Landlord-Tenant Law Overview

Landlord-tenant laws are rules created by state governments that both parties must follow when entering into a residential lease agreement. In the case of any disagreements, they are designed to protect both the landlord and tenant. Landlord-tenant acts also help landlords understand what their responsibilities are to their tenants and properties. Many states use the Uniform Residential Landlord-Tenant Act of 1972 (URLTA) as the basis for their state-specific laws. At a high level, the URLTA establishes the landlord-tenant relationship on the basis of contract, rather than property law.

While many landlord-tenant laws are similar state-to-state, there are key differences that can be significant, depending on the topic. Many county and city localities have their own set of laws as well that offer additional protections. It’s important for both landlords and tenants to fully understand landlord-tenant laws in their particular location to ensure they aren’t being taken advantage of and to avoid unnecessary lawsuits.

What Are Common Landlord-Tenant Law Differences By State?

Landlord-Tenant State and Local Laws vs Federal Laws

There are also federal fair housing laws that must be complied with in every state. You can think of these as broad guidelines, while the individual state and local laws get into the specifics. The main federal law to be aware of is the Fair Housing Act of 1968. The Fair Housing Act was put in place to prevent housing discrimination based on a number of factors, including race, religion, national origin, sex, handicap, and familial status. Many states and cities also have their own fair housing laws that offer additional protections to certain classes that are not covered by the federal Fair Housing Act.

An example of the Fair Housing Act is that a landlord would not be able to deny housing to a family with children, simply because they do not want children living in their rental. Unless the property meets an exemption (like being specifically designated as Housing for Older Persons), it would be illegal for them to deny this family housing. 

It’s important to have a firm grasp of federal, state, and local laws so you can understand how they interact.

Landlord-Tenant Law FAQ

What are my rights as a renter?

In general, tenant rights include freedom from discrimination, the ability to live in a habitable environment, and the ability to enjoy the privacy of your home. This means landlords cannot deny potential tenants housing based on their race, religion, and many other factors protected by fair housing laws. Landlords must provide a home with running water, electricity, and other safety features. Landlords cannot unduly “snoop” on residents. Click on your state above to learn more about specific renters’ rights in your area.

Can a tenant withhold rent for any reason?

While this might depend on the state, generally, yes. Tenants are entitled to withhold rent if the landlord is not complying with the terms set out in the lease. The lease is a two-way agreement where tenants agree to pay rent for landlords to provide proper housing. If a landlord is failing to hold up their end of the bargain, then tenants can withhold rent payments until the problem is fixed. Different states have different rules on how long landlords have to resolve issues before tenants can start withholding, so be sure to check out your specific state above.

Can a landlord ask a tenant to move out?

Again, the answer is yes. If a tenant is not complying with the terms of the lease, the landlord can ask them to move out, or in certain cases, file for an eviction. However, there are important rules in regards to the timing, communication, and documentation when it comes to evictions, so you will need to check your specific state laws to be sure.

How do I stay compliant with different landlord-tenant laws in multiple states?

If you are a landlord with properties in several states, it is essential to have a state-specific lease that complies with the local laws. This means for different properties, you will need different lease agreements. Log in or sign up here to create your own customizable and state-specific lease agreement right in TurboTenant.

Disclaimer: TurboTenant, Inc does not provide legal advice. This material has been prepared for informational purposes only. All users are advised to check all applicable local, state and federal laws and consult legal counsel should questions arise.

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