What to Know About Tenants Rights and Legal Protection
If you are renting property from another party, you are legally considered a tenant, while the other party is your landlord. When you rent property, you must sign a lease to legally certify you are a tenant. If your prospective landlord does not want to sign any kind of agreement, you are strongly advised to look for another landlord. As a tenant, there are many federal and state laws which provide you basic living rights, even if these rights are not included in your lease. If your landlord does not let you sign a lease, he or she is trying to deny you these guaranteed rights.
A landlord is not allowed to deny your basic tenant rights, even if he or she puts stipulations in the lease to try and take away those rights. Tenants rights largely focus on protecting you from discrimination. This prevents you from being charged unreasonable fees. There are also rules regarding safety standards and what your landlord must provide before he or she can legally rent his or her property. If you are denied any of your tenants rights, or you believe your landlord is discriminating against you, seek out an attorney to see what steps you can take to restore your rights. Some of the most important tenant rights are detailed below.
Fair Housing Act
Many of your tenant rights come from the Fair Housing Act. The overall premise of the Fair Housing Act is your landlord is not allowed to discriminate based on your race, gender, religion, ethnicity or family status. This means your landlord is unable to deny you fair housing, charge additional fees or make up rules for any of these reasons.
The Fair Housing Act also prevents landlords from discriminating against you if you are disabled or have a medical condition. Landlords are legally required to make reasonable accommodations so you can safely rent the property. This includes providing lower level units if you are in a wheelchair, or installing ramps in front of the main entrance to the building.
In some states, there are exceptions to what landlords are required to do. For example, landlords cannot be forced to make changes to a building that would require major remodeling. What constitutes major remodeling is typically determined on a case by case basis, and usually has to do with where the building is located, as well as how much it will cost to make the changes. If your landlord insists he or she cannot make a change, you are advised to speak with a lawyer to determine whether or not your landlord is telling the truth or trying to dismiss your request.
The Fair Housing Act only protects you from discrimination. It does not mean your prospective landlord has to automatically accept any changes you propose. For example, if you insist you deserve a lower rent than the price that is listed, you cannot claim your landlord is breaking the Fair Housing Act. If you are female and your landlord is charging a male tenant less for an identical unit, then your landlord is going against the Fair Housing Act.
Reporting Fair Housing Act Violations
The process to report a Fair Housing Act violation is different than the normal process to report a landlord. The Fair Housing Act is overseen by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). If the act is violated, you or your attorney must file the report with HUD directly. Once your report is filed, a HUD agent will decide whether or not your claim is valid. If the claim is approved, your landlord must present his or her case to a HUD administrative judge. If you do not have an attorney during this process, HUD will appoint a specialist to represent you.
If the HUD judge rules in your favor, your landlord will be charged with a fine. How much your landlord must pay depends on what rule he or she violated and whether he or she has previously been accused of ignoring the Fair Housing Act. In comparison to other violations, penalties for breaking the Fair Housing Act are strict. As of writing, it is common for a first-time violation to cost upwards of $20,000. This is in addition to whatever damages or legal fees your landlord is required to pay.
Implied Warranty of Habitability
Implied Warranty of Habitability is a law which requires your landlord to maintain his or her property and ensure it is up to code and meets the necessary safety standards for your state. The warranty uses open ended language, acting more as an agreement that your landlord will follow all of the business and housing codes for his or her property. For example, your landlord is required to provide running water, electricity and heating and cooling through the Warranty of Habitability.
While your landlord is responsible for maintaining the property, it is your responsibility as a tenant to speak up when there are issues with the building. Typically, you are required to submit a written request to your landlord. This creates a paper trail and ensures both parties are on the same page with the issue. Your landlord is required to fix the issue, but as the tenant, you must provide him or her with reasonable time to make changes. How long you must wait depends on the issue, and whether your landlord is making genuine efforts to resolve the problem. If you feel your landlord is ignoring the issue or continually makes up excuses as to why he or she cannot fix it, speak with an attorney about taking legal action.
The Warranty of Habitability only applies to major issues. Smaller issues, such as a torn window screen or a runny faucet are not covered. However, based on the lease you signed with your landlord, he or she may still be responsible for fixing these issues.
Normally, landlords are required to provide tenants with at least two days of warning before entering the building. This requirement is waived if the landlord is entering to investigate or make repairs to the property to keep it habitable.
Reporting Your Landlord
If your landlord is ignoring your tenant rights, you have several different ways to report him or her. Each state maintains housing agencies to settle landlord disputes. If you and your landlord are unable to reach a resolution, you can hire an attorney to sue your landlord. If the issue relates to safety, you can also file a complaint with your state health department.
Seeking Legal Assistance to Protect Your Tenants Rights
If you find yourself in a living situation where your tenants rights are being abused by your landlord, you should seek a tenants rights attorney. These types of attorneys fight for the rights of tenants. You should never have to sacrifices your rights as a tenant because of a landlord that is not abiding by the law. Most tenants rights attorneys are experienced in landlord or tenant law so they can advise you how best to hand your case. Once it is determined that you have a substantial case, you then should seek an attorney familiar with tenants law. If you're unsure where to start, check out this helpful tenant attorney locator resource.
Paying for an Experienced Tenant Law Attorney
With the uncertain times that are occuring in the world today, it may be difficult to come up with the financial means to pay for a tenant law attorney. Legal proceedings for a case involving tenant law can range anywhere from $500 to $20,000. Depending on the laws in your state and your lease agreements, you could potentially recoup your attorney fees and court costs. The cost of a tenant law attorney can be overwhelming but luckily, there are some attorneys experienced in tenant law that could provide legal aid or pro bono work free of charge. To find legal aid or pro bono tenant law attorneys near you, check out this free legal help resource. Another helpful legal aid attorney source is Justia that allows you to search by your location.