Whether you’re new to the tenant scene or you’ve been renting for the last 20 years, every tenant has rights. Here are the top 5 universal tenant rights throughout the US.
1. Right to a safe living space
You are legally entitled to live in a space that supports your ability to thrive healthfully and safely. If any utility or basic function of your apartment is not functioning properly—the heat doesn’t work; the toilet overflows constantly—your landlord needs to take action to correct it. While your landlord is not necessarily obligated to provide a high-tech security system, locks, deadbolts, and some sort of locking system for windows should be provided for all residences. Gates and keyed access for residents are other ways to protect your security. Your lease agreement will outline the details of security features your landlord is prepared to provide. If you have concerns, document them and get the police involved—you should not be required to stay in or pay rent on an apartment that is not safe.
2. Right to privacy
You have the right to enjoy privacy in your rented living space. Though your home is owned by your landlord, the rent you pay entitles you to a certain degree of privacy. You should receive prior notice when maintenance is going to enter your apartment; if this is not possible, at the very least a note should be left indicating that your apartment has been entered. If maintenance does need to enter your home, it should be locked when they leave to protect your belongings. Should you have a complaint about apartment employees or other tenants violating your right to privacy, bring it up with the landlord.
3. Right to reasonable comfort and quiet
Although your neighbors have the right to enjoy their space, they need to be respectful of you and other tenants as well. If you have noise issues with the apartment above you or can’t bear your neighbor’s habit of piling up trash bags outside his door, you have the right to complain about the behavior and expect that it be addressed. Likewise, other tenants have the right to complain about your habits, so be respectful if you want to be respected.
4. Right to repairs
Unless it can be proven that you created the damage, your landlord is responsible for conducting plumbing, electrical, heating, air conditioning, and other repairs necessary to make your apartment livable. However, landlords aren’t clairvoyant, so it’s your responsibility to report the need for repairs and allow them to be made. Should you not receive a response from your landlord within a reasonable amount of time following a repair request or two, make sure you can document your requests in case you should want to take legal action or move out because the lack of repairs made your apartment unlivable.
5. Right to review a lease agreement
Never, never, ever sign something you haven’t read or don’t understand. It may be tempting to assume that a lease agreement is a “standard” lease agreement that will resemble previous contracts you’ve signed. Each lease is a new agreement between you and your landlord. Read it thoroughly, take it seriously, and ask questions or get legal assistance if you don’t understand what part of the contract means. Even if you later claim that you didn’t realize what you were agreeing to, your claim won’t hold up in court.
Along with rights come responsibilities, of course, and you need to be aware of those as well. Your rights are predicated upon fulfillment of your renters’ responsibilities—most notably paying rent on time and refraining from damaging your apartment—so make sure to hold up your end of the bargain if you want to reap the benefits of renting.