What are my rights as a tenant?

As a tenant you may be intimidated when you have a disagreement with your landlord and hesitate to assert your rights. You may feel like the underdog in a David-versus-Goliath situation, but federal law and laws in most states provide many protections for tenants. Even if you are behind in your rent and the landlord wants you out, you may have valid defenses to an action for eviction and other recourse than to pay what the landlord says you have to pay or move out.

Among your rights as a tenant are the right to:

  • A habitable, clean, sanitary, safe, hazard and defect-free premises
  • Not be discriminated against on the basis of a protected class, which may include race, religion, age, sex, family status, ethnicity, and other classes
  • When applying for housing, being shown rental units and associated premises that are for rent
  • Complain to the landlord or government office about the landlord’s unlawful conduct without being retaliated against with eviction, shutdown of utilities, rent increase, or other action intended to stifle your lawful exercise of your rights

What Happens If I Leave Some Of My Belongings Or Property In The Rental Unit After I Move Out?

Personal property is generally considered “abandoned” when a tenant leaves his/her belongings in the unit after the lease unless there is some agreement made between the tenant and the landlord to store the property.  In most cases, when property is left in the unit and abandoned the landlord may remove the property and either store it or dispose of the property.  Reasonable notification that property has been left in the uit should be given to the former tenant so that the tenant may reclaim the property.  State laws may vary regarding how long a landlord may be required to store property before the landlord can dispose of it.

Can my landlord keep my entire security deposit?

A security deposit is a deposit the landlord collects. After a tenant moves out, the landlord can apply the deposit to:

  • Unpaid rent owed
  • Cost to clean the unit
  • Cost to repair or replace items damaged by the tenant beyond normal wear and tear
  • Cost to store the tenant’s belongings

Many states set limits on how many months in rent or security deposit the landlord can demand. The landlord may, however, require deposit up to the mandated limits.

In general, once the tenant vacates the property, the landlord has 21 to 30 days to send the tenant a refund of the deposit minus any amount lawfully applied to back rent, damages to the premises, or costs for cleaning and storage.

The landlord must:

  • Provide an itemized list describing all deductions
  • Send the refund to the tenant’s last known address or to an address the tenant provides before or shortly after moving out. It is the tenant’s responsibility to provide a valid address. If the landlord’s attempts to send the refund to the address of record fail, he or she may lawfully be allowed to keep the refund after a certain period of time.

The information on this page is meant to provide a general overview of the law. The laws in your state and/or city may deviate significantly from those described here. If you have specific questions related to your situation you should speak with a local attorney.

Search LawInfo's Tenant Rights Resources

State Tenant Rights Articles