What are Renters' Rights?

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Renters’ rights usually arise from a defined set of laws, determining the extent of privileges of the renter. These laws usually address how a tenant can use property and tenant privacy. They may also determine things like how and under what circumstances landlords do things like repair property, raise rent, or evict a tenant. Renters’ rights are grouped together with landlord and tenant responsibilities, and laws define how a renter must behave to retain rights to continued occupancy, timely repair, and to obtain deposit refunds.

Renters' laws usually address how a tenant can use property and tenant privacy.
Renters' laws usually address how a tenant can use property and tenant privacy.

Some renters’ rights are so basic that they operate on a countrywide level. In some countries, such as the US, renters' rights can actually be part of civil rights laws. They are unfortunately difficult to enforce because landlords do have basic rights when it comes to picking tenants. On the other hand, repeated and routine discrimination against a protected class of potential renters might be actionable.

In many cases, renters’ rights aren’t determined at federal levels, and are instead instituted either by smaller regions or municipalities. Cities can pass rent control laws determining how often and to what extent landlords can raise rent. Counties, states, or other jurisdictions may decide the basic rights of the renter.

There are some basic rights that are almost universal, though people should check local rental laws to verify. Some of these include that landlords can’t evict tenants without proper notice unless the tenant has committed an illegal act on the property or refused to pay rent. Another of the renters’ rights frequently in place is that landlords can’t be on the rented property without sufficient notice. They’re not simply permitted to enter a person’s place of residence without prearrangement, and usually there has to be at least 24 hour’s notice prior to entry, unless the tenant agrees to an earlier time.

Some of the rights accorded to renters may govern that certain basic necessities be present on a property such as food storage, access to water and access to heat. Laws don’t necessarily guarantee these things because many tenants pay gas or water companies separately. Other renters’ rights involve the right to request necessary repairs, such as to leaky roofs, broken windows and the like. The tenant’s request usually cannot be followed by recrimination or increase in rent and such laws may also stipulate that landlords could be responsible for accident or injury that occurs as a result of failing to comply with repair requests.

Laws may deal specifically with issues like how much deposit landlords can charge and how much they can keep. One difference that often gets addressed is the distinction between damage to property caused by renters and normal wear and tear. Landlords can’t reduce security deposit amounts to pay for wear and tear to property.

Ultimately, renters’ rights are variable and flexible depending much on where people reside. Some regions accord significant protections to the renter, while other regions don’t clearly define rights. The difficulty with keeping these laws undefined is they can lead to numerous landlord/tenant disputes at various stages in the rental process.

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Tricia has a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and has been a frequent wiseGEEK contributor for many years. She is especially passionate about reading and writing, although her other interests include medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion. Tricia lives in Northern California and is currently working on her first novel.

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If a lease states "the lessor is the owner of certain real property being, lying and situated in Tioga County, PA, and such real property having a street address of ... lessor being landlord or owner, whereas lessor is desirous of leasing the premises to lessee upon the terms and conditions as contained herein," what does this mean?

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