Know Your Rights: The Landlord-Tenant Relationship

Have you recently found a new rental property, or are experiencing issues with your current landlord? Becoming aware of your rights as a renter is extremely important. Each state caters to tenants under a specific set of state and local laws to ensure they are protected and residing in a safe establishment. Suppose you’ve found yourself in a situation that you’re unsure how to handle, such as a landlord not caring for the building correctly, raising your rent without notice, or visiting your residence with no warning. In that case, it’s encouraged to seek guidance from an experienced real estate attorney immediately.

What Are Renter’s Rights?

The Fair Housing Act was passed in 1968, which protects you as a renter or homebuyer. The Act was created to provide all Americans an equal opportunity to find housing without being discriminated against. Landlords are also prohibited from providing an unsafe or unhealthy living environment for tenants. Should a landlord or tenant break any of the rules laid out in the Fair Housing Act, eviction, lease termination, and withholding of payments can occur. Tenant’s rights vary by state and local laws but are ultimately in place to keep each party safe and ensure the renter has the necessary privacy, safety, and habitability on a landlord’s property with no discrimination.

Upon renting any property, it’s encouraged for renters to review the lease provided by the landlord in full, so you fully understand what guidelines and rules you’re agreeing to. Renters are encouraged to take photos before moving into a unit, so the original condition is accounted for. Looking into renter’s insurance can also be worthwhile as this will help protect your belongings in the event of theft or damage. Additionally, establishing open and transparent communication with your landlord right off the bat will help form a positive landlord-tenant relationship and promptly ensure any necessary repairs are completed.

Landlords Must Maintain Their Properties

Whether you’re renting an apartment, townhome, or house, your landlord must maintain the property, so it’s fit for living. Repairs must be completed promptly with little to no delay, and the environment must be maintained to meet state and local health and safety laws. In Minnesota, any reported damages must be corrected within 14 days of notice; otherwise, a tenant could take further actions against the landlord. There are instances where a landlord may have the tenant complete light maintenance tasks such as yard work, but all stipulations must be agreed upon by both parties.

Many tenants are unaware that landlords can pay for tenant improvements (TI), which can include upgrades to the physical space based on the tenant’s unique needs. Landlords may compensate the tenant for their improvements or discount monthly rent, so the remaining funds can be utilized for improvements. Tenant improvements are expected for medical tenants as spaces may require specific ceiling heights, additional plumbing, and cabinet space. Regardless of your situation, it’s encouraged to inquire about tenant improvements should this apply to you before you sign your lease.

Rent Raise Restrictions

A lease provides a definite term not only for the duration of time spent in the rented property but how much the tenant will pay in rent and many more important factors. Your landlord cannot raise the rent at any point during the lease time frame unless otherwise noted in the lease itself. Landlords must give tenants proper and timely notice of changes to rent, which is typically one rental period plus one day. If your landlord doesn’t inform you of increases to your rent, it’s recommended to bring it to their attention as you should be given a grace period for lack of information.

Your Right to Privacy

Every tenant has a right to privacy, meaning your landlord can’t enter your property any time they want. A landlord is only allowed to enter your property for reasonable business purposes, such as performing maintenance work, showing the unit to prospective tenants, buyers, or agents, and checking on a tenant who is causing disturbances or may be violating their lease. Regardless of the reasoning, a landlord is required to give you substantial notice before entering your property. Of course, there are exceptions for these guidelines if the renter’s safety or well-being is questioned. If a landlord violates your privacy, you may be eligible to take the landlord to court to break your lease, recover your damage deposit, and even receive payment for each violation.

Calling an Inspector or Emergency Services

Tenants have the right to call inspectors, police, and other emergency personnel services at any time. Landlords cannot restrict your ability, evict, or otherwise penalize you for doing so. For example, if there are maintenance needs or other issues that affect your quality of living that your landlord isn’t addressing, you can call an inspector to visit your location. Whether or not the inspector assigned to your case discovers a code violation, your landlord cannot retaliate against you for contacting an inspector. If retaliation occurs in any form, the renter may be eligible to take the landlord to court.

Renter’s Property Tax Refund

A few states throughout the country including Minnesota offer refunds to renters that meet specific qualifications based on their income, whether or not they appear as a dependent on another individual’s tax return, and whether they paid rent in a building that was taxed. If your state offers a renter’s property tax refund, your landlord must give you a Certificate of Rent Paid by January 31st of each year. Upon receiving this document, the renter must complete a form and file it to receive their return the following summer or fall.

Familiarize Yourself With Your State Renter’s Rights

The guidelines mentioned above are similar across the country. However, each state differs in renter’s rights to some extent as each is developed based on state and local laws. It’s recommended to review renter’s rights in your state, so you can be sure your landlord is treating you correctly. If you’re in a situation where you’re unsure of what to do or feel your landlord isn’t meeting your basic living needs, contact an experienced real estate lawyer today.