What is Tenant Law?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Tenant law is a facet of the law which focuses on the landlord-tenant relationship, spelling out the specific legal rights and responsibilities of both parties. In many regions, tenant law is effective on a national level, affecting everyone in the nation, and also on a local level, with specific laws in particular states, provinces, counties, and cities. Both landlords and tenants should familiarize themselves with the basics of tenant law, especially if they are relocating to a new country.

An apartment building.
An apartment building.

Many general trends in tenant law are the same around the world. For example, tenants are obligated to keep the premises in good condition, to pay the rent on time, to dispose properly of garbage, and to use the structure in a reasonable way. Rental tenants may not use a house as a business, for example, while tenants with a commercial lease to operate a retail store cannot suddenly open a night club.

The landlord is obligated to maintain the premises in a safe and legal condition, conducting repairs related to normal wear and tear. He or she must also usually respect tenant privacy under tenant law, providing notification before entering a rental for an inspection or repair. Landlords are also explicitly banned from discriminating against people on the basis of age, gender, family status, religious creed, or race in many regions of the world.

Many governments have an agency which is responsible for modifying tenant law as needed, and for enforcing specific laws. Individual tenants and landlords can also take each other into court for specific violations of a law. If, for example, a tenant fails to pay the rent, the landlord can initiate eviction proceedings to force the tenant to move, and take the tenant to court to claim the unpaid rent. Tenants and landlords can also report violations of the law to an agency which enforces it; in the United States, for example, people can report housing discrimination to the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).

Pamphlets with basic information about tenant law are available from some legal and government agencies. It is also possible to purchase self-help law books with an expanded overview of tenant law. Many of these books also include free copies of forms such as rental applications and disclosures so that landlords can ensure that they comply with the law when they handle tenants. The best way to protect oneself from violations of the law is to be familiar with it, and to spell out specific terms in a rental contract so that both parties are aware of their rights and responsibilities.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments


the landlord my mom and dad are or were renting from gave them a week to get out because I'm having problems with the people living in other house.

The landlord said they were being racist. So the landlord is throwing my mom and dad out for that. What should they do? I called the police more than once, on other neighbors.


My daughter signed a lease. She has lost work days due to cutbacks. She can no longer afford her rent. She is also engaged to be married. How can she get *out* of this lease agreement *now?* She is signed up for this lease another 8 months!

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