As a renter, you have rights that protect you on a local, state, and federal level. These rights act as a framework for your tenancy, govern how you use your living space, and outline your landlord’s responsibilities.
Separate from your basic renters’ rights, the Biden administration has recently proposed a Blueprint for a Renter's Bill of Rights to further strengthen tenant protections and improve housing stability. By familiarizing yourself with both sets of rights you can benefit from a fair and secure renting experience.
Understanding your rights as a renter
As a renter, it’s important to be aware that your rights may vary depending on specific state laws. To prevent any potential misunderstandings, always read your lease in full to ensure compliance.
1. Right to safe and habitable housing
As a renter, you have the right to live in a property that is structurally sound, free from hazards, and in compliance with local building codes. Landlords are obligated to make sure the property remains safe and well-maintained for all their tenants.
Landlords must fulfill the "implied warranty of habitability" by maintaining the basic structural elements, ensuring safety of electrical, plumbing, and HVAC systems, and providing necessary safety measures like fire alarms and extinguishers. They must also keep common areas clean, provide consistent hot water and heating, address environmental hazards, and take precautions against criminal intrusions. Additionally, landlords are responsible for pest control and must promptly attend to urgent repairs and maintenance needs.
2. Protection against discrimination
The Renter's Bill of Rights also ensures that every individual has an equal opportunity to secure housing, promoting inclusivity and preventing any form of prejudice or bias in the rental process. This provision in particular prohibits discrimination based on:
- Familial status
- Veteran or military status
- Criminal history
3. Privacy and freedom from unreasonable searches
Even though your landlord owns the property, they aren’t entitled to show up at any given time and, except for emergencies, most states require landlords to provide 24-hours notice. You have a right to privacy and landlords have specific limitations as to when and why they are allowed to access your unit for things like repairs.
According to landlord-tenant laws, your landlord has the right to evict you if you violate your lease terms like failing to pay rent or committing a crime on the premises. In such cases, renters’ rights dictate that your landlord must give you “adequate” notice (usually 30 or 60 days, depending on location and circumstances) of the claim and give you time to pay overdue rent or address the lease violation. If you don’t, your landlord is permitted to pursue eviction proceedings.
It’s important to be aware that there are two different types of eviction notices that may pertain to you:
- For cause: Landlords issue this type of termination if you are in breach of your contract for things such as property damage, subletting, domestic violence, unauthorized pets, etc.).
- Without cause: Depending on your location, landlords can serve a notice to vacate or to terminate a month-to-month lease even if the tenant hasn't committed any violations. However, landlords cannot generally terminate a fixed-term lease unless there is valid cause to do so.
5. Limits on security deposits
The Renter's Bill of Rights also includes provisions limiting the amount your landlord can charge for security deposits. Some states impose limits but even for those that don’t, your landlord isn’t allowed to charge you an exorbitant amount without valid justification (like accommodating a pet).
In addition, state laws control how long your landlord has to return your security deposit to you and if interest is accrued. If your landlord decides to keep a portion of it for any particular reason, you’re entitled to written documentation that details what it’s being used for and why.
6. Transparent rental agreements
Whether you’re renting an apartment, condo, or a house, your lease needs to include clear terms. Beyond just indicating rent amounts, due dates, and any additional fees, rental agreements typically list:
- Tenancy term and renewal options
- Occupant names and occupancy limits
- Accepted payment methods
- Deposits and associated fees
- Regulations against disruptive or illegal activities
- Pet policies regarding number, size, and breed restrictions
- Maintenance and repair responsibilities, including limitations on tenant alterations
- Landlord's right to access the property and notice requirements
- Communication protocols between tenant and landlord
- Mandatory landlord disclosures (e.g., lead-based paint, bedbug history)
The Biden Administration's Blueprint for a Renter's Bill of Rights
In addition to your renters rights, the Biden administration has put forth a Blueprint for a Renter's Bill of Rights to further protect and empower renters. The Blueprint addresses pressing issues like skyrocketing rents and the shortage of affordable housing. It demonstrates the administration's commitment to creating a fairer and more stable, equitable rental market and is built on five basic principles:
1. Rent control and rent stabilization
With rent prices reaching a historic all-time high, the Biden administration has proposed measures like rent control and rent stabilization to limit how much landlords can increase rent each year.
For many renters on a budget, these measures ensure greater affordability and stability in their housing arrangements. Rent control and rent stabilization prevent landlords from price gouging or capitalizing on high demand and limited supply, which can lead to predatory pricing practices.
2. Just cause evictions
The Blueprint’s "just cause" eviction policies suggest that landlords can only evict tenants for specific reasons outlined in the lease agreement, such as non-payment of rent, violation of lease terms, or serious damage to the property. With approximately 3.6 million renters facing eviction each year, a just cause eviction gives you extra security and peace of mind that you won’t be unfairly displaced.
3. Affordable housing mandates
The Biden administration advocates for the promotion of construction and preservation of affordable housing units. By giving developers incentives to build more affordable housing options and providing funding for the rehabilitation of existing units, renters will benefit from having more choices that fit their budgets. Funding for the rehabilitation of existing units guarantees that older housing units remain safe and habitable, contributing to the overall supply of affordable housing.
4. Right to legal counsel
To level the playing field in landlord-tenant disputes, the Blueprint also proposes providing tenants with access to legal representation in housing court proceedings. This way, if you find yourself in legal trouble, you'll have the support and guidance needed to navigate the legal process and assert your rights effectively.
5. Support for homeownership and renters
Whether you’re currently renting or looking to buy a home in the near future, this provision of the bill works in your favor. It includes initiatives to increase affordable homeownership opportunities and programs to assist you in transitioning from renting to homeownership.
How Biden's proposal could be implemented nationwide and at the state level
While the Blueprint for a Renters Bill of Rights isn’t legally binding, it’s significant for renters across the nation. It creates a framework of ethical and fair practices for landlords and property managers to follow and is the first step in ensuring a fair and just rental environment.
If passed at the federal level, the Blueprint for a Renters Bill of Rights could influence future legislation and policies at local, state, and federal levels to benefit renters in the long run. It could establish uniform standards and protections for renters nationwide, ensuring consistent rights and responsibilities for both tenants and landlords alike.
Any executive orders or directives from the President or relevant federal agencies could be employed to instruct federal entities to align their policies with the Blueprint's principles. And financial incentives or grants from the federal government to states and local governments that adopt and enforce the principles of the Blueprint could encourage wider compliance and adoption.
While the Blueprint for a Renters Bill of Rights can be tailored to address specific regional concerns and housing market dynamics at the state level, landlord participation is necessary for successful implementation. In addition, regulatory agencies like housing or tenant boards need to oversee compliance and manage disputes. And cities and municipalities can enact their own ordinances and regulations, and also actively involve tenant advocacy groups and non-profit organizations in the advocacy and education process.
How RentSpree supports a transparent rental process
Renting is a two-way street where both renters and landlords need to be respectful of the rights of each party. Make sure you have a clear understanding of your rights as a tenant to guarantee a comfortable living environment and a respectful tenant-landlord relationship.
RentSpree’s rental application feature supports a transparent rental process by streamlining and centralizing the application process for both landlords and tenants. The platform provides a secure digital space for tenants to submit their applications. It also offers real-time updates and notifications to ensure fairness and help build trust between landlords and tenants.