Real Estate

10 Things a Landlord Cannot Do

Know your rights as a tenant—and limitations as a landlord. While landlords hold a lot of power, there are several things they are not legally allowed to do.
Deirdre Mundorf Avatar
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Whether you are looking to rent an apartment or considering buying a rental property, it is essential to know what landlords are and are not allowed to do. Just as landlord rights protect landlords, tenants also have rights. Understanding what a landlord cannot do will protect you from being treated unfairly as a tenant and prevent you from crossing a legal line when renting a property. Read on to learn more about some of the laws that landlords must follow when renting their property. Keep in mind that landlord tenant law provisions can vary by state, so before renting to or from someone, read up on the local landlord and tenant laws in your state.

1. Use Discriminatory Practices

Stacks of clipped paperwork with woman in background

While landlords may choose to use a tenant screening service, they may not use discrimination as the basis of any decisions regarding current or potential tenants. The Fair Housing Act states that any form of discrimination based on race, disability, color, religion, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, or familial status is illegal. If you feel like your landlord or potential landlord is using discriminatory practices, file a complaint on the HUD website or contact a local advocate in your state.

2. Enter the Property Without Giving Sufficient Notice

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A landlord may own the property, but that does not mean that they are able to enter it any time they wish. Most states have laws in place requiring landlords to provide their tenants with a minimum of 24 hours notice before they enter the property. In some states, they are required to provide written—not even via text or email—notice unless the tenant has agreed to the latter form of communication. Furthermore, landlords may only be allowed to enter a property (after providing sufficient notice) during regular business hours—9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday. Exceptions to this rule include emergencies or if the landlord suspects that the tenant has moved out and left the rental abandoned.

If your landlord has not been providing sufficient notice before entering your rental unit, start by making sure they are aware of the law. If this does not change their behavior, you can report them to the local housing office or even contact the police to file trespassing charges.

3. Evict Tenants Without Following Legal Guidelines

Woman holding eviction poster

Landlords have the right to evict tenants. However, there are limits to that right and a landlord is required to follow the proper procedures mandated by their state. In some states, they are required to give 30 days notice (or even more in some places), while other states do not require much, if any, notice to be given to the tenants before eviction can occur. If a landlord evicts a tenant without following their state’s procedures, it is possible that they could face burglary or trespassing charges. Contact your local housing authority immediately if you think your landlord evicted you without following the proper channels.

4. Raise the Rent in the Middle of the Lease Without Justifiable Cause

Young woman looking at letter with frown

Even though most landlords are renting property for income, they are not allowed to simply raise the rent in the middle of the lease to make more money. When you and your landlord signed the lease, you both agreed to the stated rent payments. Unless they have just cause—such as a roommate moving into the property or a new pet joining the household—they cannot simply decide to raise the rent before the lease is up.

5. Deny Requests for Repairs Related to Health or Safety

Woman grabbing her hair while seeing mold in the corner of the room

While a landlord is not obligated to complete all requested repairs, they are also not allowed to refuse to complete repairs that are necessary for the health or safety of their tenants. If the property has mold, broken utilities, or other serious issues, the landlord will have to address them promptly. If you do not feel like your landlord is taking a concerning issue seriously, seek guidance from your local housing office.

6. Rent a Room Without a Window

Small room with no windows

If you’re considering living with private owners renting a room out, know that one of the rules for renting is that bedrooms must have a window or exterior door. In fact, it is illegal for anyone to rent a room that does not have a window. In order to qualify as a “bedroom” suitable for sleeping, a room must have an egress window or door that will allow the occupant to safely escape in the event of a fire. Homeowners are not allowed to rent out certain parts of their property, and this most certainly includes windowless rooms.

7. Charge Unreasonable Late Fees

Word penalty written on calculator on financial documents

Late rent payments happen, and landlords are allowed to charge late fees. However, while landlord leasing requirements can vary by state, many include limitations on the fees that can be charged for late rental payments and may also specify a grace period for late payments. For example, states such as Maryland, New York, Delaware, Nevada, North Carolina, and Oregon only allow late fees up to 5 percent of the monthly rent. However, several states have no stated limit on the maximum late fee. If you live in one of these states—including Connecticut, Florida, California, Indiana, Colorado, and Louisiana—read your lease closely and do your best to make sure that you are on time with your rent payments to avoid being charged extra.

8. Withhold the Security Deposit Unjustly

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It is unlikely that you’ll find any landlords who do not require a security deposit. The security deposit is designed to protect landlords for both private owner house rentals and larger apartment complexes against damage that tenants cause to the property. Once the tenants move out, landlords can withhold some or all of the security deposit to cover necessary repairs, such as fixing something that was broken by the tenant. What they cannot do is withhold the security deposit to cover normal wear and tear, such as slightly worn carpet or a few scuff marks on the walls or floors.

9. Charge Pet Fees or Deny Housing for Individuals with Service Animals

Man in wheelchair next to white service dog with vest

Landlords are not required to allow pets in their properties. And, if they decide that they are going to allow individuals with a cat or dog to live in their house, they have the right to charge a pet fee or an additional monthly rent payment. The exception to this, however, is for individuals who have a service animal. According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, in nearly all cases, landlords cannot deny housing or refuse to accommodate an individual’s need for a service animal.

10. Raise the Rent in Retaliation of Something the Tenant Did

Rent increase written on blue post it among money and keys

If a landlord raises your rent after you made a complaint against them, they are likely breaking state law and the landlord tenant act. These laws are designed to protect tenants against retaliation after taking a legal action against their landlord, such as complaining about unsafe living conditions, following state laws to withhold some or all of the rent for uninhabitable conditions, or coordinating with other tenants to voice your views. Take action if you believe your landlord is raising your rent out of retaliation for something you did. Consider filing a suit in your local small claims court or making a complaint against your landlord to your local housing department.

FAQ About What a Landlord Cannot Do

Learn more about some of the limitations to the power a landlord holds by reading through the frequently asked questions below.

Q. Can a landlord raise rent during a pandemic?

Unless the city or state has put a rent freeze into effect because of the pandemic, landlords are allowed to raise rent.

Q. Can a landlord come on the property without notice?

No, in most states, landlords are required to give sufficient notice (typically 24 hours) before entering a tenant’s property.

Q. Do I need to have landlord insurance if I rent properties?

Landlord insurance is not required when renting a property. However, you may decide that the additional coverage provided by landlord insurance is worth the additional cost.

Q. Can a landlord kick me out?

Landlords have the right to evict tenants who do not follow the agreements set in the lease. However, in most states, they are required to give proper notice before executing an eviction.

Q. Do landlords forbid tenants to bring in animals?

Yes, with the exception of service animals, a landlord has the right to forbid their tenants from having animals in their rental unit.