Tenant Law: What Your Landlord Can & Can’t Do


Millions of Americans both inside and outside of cities opt to rent their homes instead of buying them. Tenants and landlords consequently have a complicated legal relationship. Regarding the assets that theoretically belong to both parties, they both have exclusive rights. To effectively coexist within the terms of their lease agreement, all parties must be aware of these rights. If you own a rental property and don’t understand what you may and cannot do in a tenant’s space, you may find yourself in legal trouble. Knowing your local tenant rights is the first step toward correctly navigating the situation and improving your living circumstances if you are a tenant of a rental property and are unsure whether your landlord is legally permitted to do certain things.


To help new landlords understand their rights and to help perplexed tenants understand their options in the event that their landlord violates any of the following landlord and tenant rules and regulations, we’ll break down what landlords cannot do, what they can do within their rental property, and explore a few aspects of tenant law in this article.

10 Things Your Landlord Cannot Do

There are numerous rules concerning what landlords may and may not do with respect to the possessions and residences of their tenants. While specific tenant rights may vary according to local laws, there are certain behaviors that are universally regarded as unethical for a landlord to take. Tenants can effectively defend themselves if the circumstance calls for it by being aware of some of these most major limitations on landlords.

Tenants are safeguarded by being aware of their rights as renters, and landlords may make sure they follow the necessary management procedures to guarantee long-term tenant satisfaction and ongoing rental income. Landlords are not allowed to do the following actions:

1. Enter a Tenant’s Home Without Proper Notice

A common question renters ask is, “Are landlords allowed to let themselves in?” The short answer is no, except for emergency circumstances.

With the exception of obvious emergencies posing harm to the property or the tenant themselves, a landlord cannot enter any tenant’s residence without giving them adequate notice. For instance, putting out a fire at a tenant’s home would be completely acceptable if the landlord entered because it was an emergency. However, it would be illegal and a breach of the renter’s rights if the landlord improperly entered the tenant’s apartment to give a tour of the property.

Outside of clear risks to tenant safety, the tenant must approve all other entrances with proper notice until they are legally evicted. The concept of “proper notice”’ does introduce a bit of a grey area, as notice guidelines tend to vary by state-specific landlord rules and regulations. Be sure to check your lease agreement for any applicable rules for landlord entry. Additionally, tenants are not allowed to refuse landlords’ entrance to their homes if proper notice has been given within business hours, such as 9 AM to 5 PM in most states.

2. Increase Rent Without Notice

Landlords are also not allowed to increase rent for their tenants without giving proper notice. In most cases, this means giving a minimum of 30 days’ notice before increasing even a single tenant’s rent. Specific notice time frames should be spelled out in any rental agreement or lease so that tenants can properly anticipate when these rent increases might increase.

Additionally, landlords need to be careful if they rent in a rent-controlled or rent-stabilized city. These laws may limit how much you can increase the rent when a lease expires for renewal. Note that if a tenant moves out of a unit that is subject to rent control, it officially becomes deregulated. This means you can charge market rent in line with whatever rent payments your other tenants are making.

3. Unlawfully Evict Tenants

A landlord can’t unlawfully evict tenants or evict tenants without going through the correct channels. Landlords cannot simply remove a tenant’s items without taking the proper steps for legality’s sake. In most states, eviction processes are fairly straightforward and rigid, and may include the following requirements:

  • To prove that the tenant is not abiding by your rules or paying rent on time
  • Provide a tenant with a formal eviction notice, allowing them to remedy the situation before kicking them out
  • To give the tenant enough time to vacate the property

Even after fulfilling these requirements, landlords must file eviction notices in court, then go through an eviction hearing. The judge must rule in the landlord’s favor before they can proceed to get a court order for eviction. Even though the eviction process can be very time-consuming and financially costly, landlords must follow the process to the letter to avoid any legal recourse and replace issued tenants.

4. Discriminate Against Tenants

As with any job interview or school application, discrimination has no place in a landlord’s schedule. The United States is a free country. Landlords can never refuse to rent to tenants based on discriminatory factors or otherwise discriminate against their current tenants. It may be a good idea to familiarize yourself with the Fair Housing Act, which outlaws discrimination based on:

  • Race, skin color, or ethnicity
  • Sex and gender identity
  • Age
  • National origin
  • Familial status
  • Physical or mental disabilities
  • Sexual orientation
  • Religion

If a tenant feels that their landlord has discriminated against them, they should definitely seek legal recourse. It is worth noting that landlords do have the right to screen tenants and deny them based on things like bad credit, a history of past evictions, or a concerning criminal background check. But, again renter’s rights state that the landlords cannot judge them based on any of the factors listed above.

5. Refuse to Make Reasonable Repairs

A landlord can’t refuse to make any reasonable repairs, as it is their duty to ensure that all rental units are safe and habitable. Tenants may take legal action against you if you fail to make reasonable repairs, particularly if they compromise tenants’ health or safety. As an example, if there is mold in a rental unit, you must take care of that mold ASAP. You’ll also need to make reasonable repairs regarding:

  • Insulation
  • Locks
  • Cooling Systems
  • Elevator Functions
  • Heat
  • Hot Water

Maintenance costs are a natural part of any rental property management process. It is ideal for landlords to conduct regular inspections of property operations to ensure all maintenance is running smoothly to avoid tenant complaints and prolonged technical complications.

6. Withhold a Tenant’s Security Deposit

Many landlords require that their tenants give them security deposits before they can sign a lease contract. Security deposits are also usually one month’s rent to cover any damage that a tenant may cause to their rental unit during their leasing period. Most states require you to put the security deposit into an escrow account for the duration of your tenant’s lease term. The landlord can only use that money for repairs for damage the tenant causes. You cannot keep the security deposit if your tenant doesn’t cause any damage to your property. If you misuse the security deposit, the tenant can sue you in small claims court. Note, however, that many landlords can keep security deposits if their tenants break their leases early. The landlord uses the security deposits, in these cases, to cover any rent the tenant didn’t pay.

To avoid inappropriately breaking rules while they ensure they use security deposits in the case of tenant damages, landlords should make sure to schedule a unit inspection a few weeks before the tenant’s move-out date. This allows tenants to repair any issues ahead of time as well as understand where any potential charges might come from later on once they’ve moved out, increasing transparency throughout the entire process.

7. Use a Tenant’s Space

As one of the most straightforward of the list of what a landlord cannot do, landlord-tenant laws state that a landlord cannot legally use a tenant’s space without proper cause, such as an emergency like the example we discussed above. Renters are protected from landlords using their space for other purposes, such as additional office space or recreational purposes.

8. Prohibit Service Animals

If a tenant has a trained service animal, as described in the Americans with Disabilities Act, landlords are required to rent to tenants even if there is an existing “no pet” rule in place for other tenants. Additionally, if a rental property allows animals but has a restricted breed list, they must allow this breed if they are a trained service animal with the proper documentation.

If you’re a landlord, you can request that a potential tenant or current tenant provide you with paperwork proving the service animal’s status. If they provide that proof, which is typically from physicians, tenants can stay and make reasonable accommodations for their service animal.

9. Allow Lead Content

Lead can be very poisonous and can gradually build up in the body over time. Therefore, landlords can never rent apartments that have lead content, like lead-based paint. This is a more common concern for older apartments or homes.

Furthermore, landlords are still responsible for checking modern homes for lead content and making repairs if there is any lead content discovered.

10. Change Locks Without Notice

Lastly, landlords cannot change locks without letting their tenants know ahead of time. This also means landlords can’t forcibly evict tenants from their property by changing the locks while they are out. If you’re a landlord and try this, you could get into major legal trouble as this is one of the quickest ways to interfere with a tenant’s happiness within your rental property.

What If Your Landlord Breaks Tenant Rules And Regulations?

If your landlord breaks any of the above rules, you have several possible means of recourse. For example, you can file a claim with the Department of Housing and Urban Development by making a request in writing and, if possible, photographing the damage if a landlord doesn’t make repairs or has locked you out of your home. You can alternatively call the local department of health for your city and report problems. If your landlord locks you out of your home, you can also call the police, as a landlord cannot refuse you access to your rented space even if they are attempting to evict you. Of course, you can always pursue justice through lawsuits or small claims court.

The smartest thing tenants and landlords can do to ensure no confusion occurs during rental property operations is to read their lease agreement before tenant signature and landlord finalization. At this stage, all questions can get answers. Tenants can have a stronger understanding of their renter’s rights, and landlords can ensure they’re following the proper steps to efficiently run their rental property.

Want to buy your own home instead?

If despite all this you still don’t feel reassured, you might want to consider owning your own home. We sell houses as well! Check out our properties here at https://www.a-teammarketing.com/property-listings/.

Published by Jeff Anderson

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