If you’re a tenant, you may think that the terms of your lease are the only things you need to be aware of regarding legalities around your tenancy. However, you may be surprised at just how many rights you have that are enshrined by law. As well as a number of basic rights, which are listed below, the law also protects you against other things, such as arbitrary rent increases and the ability to fight eviction.

Your Rights as a Tenant

The main thing to know is that, as a tenant, you have certain basic rights, which are protected by law. These are the rights to:

  • Live in a habitable residence
  • Get things fixed in a timely manner
  • To privacy
  • To live in a safe place
  • To get your security deposit back
  • To break your lease agreement
  • Sufficient notice before getting evicted

This covers everything from the property having safe drinking water and a proper heating system to the property benefiting from reasonable protection from theft to the landlord not being permitted to enter your home without your permission unless there is a legitimate emergency.

Some conditions do apply, though. For example, if you cause damage to the property, the landlord is able to withhold some of your security deposit, although they must tell you why they’re holding some of the funds back and the cost of the repair work required.

The Right to Fight Eviction

It’s not widely known, but tenants have the right to fight an eviction once it’s been filed with the court. Once this has happened, a tenant is within their rights to stay in their home and fight the eviction if they wish to. Where this is the case, the tenant is advised to appear at every scheduled court hearing to improve their chances of success. Getting professional legal advice and representation is also highly recommended.

The Protection of Rental Assistance

Rental assistance is an important means for those on low incomes to afford a place to live, and there are many programs running on a state, federal, local, and private basis that offer help to individuals and families on both a long and short-term basis.

Some states, counties, and cities already have laws in place that make it illegal for landlords to discriminate against potential tenants due to their income, and a growing number of jurisdictions are following suit. This means that if you receive a rental voucher, a landlord isn’t allowed to refuse to rent you the property on this basis.

Refusal of Children

Landlords also aren’t allowed to refuse a tenancy on the basis of the tenant having children. Similarly, landlords cannot restrict kids’ use of communal areas or require families with children to live on certain floors or in specific units. There is an exception to this, which is where the tenancy is designated as “housing for older persons.”

Protection Against Rent Increases

As a tenant, it can be the worst nightmare: an envelope drops on the matter and it’s a letter from the landlord advising that the rent’s about to go up $50 a month. You may not realize it, but as a tenant, there are laws in place to protect you against such arbitrary rent hikes.

Some states have rent control laws in place, which actually set a ceiling on the maximum rent a landlord can charge. But even in states without rent controls, landlords can only legally raise the rent at the end of the term of the lease and, even then, must provide appropriate written notice. This is an example of why it’s so important to learn about your rights as a tenant: you may well have more protection than you know.

The Lease You Sign Isn’t Above the Law

Say you sign a lease without reading it properly – not great, but let’s be honest, it happens. And then suppose at some point in your tenancy, you discover there’s lead paint on some of the walls, and so you want to end the lease early. In most states, the presence of lead paint must be disclosed by the landlord to potential tenants – whatever might be in the lease. If the landlord doesn’t do so, the lease isn’t valid, even if it’s been signed by both parties.

In a nutshell, the law is always above what’s in a lease, which makes for a legal safety net to protect tenants against unscrupulous landlords.

Final Thoughts

If you’re currently renting your home – or are about to rent your first property – getting familiar with the basic laws that can affect your tenancy is important. As well as knowing your rights, this means that you’ll be more confident in challenging any issues that come up and give you peace of mind, too.