As a tenant, you have certain responsibilities to your landlord. You must pay your rent on time and keep the home and property in a clean and orderly condition. Your landlord, however, has responsibilities to you as well. Some tenant and landlord responsibilities are set by local or federal law.
In general, however, both your responsibilities as a tenant and your landlord’s responsibilities to you should be discussed when you sign a lease, especially if they extend beyond those required by law.
Keep in mind that violating one provision of a rental contract does not invalidate the other provisions of the contract. For example, if you fail to pay rent on time, your landlord is not excused of his or her responsibilities to you, nor are you entitled to break your own contractual agreements just because your landlord fails to meet certain responsibilities. If you have a problem with a landlord not meeting his or her responsibilities to you, you may choose to seek legal counsel and pursue your complaint through the proper channels, all the while keeping up your end of the agreement.
First and foremost, a landlord is legally responsible to provide his or her tenants with a habitable home. A habitable home is one fit to reside in, free of defects and hazards and in compliance with all local and state health and building codes. The minimum standards of habitability include the following:
- Working electricity, plumbing and gas systems, if applicable.
- Adequate heating and cooling systems for the climate appropriate for where the home is located.
- Unbroken windows and exterior doors that lock securely.
- General cleanliness, sanitation quality and safety in the building and grounds.
A landlord is not responsible, however, for making sure your living space or the home’s exterior, common areas and grounds are pleasing to you aesthetically. Also, a minor housing code violation does not render a home uninhabitable.
A landlord’s responsibility to perform due diligence ensures the habitability of the home prior to a tenant taking residence. While a landlord’s responsibility to keep the home habitable is ongoing, the responsibility for due diligence is exercised once before you move in. The landlord must inspect the property thoroughly to identify any potential hazards or threats.
If a problem is found, a landlord then has the responsibility to take care of that problem before letting you move in. If the landlord does not have the power to prevent certain dangers, he or she is not liable. However, if a danger is avoidable, the landlord is responsible for doing his or her due diligence to prevent it.
While your landlord is not responsible for fixing every issue in your home, he or she is responsible for many aspects of home repair and maintenance. Any repairs needed to maintain the habitability of your home are you landlord’s responsibility. This may include defects in the following:
- Heating and cooling systems
- Decks, patios and stairs
Your landlord is also liable for any injuries sustained due to an unaddressed or improperly addressed defect in the property. Your landlord is not responsible, however, for any repairs needed to fix damage caused by you or your family, pets or guests. In fact, any damages that are caused by you or a guest while you are renting an apartment may prevent you from getting your full security deposit back.
If your landlord collects a security deposit from you when you move in, he or she is required to place it in an interest-bearing savings account in escrow for you. The landlord can only use your security deposit to pay for repairs of damage caused by you or your family, pets or guests.
If the landlord uses any portion of your security deposit for such repairs, he or she must provide you a receipt of that amount and what it was used for. Upon moving out of the home, the landlord is responsible for returning whatever remains of your security deposit to you along with any interest it may have accrued.
The landlord is allowed to conduct an inspection of the home after you have moved out in order to make sure there is no cause for him or her to keep any of your security deposit. That inspection must be conducted in a timely fashion. Without due cause to withhold your security deposit, the landlord must return it within a reasonable time likely articulated in your rental agreement.
If your landlord fails to meet his or her responsibilities, you can sue the landlord for negligence. If found guilty, the landlord can be made to pay damages. However, this is a last resort and should only be pursued if the landlord fails to respond proactively to your legitimate complaints.
If you suffered damages because of a defect in the habitability of the home the landlord failed to correct, the landlord may have to pay those damages. When reaching out to a landlord about issues with your apartment, make sure to document all responses.
Security and Privacy
Your landlord should make sure no one else but you and the landlord has keys to your home. She or he is not permitted to give keys to repair people or to let repair people work in your home unsupervised. Your landlord should ensure the home has functioning smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors in all the necessary places in the home.
Additionally, the landlord must ensure the home has the proper fire safety protocols installed, including proper escape access. The landlord is responsible for making sure the grounds around the home and the common areas within the home, such as the lobby and stairs in a multi-unit home, are unobstructed and free of safety hazards. Finally, she or he has a responsibility to give you 24-hour notice before coming into your home.
State and Local Laws
All the landlord responsibilities discussed above are required in every state in the country. Some states and local jurisdictions also have additional laws regulating landlord responsibilities and tenant rights. Make sure you know about any additional rights and responsibilities you or your landlord may have in your state. Such knowledge can help in resolving disputes with your landlord.