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What is Landlord and Tenant Law?

Understanding your rights and whether you have a legal issue

Whether you are a landlord or a tenant looking to rent an apartment unit or home, you may be wondering about the legalities around the landlord-tenant relationship. There are laws that protect both renters and landlords in the relationship, including the responsibility to pay rent and the prohibition against discrimination.

The following overview can help you understand your legal rights, whether you’re the landlord or the tenant. You can use this information to help you evaluate whether you have a legal issue that may require the assistance of a lawyer.

Landlord-Tenant Law – What You Need to Know

  • Tenants have the right to use the property they live in, and they have the right for that property to be habitable.
  • Residential landlords have the right to set the lease terms and can select who lives on their property.
  • Federal and state legislation governs this area of law, so you should consider speaking with a local attorney that can provide you with experienced legal information that caters you to your local laws.

An Overview of Landlord-Tenant Law

Landlord and tenant law governs rental property and the rights and responsibilities of each party. Many of these rights and responsibilities are contained in the lease agreement provided by the landlord. Some jurisdictions also imply conditions.

Tenant Rights

Tenants have the right to use the property they live in, and they have the right for that property to be habitable. Federal and state laws also enforce tenancy rights by protecting tenants (and prospective tenants) from housing discrimination.

Implied covenant of quiet enjoyment

Because this covenant is implied, it exists whether it is spelled out in the lease agreement or not. The landlord promises that the tenant’s use and enjoyment of the rental property will not be disturbed. The tenant has the right to keep others off the property and the right to peace and quiet.

Implied warranty of habitability

Implied in a residential lease is the landlord’s responsibility to keep their property habitable. Depending on the jurisdiction, the tenant’s responsibility to pay rent can be conditioned on the landlord maintaining a habitable living space.


The federal Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination in renting and lending based on race, color, national origin, religion, sex, familial status, and disability. This act is administered by the Department of Housing and Urban Development. Many states have also passed similar laws that may protect discrimination based on a broader set of characteristics, including sexual orientation.

Landlord Rights

Residential landlords have the right to set the lease terms and can select who lives on their property. The landlord can establish the amount of rent due, the pet policy, and the number of people allowed to live in each unit.

However, landlords’ rights are limited by state law and some federal laws. For example, landlords are not permitted to use discriminatory criteria in selecting residents like race or gender under state and federal law. States may also set local laws about collection for nonpayment of rent, including late fees.

Landlords can evict tenants who violate lease terms. A few jurisdictions still allow self-help evictions, which involve the landlord entering the property and making the tenant leave. The landlord is only permitted to use reasonable force, which a court in the jurisdiction determines. More commonly, landlords sue to evict the tenant. This results in a judgment by law enforcement.

Common Questions to Ask an Attorney

Below are some common questions you might want to consider when meeting with an attorney for the first time.

  1. How do I get my security deposit back?
  2. Do you have experience drafting rental agreements?
  3. Can I deduct repair fees for normal wear and tear from my rent payment?
  4. How do I evict a tenant for nonpayment of rent?
  5. What do I do if I have received written notice of eviction but do not want to vacate?
  6. Who is responsible for injuries inside an apartment building?

Finding the Right Attorney for Your Needs

It is crucial to approach the right type of attorney—someone who can help you through your entire case. To do so, you can visit the Super Lawyers directory and use the search box to find a lawyer based on your legal issue or location.

To help you get started, you may want to consider looking for a lawyer who practices landlord and tenant law.

Should I Talk to a Lawyer?

If you are a landlord and trying to write a lease agreement, a lawyer can help you write an enforceable agreement that covers everything necessary. Your lawyer can also provide legal advice to help you enforce your lease agreement and walk you through the eviction process.

If you are a current or potential tenant and believe you have been unlawfully discriminated against in the rental process, your lawyer can go over your experience with you and help evaluate your case. A lawyer can also help you enforce provisions of your lease agreement, including implied covenants and warranties and explicit agreements about repairs.

A lawyer will be able to anticipate potential problems with your case and advise you on how to approach them. Your lawyer will also keep track of deadlines and file all the paperwork with the necessary courts and agencies, giving you one less thing to worry about.

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