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The Top Ten Tenant’s Rights: Yes Renters Have Rights, Too


With all the news coverage these days being focused on the mortgage crisis, health care reform, and of course, our soon-to-be Chinese overlords, you would think that there is nothing going on in this country other than the little guy being pushed out of house, health, and possibly world economic supremacy.  Now if any of you out there are naïve enough to think this is all that’s happening in America you’re dead wrong.  People are also being evicted from their rental homes and apartments, too.  You guys are so silly; there are always plenty of other circumstances in which people can be pushed out of places…

It’s odd how the news media can become so wrapped up in the so-called “big stories” to the point where they’ll overlook or simply forget to report on travesties like this one from New Jersey.  The unnamed 39-year-old female tenant featured in the article states her landlord, Debra Mackedminster, 54, has harassed her since she moved into the apartment.  The landlord’s “odd and threatening manner” came to a head when Mackedminster barged into the tenant’s apartment and demanded she move out immediately.  The tenant was given no notice and, fearing for her life, left her apartment only to return to find herself locked out and her possessions scattered all over the apartment floor (ala American Gangster).  The reason Mackedminster was so pissed off was because she claimed the tenant had lied about being a ballerina-in-training.

So, um… does anyone notice what, if anything, this landlord did that was against the law?  If you can’t spot something then you’ll definitely need to keep reading this post.

Now there are some obvious no-no’s conducted on the part of Mackedminster, the most obvious of which is the demand for immediate eviction without notice and the destruction of personal property.  But for many prospective tenants, it seems like if a landlord’s conduct doesn’t extend to these outrageous levels, then there is no cause of action in the law to protect them.  Oh you tenants, you’re so very wrong.  Believe it or not, property tenants are afforded an amazing number of rights.  Here’s a top ten list (ala David Letterman) of most important renter’s rights that no tenant should go without knowing:

10.  The federal Fair Housing Act, which appears in Title VIII of the Civil Rights Act of 1968, makes it illegal for a landlord to deny housing to any tenant because of religion, sex, disability, family status, race, color, or national origin.

9.  If a tenant breaks a lease agreement, the landlord must look for a new replacement tenant immediately and cannot simply wait around to charge the original tenant for the remainder of the old lease.  This means the landlord must show that at the very least, they’ve been advertising the available rental property.

8.  Rental properties must be in habitable living conditions in compliance with local health and safety codes.  Specifically, the property must have adequate water, electricity, and heat.  It must also be structurally sound, sanitary, and adequate protected from the elements.  If any condition isn’t fulfilled or repaired up to health and safety code standards, tenants may have a ground for breaking their lease.

7.  Landlords must give you at least 24 hour notice before entering a tenant’s rental property and usually may only enter to make repairs or for some other emergency reason.

6.  Many states make it illegal for landlords to charge tenants for the landlord’s attorney fees if a court dispute arises between the parties, even if the term is a part of the rental agreement.

5.  Refundable security deposits must be paid to the tenant within 14 to 30 days after a tenant has vacated the landlord’s rental property, regardless of whether the vacating was voluntary or by an eviction.

4.  Landlords cannot evict a tenant without notice.  The length of notice required varies with each state, but can be as high as 90 days or more.  Landlords also cannot change locks, shut off utilities, or do anything to make a tenant’s life miserable to the point that it forces them to move out.  This is called a constructive eviction.

3.  Landlords must make all necessary repairs to a property in a timely fashion.  Necessary repairs encompass anything required under health and safe regulations.

2.  Landlords cannot retaliate against as tenant by evicting them for taking any action against the landlord regarding rental property violations.  It’s illegal for landlords to evict for this reason.

1.  Normal wear and tear cannot be cited as reasons for deduction to a tenant’s security deposit and security deposits usually must be itemized to show any and all reasons for deduction.

But remember, the most important tip to keep you from being a victim of an awful landlord is to document all of your interactions with your landlord regarding your rental property.  A picture is worth a thousand words, but in the case an apartment, taking photos of all the defects in the property before you move in is a surefire way to keep a corrupt landlord from milking money from you.

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  • scott

    Thanks for the info!!
    It helped out a lot!

  • krissy gross

    This site is great, great info on tenants rights!

  • mike

    If a property management employee caused major structural damage during a repair to the build and the following issues applied:
    • It was an occupied build
    • No permits were pulled and did not have it inspected
    • Property management has no contractor’s license
    • Made no attempt to repair it
    • The structure of the beam is showing sag
    Could this be considered a breach of lease in the state of ca? If so what would be my best course of attraction to prepare a small claims court case? What laws would apply to such an issue ?

  • Andrew Dat

    @ Scott and Krissy Gross

    Glad I could help. Keep the compliments coming, it’s how I sustain myself. Well, that and Cheetos.

    @ Mike

    Sorry, I don’t think I’m qualified to answer your question Mike especially over the internet like this. You may want to check with an attorney. If you go to and input your problem in there they can match you with a real estate attorney who can give you a much better idea on how to go about solving your legal issue. But thanks for reading.

  • Chrissie

    is the tenent for a rental home responsible for the entire water bill or just the usage in the city of Philadelphia?

    also is there a tenants right book or guide that can be gotten or viewed for philadelphia?

  • Jessica Rossi


    I was wondering if you can tell me about #6 and the city of Philadelphia. Specifically, my landlord claims to never have received May rent. Towards the middle of may, I received a letter from the courts. I immediately wrote another check (the entire rent + late fee + court filling fee, approx $1,800). A month later, I relieved a bill from the landlords attorney for $100 for a “withdrawal” fee, essentially removing my name from the “to be evicted” list at the municipal court. Am I responsible (legal) for this fee?


  • SRS

    Hi, I have a question about rental property repair from aging. My family has lived in a Townhome for 25 years, and we have been living with a kitchen that is literally coming off the hinges for the past decade. My mother originally approached the management and they told her that we’d have to pay $100 additional rent every month after the repair. She never inquired again, because it would have been impossible at the time. The kitchen dates back prior to moving in, Feb 1987, and the cabinets are in despair from decades of use. Our exhaust fan hasn’t worked in those 10yrs. Our landlord isn’t a very kind or approachable person, but I have no idea what rights we have to bring up to her regarding maintaining the units. Any help would be greatly appreciated…. Thank you.

  • Angela

    My landlord told me that the water bill was high and he want me to start paying the water bill. He send me a letter asking me to pay Jan,Feb and March water bill. Now the question i have is can he do this(I forgot to tell you I live in a apartment blg. and i am the only tenant there he had a day-care on the first floor but they move out and the water rate went up as of Jan 1 2013 and the bill are Estimated bill

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