What Are Renters Rights and Why Do They Matter?

Renters rights ensure tenants have a safe place to live, privacy, and other protections around security deposits, evictions, and rent increases.

Last Updated
July 29, 2022
What Are Renters Rights and Why Do They Matter?

Just like landlords have the right to protect themselves and their investments, tenants also have rights — including protections around finances, privacy, and safety. Knowing your rights as a tenant is critical before signing a lease.

Renters already know they have a responsibility to pay rent on time, treat the property they’re living in with respect and care, and communicate with their landlord regarding security deposits, maintenance requests, and more. 

With these responsibilities, however, also comes renters rights that ensure every tenant is given a safe place to live, privacy in their home, and protections around things like security deposits, evictions, and rent increases. 

Every renter should understand their rights on local, state, and federal levels. Here’s what renters should know about the real estate laws that protect them — and what to look out for before signing a lease. 

What are renters rights?

While tenant rights vary by state, these are some of the most common and important protections for renters:

1. Right to fair housing

In 1968, the federal government established the Fair Housing Act, a law that ensures renters are never denied housing on the basis of race, religion, sex, age, nationality, family status, or physical disability. If you apply to live in a rental property and have a disability, for example, your landlord is required to make reasonable accommodations for you. 

In the same vein, the Fair Credit Reporting Act of 1970 requires that landlords explain why a renter’s application was rejected if the reason relates to their credit score. In tandem, these federal laws protect renters from discrimination and guarantee everyone has equal opportunity in the rental application process.

2. Protections around your security deposit

Typically, landlords require tenants to provide a security deposit before the lease starts. This money offers assurance that the landlord will be reimbursed in the event of property damages or failure to pay rent. On the other side of the coin, renters have a right to get their security deposit back at the end of the lease if they were a responsible, reliable tenant who adhered to the lease agreement.

While state laws vary regarding potential interest rates accruals or the timing of security deposit returns, all renters are entitled to a written explanation of where a security deposit goes if it’s not returned — and why. 

3. Advance eviction notice and explanation

Unfortunately, eviction is always possible if a tenant breaches the lease terms for any reason. Reasons for eviction may include not paying rent on time, housing additional people or pets that weren’t included in the lease, or committing a crime on the property. That said, renters have a right to know why they’re being evicted and should be given sufficient time to remedy the situation or find new housing. 

If a tenant doesn’t take action after being provided with advance notice, the landlord’s next step may be to file an eviction proceeding in court. Renters are entitled to receive notice of this and appear in court. 

4. Right to rent payment grace periods

While it’s important that renters pay rent on time each month, many state and local laws mandate a grace period in leasing agreements. This mandate asserts a renter’s right to a payment grace period, often ranging from three to five days.

This added time gives tenants wiggle room to pay rent before a landlord can legally charge a late fee. In some cases, this grace period could be as long as ten days or more. 

5. Advance notice of rent increases

Amid rising rental demand, inflation, and an ever-changing market, many landlords have no choice but to raise rent to stay profitable. While this is within their rights, tenants are entitled to know about rent increases far in advance. For example, in California, when landlords increase a tenant's rent by more than 10%, they must provide a 60-day advance written notice.

This gives tenants enough time to consider their finances, adjust their budget, or find new housing before they run out of time. It also demonstrates respect for tenants who may not be able to afford the new rate.

6. Right to a safe, habitable place

Though it may seem obvious, every renter has the right to live in a habitable space that doesn’t threaten their health or safety. These basic requirements include: a roof that keeps out the elements, access to running water (both hot and cold), sturdy wall and floor structures, and no toxicity in the environment (e.g., lead, asbestos, or mold). 

In legal terminology, this right is better known as “implied warranty of habitability.” While landlords may not formally agree that their property is “livable” in the lease, it should go without saying that the offer to rent means the property is a safe place to inhabit. 

7. Right to privacy

Every tenant is entitled to peace and privacy at home, free from unannounced visits from their landlord, maintenance repair teams, or other tenants. In legal terms, this right is often described as “the covenant of quiet enjoyment.”

Some examples of landlords violating this privacy may include: giving up personal information about your income, credit, or address to strangers who don’t need that information; entering your space unexpectedly; interrupting you at work; turning off utilities; or engaging in sexual harassment of any kind. 

What resources are available to tenants?

Equipped with a better understanding of their rights, tenants can enforce them in their relationship with their landlord or property manager. Some of the ways renters can self-advocate include:

  • Joining a tenant organization: Many states have tenant organizations that work to champion renters rights. These groups often advocate for informing all tenants of the local, state, and federal laws that protect them, ending landlord harassment and housing displacement, and improving tenant-landlord relationships in the community. 
  • Seeking free legal aid: It can be difficult to know the best course of legal action to take if a landlord violates your rights. That’s why it’s important to seek out free legal aid from an attorney or organization that specializes in landlord-tenant laws and work together to determine a plan to resolve the issue. Free legal aid is a renters right in and of itself. 
  • Consulting online resources: As always, the internet is a valuable resource for finding information about state and local laws, free or low-cost legal aid, and renters rights in general. Companies like NOLO, government agencies like the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), and non-profits like Tenants Together provide information and resources to renters. An informed tenant can assert their rights and tackle issues when they arise — forming a stronger relationship with their landlord in the process.

Build a stronger tenant-landlord relationship with Azibo

A positive tenant-landlord relationship can lead to long-term loyalty between both parties. The key to establishing one? Understanding each other’s rights, adhering to local laws, and staying organized from the application process to lease renewals. 

By consolidating all rental property information in one central hub, including the lease agreement, rent payments, insurance, and compliance documents, renters can rest assured that they have the documentation necessary to keep their landlords informed, and defend themselves if any issues arise. 

Strengthen the renter-landlord relationship with a partner who streamlines the rental process and keeps both parties organized. Get started with Azibo today.

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