In a 2022 report on America’s Rental Housing, Harvard University found that approximately 44 million American households rent their homes.1 Renting can be more convenient, offer more flexibility, and have potentially less financial risk than home ownership. However, issues like lease disputes, eviction notices, and tenants’ rights concerns can also come up.
In these situations, legal support can help you understand your rights as a tenant and give you the tools you need to effectively address potential problems.
Understand your renters’ rights
It’s helpful to have a clear understanding of your rights as a renter. Disputes with landlords or property managers can happen, so it’s a good idea to familiarize yourself with the legal protections in place.
Here are some key aspects of a renters' rights:
- Rental agreement: A rental agreement, or lease agreement, outlines the terms and conditions of your tenancy. This will include rent, lease duration, landlord and tenant responsibilities, as well as other important tenancy and property details.
- Health and safety: A renter is entitled to a habitable living environment, which means the space should meet certain health and safety standards. This could include addressing fire hazards, mold growth or inadequate heating.2
- Equal opportunity for housing: Federal, state, and local laws protect renters from discrimination based on race, sex, religion, sexual orientation, disability, marital status and other factors.2
- Privacy: Landlords or property managers must respect a tenant’s privacy. For instance, they typically aren’t allowed to enter their tenants’ homes without a minimum amount of notice.2 However, certain circumstances may permit a landlord to enter without notice, such as in emergency situations.
- Security deposits: Tenants have the right to have their security deposit returned in full when they move out. However, a landlord can retain a portion or the entirety of the deposit if there’s damage to the unit or if rent, bills or other fees remain unpaid. In such cases, a landlord will need to provide the tenant with an itemized list of charges.2
- Unlawful evictions: Landlords can’t evict you without cause. They must follow eviction procedures set by law, such as notice timeframes, lawful grounds for eviction and court proceedings.2
To get more information on your rights as a renter, you can check out some tenant advocacy organizations, such as the Tenant Resource Center or the Housing Rights Initiative.
When a renter may want the help of a tenant lawyer
If landlord-tenant disagreements can’t be resolved with communication or negotiation, it may be a good idea to seek legal assistance. Here are some instances in which you may need the help of a lawyer.
Your landlord is evicting you without cause
If you're facing eviction without valid legal grounds or notice, a lawyer can intervene on your behalf. This may involve creating formal legal documents or correspondence aimed at challenging the eviction. If the situation requires legal proceedings, a lawyer can represent you in court. They’d work with you to build a case that highlights the lack of valid reasons for the eviction.
Your landlord violates your lease agreement
For instances in which your landlord neglects the terms stated in your lease, you’ll want to take swift action to rectify the situation. Lease violations can involve several things, such as neglecting to address necessary repairs or modifying the terms of your lease without proper notice or agreement. Legal assistance can help you assert your rights as a tenant and give you the support you need to resolve lease violations.
You believe your landlord is discriminating against you
If you suspect your landlord is discriminating against you based on your race, religion, gender, sexual orientation or any other factor, seeking legal help may be your best course of action. A lawyer who specializes in housing discrimination will be able to guide you through the process of reporting it and preparing evidence for investigation. They can also advocate for you during the resolution process.
Your landlord is refusing to return your security deposit
When renting a property, it’s common practice for landlords to ask for a security deposit as a form of insurance against potential damages beyond normal wear and tear. However, if your landlord refuses to refund your deposit or makes unjust deductions, a tenant lawyer can help. They’ll review the terms of your lease agreement to determine if the landlord's actions are reasonable and lawful. A lawyer can also help you negotiate with your landlord and file formal complaints with housing agencies, or if necessary, pursue legal action in small claims court.
How legal insurance can help you exercise your tenants’ rights
Rental disputes can feel overwhelming to resolve on your own. And sometimes, hiring and finding the right lawyer can add more stress to the situation. One way to simplify the process is to enroll in legal insurance.
Legal insurance provides cost-effective access to a network of attorneys who can help you with a range of legal services, including real estate matters renters may face. With a legal plan, you can get access to assistance resolving disputes with landlords and navigating complex legal matters associated with your tenancy. This may be a more convenient and cost-effective option than hiring a lawyer outright.
You can typically opt into a legal plan through your employer as part of your employee benefits package. Consult with your human resources (HR) department to learn more about legal plans.