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Landlord-Tenant Laws by State

Choose a state to learn about specific laws for landlords and tenants or read below to learn more about why this matters!

Alabama Arkansas Arizona California Colorado Connecticut Delaware Florida Georgia Iowa Idaho Illinois Indiana Kansas Kentucky Louisiana Massachusetts Maryland Maine Michigan Minnesota Missouri Mississippi Montana North Carolina North Dakota Nebraska New hampshire New jersey New mexico Nevada New York Ohio Oklahoma Oregon Pennsylvania Rhodeisland South Carolina South Dakota Tennessee Texas Utah Virginia Vermount Washington Wisconsin West Virginia Wayoming Alaska Hawaii

Overview

 

All landlords and tenants have legal obligations to one another.
Lease agreements establish some of these responsibilities. However, most are codified into law.

 

Federal, state, and municipal landlord-tenant laws protect you legally and financially should a tenant break the agreement. They also protect your tenants from unreasonable terms or living conditions.

 

If you don’t know the laws that apply where you live, you could risk litigation, court fines, and other penalties. That’s why it’s essential to study the law before creating your own rental agreements. A strong working knowledge of the law empowers you to write compliant leases, enforce fair policies, and avoid
tenant disputes.

 

Most landlord-tenant laws fall under state jurisdiction. Let’s discuss the types of landlord-tenant laws you’ll find in your state’s law code and how to best apply them.

Overview

All landlords and tenants have legal obligations to one another. Lease agreements establish some of these responsibilities. However, most are codified into law.


Federal, state, and municipal landlord-tenant laws protect you legally and financially should a tenant break the agreement. They also protect your tenants from unreasonable terms or living conditions.


If you don’t know the laws that apply where you live, you could risk litigation, court fines, and other penalties. That’s why it’s essential to study the law before creating your own rental agreements. A strong working knowledge of the law empowers you to write compliant leases, enforce fair policies, and avoid tenant disputes.


Most landlord-tenant laws fall under state jurisdiction. Let’s discuss the types of landlord-tenant laws you’ll find in your state’s law code and how to best apply them.

Locating and Interpreting

First things first: Where should you look to find landlord tenant laws by state?


You can usually find your state’s compiled statutes online via a simple Google search.


However, these documents have varying degrees of accessibility. Some states simply supply a link to one document, hundreds of pages long, with all the state statutes. Other states have developed a more user-friendly experience, organizing laws by title and chapter so you can easily navigate between them or search for keywords.


Once you find the statutes, look for the title where landlord-tenant laws are grouped together. They may be within a title explicitly labeled “Landlord and Tenant,” “Real Property,” “Residential Property,” or something similar. However, not all landlord-tenant laws are together in one title. For instance, required disclosures for mold or radon might be found in a title on environmental statutes, while laws about certain fees might be under “Commercial Transactions.” Don’t assume your state doesn’t regulate something just because it isn’t mentioned in the main landlord-tenant act.


Interpreting legal language can also be tricky. If you aren’t sure what a law means, ask a local lawyer or attorney for clarification. It’s better to ask for help than risk violating a policy you didn’t take the time to understand.

Required Lease Disclosures

Now that you know where to find landlord-tenant laws, let’s start with some of the most common: required disclosures.


Required disclosures are statements of information related to your rentals or policies that must be included in a lease agreement.


These disclosures give your tenant all the information they should consider before deciding to rent your property. They often pertain to health, safety, building condition and history, or specific rental policies. Your tenants have the right to know as much as possible about where they’ll be living before signing a lease.


There is only one federally mandated disclosure: lead-based paint hazards. You must include the lead-based paint disclosure (full text provided by the federal government) for all buildings you rent constructed before 1978.


State and local governments dictate all other required disclosures. Here are a few of the most common state-mandated disclosures:

  • Existing property damage
  • Recent flooding
  • Health hazards (presence of mold radon, pests, or methamphetamine contamination)
  • Recent deaths in the unit
  • Energy efficiency details
  • The location of the security deposit
  • The identity and contact information of the landlord and all agents authorized to act on the landlords’ behalf
  • Smoking policies
  • Delegation of shared utilities
  • Nonrefundable fees

Many state housing laws also require you to include information about registered sex offender databases or the rights and resources for victims of domestic violence in your lease.


If you aren’t sure which disclosures your state requires, ask a landlord-tenant attorney, browse local ordinances online, or call your city attorney’s office.

Rent and Fees

Rent and rental fees are also regulated by state laws. The following laws may or may not exist in your state:

Rent Due Date

Most states do not designate when rent should be due. However, it is generally due on the first of the month or the date specified in the lease agreement.

Rental Application Fees

Application fees are permitted in some states, limited in many, and prohibited in others. In most states that allow them, application fees are restricted to the amount that accurately reflects the cost of reviewing a tenant application (such as the cost of conducting a criminal background check).

Rent Control and Rent Increases

A handful of states have state-wide rent control. These laws restrict how much landlords can increase rent and how much notice they must provide before doing so. Most states do not have state-wide rent control—in fact, some have banned it. This means that no city or municipality in the state may pass a rent control law. However, a ban doesn’t mean that there aren’t any laws regulating the procedures for increasing rent, such as the required advanced notice. Check your state and local statutes for information about how much notice you must provide tenants before increasing rent.

Late Fees

Late fees are regulated in most states and cannot be applied until the end of a mandatory grace period. Many state laws provide a flat fee and percentage amount (e.g., “Late fees less $15 or 5% of monthly rent are permitted, whichever is greater”).

Grace Periods

Mandatory grace periods give tenants a few extra days to pay rent before you can apply late fees or issue a pay-or-quit notice. About half of the states have mandatory grace periods.

NSF/Bounced Check Fees

In some states, you may charge an additional fee for rent payments that “bounce” because of non-sufficient funds (NSF). This fee is typically capped and may not be found in the landlord-tenant section of your state’s law code. Check sections related to commercial transactions if you aren’t sure whether NSF fees are permitted in your state.

Withholding Rent/Repair and Deduct Remedies

If a landlord refuses to make repairs or keep the property in habitable condition, renters often have one of the following two protections:

  • Withholding Rent – This policy allows tenants to stop rent payments until the landlord has fulfilled their obligations as outlined by the law and the rental agreement.
  • Repair and Deduct Remedies – Repair and deduct remedies allow tenants to arrange for a needed repair and deduct the cost from rent if the landlord refuses. To use this remedy, tenants typically must first send a written notice to the landlord and wait an appropriate length of time before initiating the repair.

Security Deposits

Security deposits are highly regulated across the country. Most states have laws covering the following security deposit policies.

Deposit Limits

About half the states have deposit limits, or the maximum amount you can demand to hold in escrow upon move-in. Security deposit limits are typically between one- and two-months’ rent.

Interest

Landlords are required to return security deposits promptly after the tenant moves out, or else forfeit the right to withhold funds for damages. Most states give landlords around 30 days to do so, although the limit varies from two weeks to two months.


Interest rates are typically 5% or whatever the rate is at the largest commercial bank in the state.

Deposit Location

Most security deposits must be kept in a separate bank account distinct from your personal or other funds. Additionally, many states require you to disclose the name of the institution where you keep the security deposit.

Withholding Funds from the Security Deposit

Landlords can only withhold funds from the security deposit for specific reasons. Typically, funds may be withheld to cover property damage caused by the tenant, losses due to nonpayment of rent, unpaid bills, or select court costs during an eviction. You may not withhold funds for conditions due to normal wear and tear of the property.

Tenant Screening

Fair housing is one area where the federal government weighs in heavily. The cornerstone fair housing law, the Fair Housing Act (FHA), is the most extensive fair housing law to know. It’s important to note that states often expand on this law and offer more protections for tenants than required by federal law.

Federal Fair Housing Act (FHA)

The Federal Fair Housing Act 1968 prohibits discrimination in employment and housing across a broad range of personal characteristics, demographics, and circumstances. The seven protected classes outlined by this law are race, religion, gender, national origin, familial status, and disability. It is illegal to discriminate against tenants for any of the above reasons.

Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA)

The Fair Credit Reporting Act requires landlords to do their part in protecting sensitive credit information. This means not sharing tenant credit information with others, investigating disputed information, and properly disposing of credit reports once you’re done using them. You must also inform applicants if their credit score was the reason for their denial.

State Fair Housing Protections

In addition to the seven classes protected by federal law, the states often extend protection to some or all the following classes:

  • Sexual orientation
  • Gender identity
  • Age
  • Ancestry
  • Marital status
  • Military status
  • Source of income
  • Genetic information
  • Pregnancy
  • Medical history (specifically, HIV/AIDS)
  • Domestic Violence Victims

Criminal Histories and Background Checks

Criminal background checks are traditionally a fundamental component of tenant screening. However, several states have passed laws or proposed bills limiting landlords’ use of criminal histories to discriminate against rental applicants.


When in doubt, follow the HUD recommendations for using criminal background checks during tenant screening:

  • Avoid blanket policies that dismiss applicants with criminal histories.
  • Assess each applicant and their criminal history on a case-by-case basis.
  • Only deny an applicant with a criminal record when you’ve determined that they are a risk to the safety of other residents or property.

Landlord Entry

All landlords have the right to enter their properties. However, state laws on landlord’s access to rental property dictate when and how you can legally enter.

Advanced Notice

Thirty-four states require landlords to give some amount of advanced notice before entering a tenant’s unit. This notice varies in length but is usually around 24 hours. Some states require 48 hours’ notice, and still others, such as Virginia, require 72 hours’ notice.


Often, “reasonable” advanced notice is required but not specified. In these states, 24 hours is generally assumed to be the appropriate amount of advanced notice.

Permitted Times of Entry

Only a few states provide precise time frames during which landlords may exercise their right of entry. For example, Florida landlords may only enter between 7:30 a.m.-8:00 p.m.


Like the advanced notice laws, several states restrict entry to “reasonable” times. “Reasonable” in these cases is often interpreted as within regular daylight or working hours. However, more urgent issues might require attention outside of these hours.

Emergency Entry

In case of emergency, most states give landlords the right to enter their units without advanced notice.

Evictions

The eviction process is highly regulated in every state. There is a strict formal procedure for removing a tenant that you must follow in a legal eviction. In general, there are two types of notices required in most states to initiate an eviction: pay-or-quit notices and notices for lease violations.

Pay-or-Quit Notice

A pay-or-quit notice is a formal, written notice you mail to a tenant if they have not paid rent by the due date (or after any mandatory grace periods). This notice essentially states that the tenant must pay within the designated timeframe or move out.

Notice for Lease Violations

Also called a Demand for Possession, this notice is like a pay-or-quit notice, except it applies to violations of the lease agreement more broadly. For example, you might issue a Notice for Lease Violation if your tenant sublets without your permission, refuses to get rid of an aggressive pet, or harasses other tenants. It also differs from a general Notice to Quit, which applies when the regular lease term is up, and you don’t want to renew your lease with the tenant.

Other Laws

The landlord-tenant laws discussed in this article are not the only ones you should know. In fact, you should review your state’s entire Landlord Tenant Act in full before writing and signing your lease agreements. Knowing the law will protect you should disagreements or legal liabilities arise.


Here are a few more common laws included in many state law codes.

Notice for Lease Violations

Also called a Demand for Possession, this notice is like a pay-or-quit notice, except it applies to violations of the lease agreement more broadly. For example, you might issue a Notice for Lease Violation if your tenant sublets without your permission, refuses to get rid of an aggressive pet, or harasses other tenants. It also differs from a general Notice to Quit, which applies when the regular lease term is up, and you don’t want to renew your lease with the tenant.

Pet Fees, Deposits, and Rent

Many states regulate the various types of pet fees landlords enforce. If your state prohibits nonrefundable fees, a one-time pet fee is also illegal. You can, however, enforce a pet deposit—a one-time, refundable payment that you’ll return in full to the tenant when they move out if their pet does not cause any damage that requires repair.

Conclusion

Landlord-tenant legislation may be dense, but it is immensely important. The relationship between you and your tenants is, above all, a legal one. This means you can’t ignore the laws without risking your livelihood—and if you do, you aren’t likely to attract quality tenants anyway. Protect your properties and your business by knowing the law and enlisting expertise when necessary.