Your Basic Rights As a Renter

Most individuals will rent an apartment, condo, or house in their lifetime. If the tenant pays the rent on time each month, and the dwelling is in proper working order, there is rarely conflict between the landlord and tenant. However, for the small percentage of tenants that encounter issues, it is important to know and understand your rights and responsibilities.

First, and foremost, a landlord is obligated to provide a safe premise. This requires that the property is up to date with all city ordinances and building codes and has functional heat and running water.   If these basic requirements are satisfied, a landlord’s additional obligations vary based on the lease and local ordinances.  Issues between a landlord and tenant often occur when the landlord has not satisfied one of his or her obligations. When this happens, it is important that the tenant know his or her rights. 

The Right to Withhold Rent 

Under certain circumstances, a tenant is allowed to withhold rent. This most commonly arises when there is a major repair issue that the landlord has not addressed. In this situation, a tenant has several options to consider:  

1. If the repair is urgent or potentially life threatening (lack of heat, water, dangerous hazard, etc.), the tenant can opt to pay for the repair and then deduct the paid amount from the monthly rent.  However, be prepared to document everything. Keep records of all contacts and/or attempts to contact the landlord regarding the issue.  It would be helpful to show the contact attempts in writing (e.g., email(s), copy of a certified letter, cell-phone call log). Additionally, keep receipts of all repairs that show the exact amount you paid.

2. If the repair is not urgent, you might still be able to withhold rent until the landlord makes the repair.  Again, you need to document why you are withholding your rent.  Some jurisdictions also require that the tenant place the withheld money in a separate account or have it in the form of a money order.  This is done to show proof that the tenant does, in fact, have the payment, and is not simply defaulting on the rent.   

The Right to Receive Your Security Deposit at the End of the Lease

Disputes over the security deposit tend to occur when the landlord alleges major damage to the rental.  While it is expected that some general wear and tear will occur, tenants should know that even minor things, such as painting or creating holes in the walls to hang pictures or televisions allows the landlord to apply the security deposit to any costs incurred fixing that “damage.”  It is important to carefully read the lease and have anything that is uncertain explained and clarified, preferably in writing.  If the landlord decides to keep all or a portion of your deposit, the tenant has the right to request an itemized list identifying the alleged damage and the cost incurred to have it repaired. A landlord cannot summarily keep you your deposit without cause.

For more information regarding tenants’ rights and for an extensive list of specific state-by-state laws check out  If you are having issues with your landlord that you think may require legal intervention, post a short summary of your needs at, and let the perfect attorney come to you!  

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Posted - 12/22/2015