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Landlord/Tenant Law

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What Are My Rights As a Tenant?

As a tenant, you may be intimidated when you have a disagreement with your landlord or you have a problem with terms in your rental agreement, and therefore you may hesitate to assert your tenants’ rights. But, federal law and state laws provide many protections for tenants. Even if you are behind in your rent and the landlord wants you out of your rental property, you may have a valid defense against eviction. There are sometimes other options besides moving out or paying what the property owner says you owe.

Know Your Rights: What Rights Do Renters Have?

Renters have the legal right to:

  • A habitable, clean, sanitary, safe, space free of hazards and defects
  • Expectation of habitability of the rental property, or making necessary repairs when requested
  • Fair housing, free from housing discrimination based on a protected class, which may include race, religion, age, sex, sexual orientation, family status, national origin, and other classes
  • When applying for housing, being shown rental units and associated premises that are for rent
  • Complain to the landlord or government office about the landlord’s unlawful conduct without being retaliated against with eviction, a shutdown of utilities, rent increase, or other action intended to challenge the lawful exercise of your rights

What Happens If I Leave Some Of My Belongings Behind When I Move Out?

Personal property is generally considered “abandoned” when a tenant leaves his/her belongings in the unit after the lease ends. Unless there is some prior agreement made between the tenant and the landlord, the landlord can deal with it as they choose.

In most cases, when property is left in the unit and abandoned, the landlord may remove the items, and either store them or dispose of them. The landlord should provide reasonable notice to the tenant that the property has been left in the unit. That way, the tenant has a chance to reclaim the property. State laws may vary regarding how long a landlord may be required to store property before throwing it away.

Can My Landlord Keep My Entire Security Deposit?

It depends. The security deposit is meant to cover costs to the landlord when a tenant vacates the property. After a tenant moves out, the landlord may be able to use security deposit funds to:

  • Cover unpaid rent or fees
  • Cleaning costs
  • Repairs for damage beyond normal wear and tear
  • Pay storage costs if a tenant leaves belongings behind

The landlord has a “reasonable time,” usually between 21 and 30 days, to send the tenant whatever remains of the security deposit after paying for the items above. If the landlord fails to return the security deposit on unreasonable grounds, you may want to pursue this amount with a legal action in small claims court.

The landlord must:

  • Provide an itemized list describing all deductions
  • Send the refund to the tenant’s last known address or to the tenant’s new address, if they provide it. It is the tenant’s responsibility to provide a valid address. If the landlord’s attempts to send the refund and it is returned by the postal service, he or she may lawfully be allowed to keep the refund after a specific time.

Many states set limits on how many months in rent or security deposit the landlord can demand. The landlord may, however, require a deposit up to the mandated limits.

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