There is often a great deal of confusion and debate over what a landlord as and is not responsible for. So, in this article, I’m going to run through the basics of what your landlord is responsible for when it comes to the home you are renting.
What Is My Landlord Responsible For? Your landlord is responsible for providing you with a home that is safe, clean, and livable. This means:
- Adequate hot and cold water and heat
- Sufficient, safe heating
- Free from pests
- Enough space per person in the unit
- Smoke & CO2 alarms….and more
Landlords are also responsible for their screening processes to be discrimination-free.
This definition is relatively broad, so I’m going to dig into the details so you’ll be equipped with the best information possible to answer. What is my landlord responsible for?
Federal Law And Landlord Responsibilities
The Fair Housing Act (FHA) lays down regulations to prevent discrimination. It is the responsibility of a landlord to be familiar with the details of the Fair Housing Act and to abide by them.
The Fair Housing Act prohibits tenant screening based on:
- Country of origin,
- Family status,
- Sexual orientation.
So, for example, a landlord cannot advertise for a tenant and say “women only,” “no children,” or any other similar statement.
In addition, a landlord cannot raise the rent, refuse repairs, or in any other way discriminate against a tenant.
The second federal responsibility of a landlord is to be compliant with the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA). The Fair Credit Reporting Act states that before a landlord can carry out a credit check, they must have the written permission of the tenant. Once a credit check is carried out, the landlord must inform the prospective tenant which credit reporting agency was used and if the result of the check made a difference to their tenancy application.
The requirement for informed, written consent extends to any other background checks that are carried out. This includes telephone calls to an employer, criminal record checks, inquiries to a previous landlord, or any additional check.
A “Warranty Of Habitability”
The most significant landlord responsibility is the obligation to maintain what is known as a “Warranty Of Habitability.” This means the rental must be clean, safe, and livable for the tenant.
The warranty of habitability is an inherent right for all renters. The landlord is responsible for ensuring the unit has hot water and heat, is pest free, and free from any defects which could pose a danger to the tenant, their family, or any visitors to the unit.
Landlords are responsible for ensuring they, and their rental units comply with all local safety codes. The details of these codes vary from place to place, so both landlords and tenants should research their local regulations.
No matter where you are, you will find regulations which cover the following:
A landlord is required to clean any mold in the rental and to repair the conditions which lead to the mold in the first place. Mold remediation must be carried out effectively, as soon as is reasonably possible after the report of mold has been made.
A landlord cannot restrict the occupancy of a rental due to their beliefs or personal standards and must not knowingly allow overcrowding in their rentals. For example, two people per bedroom is a general occupancy guideline.
However, a couple who rent a one-bedroom condo and then have a baby cannot be asked to move out due to “overcrowding” because a baby sharing a parent’s room is reasonable.
If a rental was built before 1978, a landlord is responsible for providing a tenant with a lead paint disclosure form and a leaflet that explains the risks of lead paint.
Smoke & CO2 Detectors
Local laws cover exactly how many detectors must be in a unit according to its size. Nonetheless, a landlord is responsible for installing alarms and inspecting them annually to ensure they are in working order.
Landlords are responsible for ensuring common areas are safe and clean. It is also the landlord’s responsibility to inspect and maintain fire exits.
General Responsibilities Of Landlords
So, now we have covered the legal nitty-gritty let’s get down to how all of this might affect you, as a tenant, in practical terms.
Your landlord is responsible for all general repairs and maintenance to your rental unit. They must pay for the repairs and ensure, where applicable they are carried out by a qualified person and that the finished repair in compliance with any applicable law, regulations, or codes.
Repairs include items such as :
- Clogged drains,
- Malfunctioning appliances
- Leaking roof
- Peeling wallpaper
- Broken kitchen tiles
The exception to the responsibility of landlords to carry out repairs is when the tenant’s actions cause the damage or failure. So, for example, if you, as a tenant, fell against a wall in your apartment and made a hole in the drywall, that would be your responsibility.
On the other hand, if poorly installed drywall starts to crack or come away from the wall studs, that is the responsibility of the landlord.
Problems sometimes arise when it is unclear what counts as a repair or general maintenance and what is not. For example:
A landlord is expected to inspect a rental before a new tenant moves in. They must ensure the unit is safe, clean, and habitable. Therefore, when the tenant moves into a home, it would be reasonable to expect that each of the light fixtures would have the appropriate lightbulbs in them. This could be considered an essential health and safety requirement.
What happens when one of those lightbulbs burns out?
Some tenants would replace the bulbs themselves as a matter of course. Others would expect the landlord to replace it.
Who is right?
Unfortunately, this is unclear. While lighting in any common area is definitely a landlord’s responsibility, inside a rental unit is not so clear cut. It usually comes down to what counts as standard or common practice where you live.
The Comfort Of Others
Landlords are responsible for making sure that their tenants do not interfere with the rights of other people to the “quiet enjoyment” of their homes.
This means that if you have, for example, a noisy neighbor, someone involved in criminal activity, drug deal, etc. it is down to the landlord to deal with them.
Allowing The Tenant To Peacefully Enjoy Their Rental
It is not just the peace and quiet of the neighbors that your landlord is responsible for. Your landlord must allow you “peaceful enjoyment” of your home. In practical terms, this means your landlord may not enter the unit whenever they like and usually can only expect to come in under the following circumstances:
- When you are moving out, they can enter, after giving you reasonable notice, to show prospective tenants around.
- To make repairs or to make an annual maintenance inspection.
- In cases of emergency.
Apart from in cases of emergency, of course, it is standard practice to consider 24 hours reasonable notice.
To Keep Security Deposits Safe
A landlord is responsible for keeping the security deposit you have given them safe. In some states, a landlord must place security deposits in a separate bank account and notify the tent where the security deposit is being kept.
In the 26 states where there are regulations that cover security deposits, a landlord will forfeit the deposit, regardless of any damages made by the tenant, if they have not followed the rules.
Being Aware Of State Rules Covering Fees
Security deposits are one of several payments landlords may charge. Other fees you may come across include:
- Application fees
- First months rent
- Last months rent
- Pet Security fees
All of these fees are regulated at a state level. So in one state, you may be charged a maximum of one month’s rent as a security deposit, and in another, the maximum may be half a month’s rent.
Alerting To Non-Renewal Of The Lease
It is standard practice that a the end of a lease the landlord and tenant may sign a new lease or the rental will become a month-to-month tenancy. This is, of course, unless it states explicitly that at the end of the contract, the tenant will vacate the property.
In the case of a month-to-month tenancy, general good practice is to give a tenant one month’s notice from the 1st of the next month. So, if it is March 12th, the landlord would provide one month’s notice from April 1st, and the tenant would have to vacate by May 1st.
In the case of a lease which does not require the tenant to move out at the end, it is standard practice to give the tenant at least 60 days notice that they must leave when the lease is up.
When you ask yourself, What Is My Landlord Responsible For? You should think of it like this.
Anything to do with the maintenance of the structure of the rental as well as, health, safety, and initial cleanliness is the responsibility of your landlord. The landlord must carry out any repairs as soon as is reasonably possible. They must also address any reports of pest infestations without unreasonable delay. As laws and regulations can change, a landlord is also responsible for keeping themselves up to date about any changes to tenant’s rights. Saying “I didn’t know the rules had changed” is not an acceptable defense.
A landlord must ensure that a unit is “habitable” when the renter moves in, and then it becomes the renter’s responsibility to keep it clean and no to cause damage to the home.
About The Author
Geoff Southworth is the creator of RealEstateInfoGuide.com, the site that helps new homeowners, investors, and homeowners-to-be successfully navigate the complex world of property ownership. Geoff is a real estate investor of 8 years has had experience as a manager of a debt-free, private real estate equity fund, as well as a Registered Nurse in Emergency Trauma and Cardiac Cath Lab Care. As a result, he has developed a unique “people first, business second” approach to real estate.