The 60s were a decade of tumultuous changes when it came to politics, social mores, and civil rights. The resulting chaos brought to light the legal rights of the poor and disenfranchised, soon after serving as the impetus behind the drafting of the Uniform Residential Landlord and Tenant Act (URLTA) by the National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws. The model code was passed in 1972 and approved in 1974.
Today, according to the Uniform Law Commission (ULC), all states except Arkansas have implemented some type of warranty of habitability law. 22 states adopted the contract using the original language in the URLTA, while 23 others approved it with changes to the language. The remaining four states (along with the District of Columbia) recognize the terms and conditions of the statute through common law guidelines.
The URLTA simply establishes guidelines for how the affiliation between tenants and landlords should function. Regardless of municipal, county, or state laws, these five rights apply to all tenants and landlords in all 50 states.
Right to a Safe Living Space
Tenants are legally entitled to spaces that allow them to live healthily and safely. They are entitled to heat, clean water, and clean plumbing fixtures that don’t overflow. Home security is also a guaranteed right, including but not limited to working door and window locks and deadbolts and, if applicable, keyed entry for gated properties. If you feel uneasy or that the landlord has not met the minimum requirements to provide you with a safe, secure environment, contact the local police department with documented evidence and ask them to evaluate the safety of the property. No one should pay to live in a place where they fear for their well-being.
Right to Privacy
You may not own the space you live in, but you do have the same right to privacy that all homeowners have. The rent you pay for your home entitles you to be notified if maintenance personnel or outside contractors need to enter your unit for upkeep or repairs. If it’s an emergency situation, a note should be left letting you know why the home was entered without prior notice. If maintenance or contractors enter your place when you’re gone, it should be securely locked upon their departure to prevent entry by strangers or burglars. Immediately contact your landlord if anyone enters your apartment without your permission or knowledge.
Right to Reasonable Peace and Quiet
Most people cherish comfort and quiet, and as a tenant, you actually have a legal right to these pleasantries. Of course, you have to be reasonable about them (hearing your upstairs neighbors walk or talk is part of living in multi-family buildings). If the noise is excessive, try talking to your neighbors to resolve the problem without involving the landlord. The same applies to comfort issues. Whether it’s trash stacked on a neighbor’s porch or a muffler-free motorcycle revving up every day at sunrise, you have a right to protest and have your problems resolved. Just remember that this door swings both ways, which is why you should always be respectful of your neighbors’ rights.
Right to Repairs
When you have problems involving the heating, air conditioning, plumbing, or electrical systems in your home, you should contact your landlord immediately. Unless you incurred the problems and your interference can be proven to have caused the problem, the landlord is legally obligated to correct the situation in a reasonable amount of time. If you have to ask twice or you’ve waited more than a week for repairs to be made, you may have to take legal action. Be sure to have signed documents by the landlord acknowledging your request and details of what happened (or failed to happen) to make your case airtight.
Right to Review a Lease Agreement
Lease agreements can be confusing, cluttered with legal jargon that’s hard to understand, and sometimes sound like doubletalk. No matter how excited you are to move into your new place, you should never under any circumstances sign a document that you haven’t read from beginning to end or that don’t understand any part of. Just because a lease looks “standard” upon first review doesn’t mean it is. After all, no two leases are exactly the same, and if for some reason you end up in court, it’s unlikely that you’ll be able to use ignorance as a viable defense. For that reason, you’re better off having a paralegal (or even a friend who’s familiar with such contracts) review it for you. A trustworthy landlord will never object to your due diligence, and you’ll have peace of mind knowing exactly what you’re agreeing to.
The 2015 Revised Uniform Residential Landlord and Tenant Act is an updated edition of the original Uniform Residential Landlord and Tenant Act. The Revised Act includes fresh articles covering the disposition of tenant possessions, lease termination statutes in cases of domestic violence and sexual assault, and the way security deposits are handled. The Revised Act also incorporates an appendix for states that choose to endorse only the updated requirements.