Are you applying to rent a house or apartment?  Perhaps you already are renting.  Or, you are a landlord going through the leasing process or currently have tenants.

Whichever category you fall into, it is important to understand what landlords can and cannot do.

Most Landlord-Tenant Laws are state-level jurisdictions.  However, there are federal laws to protect certain classes.  Research your specific state regulations as they may be different.

Being a landlord does not give full control of your tenant or property.  In fact, landlords lose authority.  If you are a new landlord, follow these tips.

Whether a landlord or tenant, it is important to know what a landlord cannot do.


Landlords cannot discriminate against applicants and tenants

Screening and selecting the best tenant are crucial for success as a landlord.  The wrong tenant can lose money, receive unneeded calls or damage to the property.  Being thorough during the screening process is important.

Landlords need to be aware of any discriminating actions they take against applicants.  Knowingly or unknowingly.

Here are great questions to ask potential tenants.

Learn how to screen tenants for your rental property.

Federal Housing Authority has identified these classes of applicants as protected:

  • Race
  • Color
  • Religion
  • National origin
  • Sex
  • Age
  • Familial status (including children and pregnant women)
  • Physical disability
  • Mental disability (including alcoholism and past drug addiction)


Landlords cannot indicate a preference or limitation for any of the protected classes.  No verbiage on your listing or leases.

When rejecting an applicant, landlords need to be careful about how they inform the applicant.  There are watch-dog groups that pursue landlords for breaking these FHA laws.  Even when your rejection had nothing to do with offending the class.

Create your own strategy for selecting a tenant.  Then stick to that plan.  This protects landlords and proves no ill-will when rejecting an applicant who is part of a protected class.  An example policy, select the first qualified applicant who submitted all proper documentation.

Avoid listings that advertise “no children allowed”, “female only”, or “American’s only”.

Do: use similar terms and rates for all tenants.  Landlords cannot charge higher rent because of race, or any protect class.

Avoid: charging higher rents or using different lease terms for “families with children”, “men under 25 years old” or “physically disabled individual”.

Service dogs are protected by FHA

Landlords cannot discriminate against service animals

There are rental properties with strict pet policies.  No pets allowed.  Any size.  No matter how adorable they may be.

Do these policies impact service animals as well?


Service animals are included on the protected class.  Landlords cannot charge additional deposits or fees.  Learn more about pet deposit, fees and pet rent.


Mishandle or overcharge security deposits and late fees

When it comes to security deposits and late fees, landlords are governed by state law.

Security deposits will range from 1-2 months’ worth of rent.

Landlords may not use security deposits for any repairs they deem necessary.  A common argument between tenants and landlords is over carpet.  In short, landlords cannot charge for normal wear-and-tear but can charge for actual damages caused by the tenant.

Landlords must return the security deposit within a set duration of days.  Typically, 7 to 14 days.  10 days is most common.  Minus any damages.

Like security deposits, landlords are limited by the amount of late fees they can charge.  Again, each state has its own policies.  State laws might enforce a set grace period before late fees can be charged.


Landlords must give proper notice to enter premise

Landlords cannot intrude on tenant privacy

Although landlords are the owner of the property, legally they cannot enter the premises without notice.

Tenant privacy laws prevent entrances without notification.  The exception is an emergency that puts tenants or others in danger.  For example, water or gas leaks.

Every state has its own requirements for prior notice.  States typically require 24 to 48 hours’ notice.  When the lease does not state or uses less than the state law, landlords must follow the letter of the law.

This does not mean landlords cannot enter their rental properties.  With proper notice, landlords like to inspect the property and change air filters.  Learn how often landlords should inspect properties.


Landlords must honor lease agreements

A lease agreement is a legal binding agreement between tenants and landlords.  Popular belief among tenants is leases only protect landlords.  Truth is lease agreements protect both parties fairly.

Failing to meet the agreed terms can get tenants evicted.  Landlords failing to meet their own agreed terms can get fines and legal issues.

Landlords must honor the lease agreement.  Worried about your landlord breaking the lease, learn more.

Lease agreements set rents and prevent landlords from increasing rent mid-term.  Or adding excessive fees.

If a rental property is sold while occupied, the lease legally remains in place.  Rent cannot be altered until the terms expire.  Unless the tenants agree to increase rent.  Rare but can occur if the new landlord is willing to improve the property.


Landlords cannot ignore repairs

A rental property must remain habitable through occupancy.  This means addressing repairs that expose a life threat to the tenants.

Landlords who avoid these repairs turn into slum lords.  Giving a bad reputation for all the great landlords.

For life threatening repairs, landlords are given a limit of days to correct the issue.  This can include HVAC not working during peak season, missing handrails on stairs, broken windows or doors.

Tenants need to document their issue.  Track each request made and any action taken, or not taken.

As a general reminder, now is a good time to encourage tenants to better protect their personal belongs.  Renters insurance is affordable and starts around $8 per month.  In the event the maintenance issues cause damage to your personal belongings, having insurance in place can protect your belongings in the event landlords insurance does not.


In closing

Landlords that want to remain compliant need to follow these tips.  When landlords fail, tenants can report their landlord to state and federal agencies.

Provide proper notice to enter a premise, often 24 to 48 hours.  Be prompt on repairing life-threatening repairs, such as heating and cool systems.  Understand times for refunding deposits and maximize late fees allowed.

Tenant-Landlord Laws are very important. Respect your tenants and do not discriminate.