Renter’s Rights

Renters often face an uphill battle in dealing with landlords and property owners. This is because most renters aren’t fully aware of their legal rights as tenants and most property owners are aware of this fact. By educating yourself on the laws that have been set in place to protect tenants, you can better protect yourself and ensure your landlord is fulfilling his or her obligations.

Federal Laws Protect Against Discriminatory Acts

Many people know that employers are prohibited from discriminating against employees, but it may not be as commonly known that similar laws protect those seeking housing. The Fair Housing Act protects tenants from discrimination in relation to a number of factors. This means housing cannot be refused to an individual where the reason given is based on one of the following factors:

  • Race
  • Nationality
  • Sex
  • Familial status
  • Religion
  • Disability

Even though these laws have been in place for many years, the Department of Housing and Urban Development reports that it still receives a high number of discrimination complaints each year. For instance, between 2012 and 2013, the agency reported that it received 3,500 complaints. Of that number, 40% of the housing discrimination complaints were either resolved, resulted in charges being filed, or were submitted to the U.S. Department of Justice for further investigation.

States Also Establish Rights for Tenants

Individual states establish their own laws to protect tenants, as well. While this means each state has different laws in this area, there are many laws common throughout the states. For instance, each state requires that the property owner provide “livable conditions” to the tenants living in the dwelling. This means the landlord must provide indoor plumbing, hot and cold running water, electricity, and heat. In warmer climates, the laws may also require the landlord to provide air conditioning, but it depends on the state.

Additionally, property owners may attempt to curtail the law through a lease that lists unlawful terms. As long as the tenant doesn’t question these terms and assumes he or she has no choice but to abide by them, the landlord may be able to get away with these violations. However, an informed tenant will know that the law supersedes the lease and the courts will favor the tenant in these instances.

In one example, a lease may require that a tenant is responsible for plumbing repairs. Since these repairs are necessary to make the property livable, the landlord is legally responsible for those repairs. A signed lease won’t change the law.

If you want to learn more about your rights as a tenant in your state, you can contact your state housing authority. You may also want to consult community organizations that act to help tenants fight for their rights. By becoming involved and informed, you can better protect your rights.


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