
Renters' legal rights vary from state to state. Before renting, consult your state's landlord/tenant laws to determine your rights. Many law schools offer free clinics for law evaluations if you think you might have a legal violation on your hands, or you can consult a lawyer to get a full and complete interpretation of renters' legal rights in your state.

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