Landlord and Tenant: Tenant's Rights

On Wednesday mornings from about 9:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. I can usually be found at the local county courthouse involved in landlord/tenant disputes. Sometimes I am there representing a tenant being evicted. Sometimes I am there representing a landlord doing the eviction.

Last week while I was waiting for my hearing to begin I had the opportunity to observe another eviction hearing. The landlord was an elderly retired man dressed in cargo pants and a dress shirt and it was evident from what he said in court that a substantial part of his monthly income came from renting the home. He indicated that this was his only rental home and that he had not received payment on time for three months. When he did not receive payment on time it meant he could not pay his bills on time.

The tenant was a young woman with two children dressed in nursing scrubs. During the summer, her children stayed with their grandmother while the woman worked as a nurse on the day shift. She admitted to having consistently paid the rent late but stated that sometimes she had to choose between buying food and diapers for the family or paying the rent on time.

As is often the case in county court, the Judge was required to fashion a Solomonlike remedy to satisfy both parties; for the meantime anyway. On that day the remedy was to have the tenant commit to paying the rent on time from here on out or be evicted from the apartment. The commitment was good enough for the landlord and allowed the tenant at least another month before she is evicted or finds another place to live. I don't envy the Judge's role in those situations.

This situation and other eviction situations I have been involved in has prompted me to discuss, in general terms, the law with regard to both tenant's and landlord's rights. This post deals with tenant's rights.

Tenant's Right to Privacy
Although it never seemed the case when I was in undergraduate school, the tenant has a right to privacy in his or her home or apartment. What this means is a landlord is prohibited from entering the rental unit without permission.

Unless there is an emergency (such as a fire or flood in the rental unit) the landlord is required to provide the tenant advance notice before entering the rental unit. The advance notice required differs from state to state so you may want to contact a landlord/tenant attorney to advise you of your rights. A link to landlord/tenant attorneys may be found at the top of this page.

Some of the reasons a landlord might need to enter the rental unit upon advance notice include making repairs, periodic inspection, or showing the unit to a potential new tenant. Most states regulate these entries by delineating how much advance notice the landlord must give and requiring the landlord to tell the tenant why and what time he or she will enter the rental unit.

Rental Deposit
Most states have set maximum dollar amounts a landlord can require for a deposit with penalties should the landlord exceed the maximum amount. Landlords are bound by anti-discrimination laws in setting deposits. When a landlord has several tenants and the deposits required of each tenant appear to be arbitrarily set, an inquiry may be made as to the formula used by the landlord for setting the deposit amount.

In many states landlords are required to place the deposit into an interest bearing account. The deposit and interest must be returned to the tenant at the end of the lease term. Florida is one such state. Many states also require a landlord to return a deposit within a specific period of time after the tenant moves out (usually thirty days).

If the entire deposit is not returned, the landlord must provide an itemized list of how the money was spent. A landlord may spend the deposit on items such as repairs to the rental unit beyond normal wear and tear, cleaning and unpaid rent.

Tenant's Right To Sue
In most states, landlords are required to comply with certain legal form notice requirements prior to filing a suit for eviction. Such requirements may include (depending upon the state) notice of nonpayment of rent, notice of eviction, and notice of breach of the lease agreement. Most states require a landlord to provide a tenant the opportunity to bring current any unpaid rent or to come back into compliance with the lease agreement.

Tenants may also sue the landlord to enforce the lease agreement. Common tenant suits include suit to have the landlord make repairs to the rental unit, suit for return of the deposit, suit for failing to keep the premises clean and usable and suit for breach of privacy.

Again, should you need legal advice on a landlord/tenant issue an attorney may be found at the top of this page.
© CORPUS JURIS. All rights reserved.