State and federal laws every renter should know
Eight years after the fact, Business Insider reported that the 2008 financial crisis had caused the biggest disruption to the housing market of any event since the Great Depression. In 2016, the Pew Research Center found, more households (43.3 million) were renting their homes than at any other point in the past 50 years. And with the myriad financial struggles millennials are facing, it seems likely that the number of renters vs. homeowners will continue to rise for the foreseeable future.
Renting can look different depending on where you live in the country. Each state may create its laws and regulations through its independent governments, meaning that a renter’s rights in Texas could differ from those in Maine. Additionally, local culture and history can play a huge role in shaping these laws. For example, Southern states have historically valued land ownership, and their rental laws favor landlords, while Northern states, home to some of the nation’s most crowded cities, tend to favor a renter’s rights.
Here, Stacker has highlighted 60 state and federal laws that all renters (tenants) should know. The list features laws ranging from general rights that a renter has, to rights and responsibilities that landlords have and that tenants should know about. As a renter, understanding these laws can help you be a better tenant. Knowing the federal and local rental laws allows enforcement of them as needed and helps ensure that rental space is safe and habitable.
Read on to find out which states are required to disclose if a property has been used as a meth lab in the past and which one doesn’t have a habitability law on the books. After taking a closer look at these 60 laws, you will be a more educated renter regardless of where you live.
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Federal: Fair Housing Act
Passed in 1968, the federal Fair Housing Act protects renters from discrimination when renting a house or apartment. Landlords may not discriminate against potential tenants based on race, color, national origin, sex, familial status, or disability. Those who have been a victim of a violation of the act may file a complaint with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
Federal: Fair Credit Reporting Act
Passed in 1970, the Fair Credit Reporting Act put stipulations on how landlords could access a potential tenant’s credit report and how they use it for screening purposes. Landlords are required to obtain a tenant’s permission before running a credit report and must inform a tenant if the credit score is the reason for rejecting an application.
Federal: Acceptance of service animals
Under the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Fair Housing Act, landlords are not allowed to refuse service animals. The service animals must be licensed, registered, and vaccinated according to local laws. Housing providers are expected to allow these working animals as a “reasonable accommodation.”
Federal: Refusal of children
Because of the Fair Housing Act, landlords are not allowed to limit the number of children in a given unit, restrict children’s use of common areas, or require families with children to live on certain floors or in certain units. The only exception to the law is “housing for older persons.”
Federal: Landlord’s ability to choose a tenant
Legally, landlords are free to choose whoever they want to live in a rental unit. This means they can set whatever income requirements they’d like for a unit to mitigate their risk. In addition, landlords may reject a candidate based on a character judgment (where they relate to a tenant’s references or past rental history) as long as these judgments don’t apply to a particular group of people.
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Federal: Discriminatory housing advertisements
Under the U.S. Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Fair Housing Act, discriminatory housing advertisements are illegal. Such ads are those that indicate, through words (“no wheelchairs”) or pictures, a preference for the type of applicant or tenant desired for a given unit or building.
Federal: LGTBQ+ discrimination
The HUD Equal Access Rule requires equal access to Housing and Urban Development programs, including housing providers that receive HUD funding or loans, for LGBTQ+-identifying individuals. Every state also bans discrimination based on someone’s sexual orientation, and all but two states ban gender identity/expression discrimination.
Federal: Disclosures about lead hazards
Many homes and apartments built before 1978 were finished with lead-based paint. The toxic paint and the dust it creates are now known health hazards, and a great number of renters are concerned about the possibility of lead-based paint being present in their homes. Under federal law, landlords of units built before 1978 must provide renters with knowledge of the presence of the paint in the home or building, including in common areas, and are required to provide a lead hazard inspection from a certified inspector upon a tenant’s request.
Federal: The collection of a security deposit
While there is no specific federal law that supports a landlord’s rights to collect a security deposit, every state in the union has a law in place that allows landlords to collect security deposits upon move-in. That being said, there is no federal limit on how much a landlord can charge—the exact amount is determined by each state.
Federal: Illegal lockouts
Again, there is no single federal law that prohibits landlords from locking out, or freezing out, a problem tenant. However, this is generally considered taking the law into one’s own hands rather than going through proper channels, and there doesn’t seem to be a court in the nation, at any level, that would rule in favor of the landlord in such a case. Legally, the only way to get rid of a tenant is to go through the eviction process.
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