Tenant Rights & Responsibilities

Instructor: Ian Lord

Ian has an MBA and is a real estate investor, former health professions educator, and Air Force veteran.

Tenants enjoy a number of rights and responsibilities when they lease a property. Let's look at some of these common entitlements and obligations to see what tenants can legally expect when working with their landlords.

Tenant Rights and Responsibilities

David just moved out of his college dorm and is renting an apartment for the first time. As a renter on the open market he needs to be aware of his rights and responsibilities. Let's take a look at what David can expect from his landlord and what obligations he has to uphold as part of a typical lease agreement.


Tenant rights are the principles, services, and treatment David is legally entitled to by virtue of having signed a lease with the landlord. They help ensure that David can live in a safe, habitable location free from landlord harassment. For example, the right to privacy is a major concern for tenants. David's landlord can't enter the home except in previously arranged situations or in emergencies. Entry usually requires at least 24 hours notice.

The landlord also must maintain the building according to local building and housing codes to be considered habitable. David has a right to a safe property free of construction hazards and equipped with adequate access to heat, water, and electricity. Local court case histories are a good source of what conditions generally define habitable properties. If the landlord is delinquent in this duty, David may withhold rent until the situation is remedied.

When David moves out, he is entitled to the return of his security deposit minus any legitimate deductions for unpaid rent or damage caused by him. Each state has particular rules for where and how the deposit is to be held, and whether the tenant is entitled to any interest on the funds. The states also dictate how long the landlord has to return the security deposit along with an itemized receipt of any reductions.

Evictions can only happen under due process of law. If David's landlord wants to evict him, proper legal notice has to be given and the local process has to be followed. Even if David has failed to pay his landlord or caused damage, the landlord cannot just seize David's personal property to pay the debt. David has the right to file complaints with government agencies in case of a problem without fear of landlord reprisals. Landlords cannot retaliate against tenants by raising rents or cutting services just because of complaints.

Finally, David's rights as a tenant include the right to different kinds of information. Under federal law, the landlord must give a lead paint disclosure if the property was built before 1978. The state or city may also obligate the landlord to provide other disclosures, such as information on environmental hazards like flooding. And if the property is sold or foreclosed, David has a right to be made aware of that happening.

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