Real Estate Law

Know Your Rights An Overview of Tenant Rights

Jessica Watson had no idea why an apartment complex management company rejected her rental application.

“The form was pretty basic,” said the single mother of two children. “They confirmed my employment and checked into my credit history. There were no red flags that I could think of.”

However, for the apartment complex management company, there was one red flag and when the company waved the flag, it broke the law.

One of the most important tenant laws protects you before you even sign a 12-month lease. It is against the law for a prospective landlord to deny your rental application because of one or more discrimination reasons. Jessica eventually discovered the property management company rejected her rental application because she has two children. She discovered the discrimination with the help of a licensed and experienced property law attorney.

United States Federal Anti Discrimination Statutes

Federal law prohibits discrimination based on age, race, gender, color, creed, and national origin. Most Americans know about these discrimination prohibitions. Unknown to many Americans is the prohibition of discrimination based on family status, such as not allowing children to live in an apartment complex. Landlords also cannot discriminate against rental applicants who possess a mental and/or physical disability. Mental impairments protected by federal anti-discrimination statutes include substance abuse.

Prohibited Discrimination Conduct for Rental Applications

Landlords are not allowed to advertise rental properties that include preferences or restrictions based on the characteristics listed above. Moreover, landlords cannot make statements or imply that they prefer certain demographic groups. Any landlord who claims an apartment is not available when in fact it is available has violated federal property law. Different rental standards for different demographic groups represent a clear violation of federal housing anti-discrimination statutes. Landlords cannot implement different rules for analyzing applicants who belong to a federally mandated protected anti-discrimination class.

After You Sign the Lease

By federal law, landlords are required to provide the same services and offer the same facilities to all tenants living in an apartment complex. For example, a landlord is prohibited from denying a tenant kitchen sink maintenance service just because she is a practicing Muslim. Landlords are not allowed to charge higher rents and/or security deposits for members of a protected anti-discrimination class. Your landlord cannot harass or threaten you, even if the harassment involves the attempt to collect late rent. Although landlords have the legal right to have a “no pets” rental policy, the no pets policy does not apply to service animals. Any landlord that denies a rental application from a prospective tenant that needs a seeing eye dog or a canine that mitigates post traumatic stress disorder has violated the Americans with Disabilities Act.

How the Law Addresses a Security Deposit

States define the statutes governing rental security deposits. Your landlord cannot demand a security deposit that exceeds the state mandated maximum amount. Some states do not place a limit on security deposits, while other states allow for differences to help protected classes such as senior citizens enjoy affordable housing. The key issue for rental security deposits is equal treatment across every demographic. For example, a landlord cannot charge one senior a higher security deposit than what the landlord charged another senior who lives across the hallway.

Legal Right to a Livable Home

If you wanted to create a tenant Bill of Rights, Amendment number one would be the right to enjoy living in a habitable home. Although the word “habitable” is open to broad interpretation by judges and juries, the legal right to a livable home includes safe living conditions. Most judges and attorneys agree that holes in the kitchen floor, plaster that falls from the ceiling, and inferior wiring that causes sparks are all components that make a home unlivable. Another frequent cause of an uninhabitable home involves the nasty presence of mice and cockroaches.

The Right to Privacy

Tenants have the clearly defined right to privacy. This means your landlord is not allowed to enter your apartment, without first asking for permission. The only exception to the privacy right granted to tenants occurs during an emergency, such as a fire or a flooded kitchen. Your landlord must give you advanced notice for making repairs or showing a prospective tenant your apartment. Consult with a licensed property law attorney to find out how much time your landlord must give you in advance of a visit.

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