Landlords and tenants have responsibilities and obligations that protect each other’s rights. There are certain things that rental property owners or landlords cannot do. Even though you own the rental unit, the tenant has a right to live there without unnecessary disturbance. As a landlord, you cannot enter the property unannounced, discriminate, cause harassment, or force a tenant out without an eviction notice.
For many new landlords, realizing what you can and cannot do can come as a surprise. For example, maybe you are leasing an apartment for the first time. But you are unsure how to act if a tenant violates the lease agreement. Or what if you have a disruptive tenant? You could be worried about breaking the law without realizing it.
But suppose you are a tenant, and you think your landlord has acted unlawfully. Can you get your landlord into trouble by reporting them? Do you have to fear retaliation from the landlord? For example, what should a tenant do if a landlord ends a tenancy because a tenant reported a lease violation?
Of course, usually, tenants search for the question, “what my landlord cannot do?” However, knowing the answer to this question is crucial for all landlords. After all, you want to have a reputation as a solid, trustworthy, and responsible landlord. This is the best way to protect your rental property business.
This article examines 11 things that a landlord cannot do. If you are a landlord or property owner, you can learn about a tenant’s rights and how they affect your actions. Additionally, you will learn what you can do if a tenant breaks the rental agreement.
Landlord-Tenant Laws Govern What You Can and Cannot Do
The basis of a landlord-tenant relationship is the rental agreement, state laws, and common law. Even if you only have a verbal agreement with no written lease, a tenant still has certain rights that landlords must respect.
The lease agreement includes information on the monthly rental price, security deposit amount, and length of tenancy. But the lease can also include clauses regarding the use of the rental property. For example, a landlord can tell a tenant how clean the apartment must be, the number of occupants, how long guests can stay, and if pets are allowed. A landlord can also restrict certain activities if they’re illegal.
According to Cornell Law School, several renter rights regulate what a landlord can and cannot do. For example, each tenant has the right to the following:
- Quiet enjoyment
- Reside in an inhabitable property
- Have protection against discrimination
- Never face unlawful eviction.
On the other hand, a landlord expects the tenant to pay the full amount of rent on time, care for the property, and adhere to the lease terms.
Related reading: Basic landlord-tenant laws you should never forget.
What A Landlord Cannot Do
A landlord cannot do violate a renter’s right to the covenant of quiet enjoyment. So, a landlord can’t come to the rental unannounced, carry out a self-help eviction, or disrupt the tenant. Additionally, the Fair Housing Act says a landlord cannot discriminate against existing or potential tenants.
Let’s look in more detail at 11 things landlords are prohibited from doing.
1. A landlord cannot enter an apartment without notice
A landlord is not allowed to enter the rented apartment whenever they want. Even if it’s not stated in the lease, most state statutes require landlords to give at least 24-hour notice. Additionally, landlords can usually only visit the rental during regular working hours.
When agreed, the tenant must let you inspect the apartment, make repairs, or show future tenants. A landlord can only gain entry unannounced if there is a genuine emergency.
2. Discriminating against a tenant is illegal for landlords
A landlord cannot discriminate against existing or future renters. The Fair Housing Act prohibits landlords from discriminating in housing due to race, color, nationality, sex, religion, familial status, or disability. This means that you cannot deny a potential tenant housing or try to evict them if their familial status changes.
Suppose a person fills a rental application form. You cannot say the apartment is no longer available when it is just because of their nationality, race, or sexual orientation. Or let’s say that a tenant becomes disabled and requires adaptions in the apartment. In that case, fair housing laws say you must continue to provide adequate accommodation and carry out necessary repairs.
3. Landlords can’t evict a tenant without proper notice
A landlord can’t carry out a self-help eviction to get rid of a tenant. Even if the tenant is guilty of a lease violation, such as not paying rent, you must go through the legal channels to remove them. For example, state laws say how many days notice you must give a tenant before starting the eviction process.
If you try to carry out an illegal eviction, the tenant could sue you for breach of contract. This would damage not only your reputation and be a very costly mistake.
Related reading: 7 costly mistakes that landlords should avoid.
4. Turn off essential utilities
A landlord cannot shut off electricity, gas, water, heating, or air-conditioning to retaliate for unpaid rent. What if the utility company gives notice about repairs? In that case, you must give your tenants the appropriate notice.
What about unpaid rent? Unfortunately, the only thing you can do is serve tenants a three-day notice to pay or quit.
5. Increase rent indiscriminately
Landlords can increase rent. However, you can’t randomly increase rent without a good reason. The rental agreement is a legally binding contract. So, as long as there are no violations, you can’t change the lease terms.
Some valid reasons for rent increases include renewing the lease, allowing pets in the rental unit, or carrying out significant remodeling work.
6. Landlords cannot ban service animals
If you have a disability and require a service or emotional support animal, your landlord cannot stop you. Even if you have a “no pet” rule, you must allow service animals. Additionally, you cannot ask for more rent or take money out of the security deposit for normal wear and tear caused by the animal.
What should you do if you suspect your tenant has a pet they claim is a service animal? In that case, please check out our landlord’s guide to pet screening.
7. Refuse to make reasonable repairs
Tenants have a right to live in an inhabitable property. This means that you cannot refuse to make reasonable repairs. Examples of reasonable repairs tenants can expect you to arrange and pay for include the following:
- Fixing locks
- Repairing heating and plumbing systems
- Resolving any building code violations
- Fixing anything that could be a hazard
- Major repairs that the tenant can’t do themselves
For example, it’s normal to expect a tenant to repair a leaky faucet. However, you should hire a plumber if there is a leaking pipe or gas leak.
Tenants have the right to withhold rent payments if you fail to carry out essential repairs. However, suppose a tenant complains to the local housing authority about your failure to make necessary repairs. In that case, you cannot retaliate against them by trying to make their life miserable.
8. Withhold a security deposit for wear and tear
A landlord cannot keep some of the security deposit to repair normal wear and tear. State laws require landlords to return the security deposit at the end of the lease. Therefore, the only time you can keep part or all of the security deposit is to pay for unusual repairs or rent arrears.
Related reading: Beginner’s guide to security deposits.
9. Change locks without notice
Unless there is a problem with the locking mechanism, you cannot change the locks. Changing the locks without the tenant’s agreement could be an illegal eviction. If you must get a delinquent tenant out of your property, you must evict them through the local courts. Before you start an eviction, it’s always best to take legal advice.
10. Allow lead content
You cannot rent a property to anyone if lead-based paint or anything with lead in it is in the unit. For example, your tenant could get you into trouble if they discover that doors and wooden structures still have old paint that contains lead.
If you are a potential landlord and ready to rent for the first time, it’s a good idea to get a building inspection to check for lead. You will need to carry our apartment repairs to remove the lead content.
11. Use your space for personal use
It’s a big no-no for landlords to use a tenant’s space. It’s a tenant’s right to have full use of all the space they lease. This means that a landlord cannot store personal items in a garage, room, or closet in the space the tenant rents. So, to avoid a tenant getting you into trouble, never ask to store personal items in the rental unit.
What A Landlord Can Do
To protect your investment and rental property, there are many things that landlords can do. For example, landlords can screen tenants and check their credit and rental history before approving rental applications. Also, landlords can take legal action to remove tenants from the property for lease violations.
Here is a list of things that a landlord has a right to do:
- Screen potential tenants
- Collect rent and security deposits and charge for late rent in line with the lease terms
- Evict tenants for breach of the lease terms, such as carrying out illegal activities in the unit
- Charge extra rent or security deposit for pets
- Enter a tenant’s apartment with proper notice or because of an emergency
- Increase rent for good cause
Suppose you want to add extra clauses to a lease. In that case, it’s advisable to see what your state’s housing statute stipulates. For example, there could be state limits on the amount of security deposit you can charge, rent increase, or for charging a pet fee.
How a Landlord Can Get in Trouble
A tenant can get you in trouble if you violate the Fair Housing Act and they make a complaint to the Department of Housing and Urban Development.
Typical reasons tenants complain are due to discrimination based on race, gender, familial status, sexuality, or disability. Also, suppose you breach the covenant of quiet enjoyment, fail to make major repairs, or carry out a self-help eviction. In that case, you could land up in serious legal trouble.
It can seem that most state laws favor a tenant’s rights. But you can avoid getting into trouble by staying on the right side of the law. So, if you get problems with a tenant, adhering to landlord-tenant law will ensure that a judge rules in your favor to evict them.