Tenant rights vary from state to state in the U.S. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, or HUD, website provides direct links to each state's requirements regarding tenant rights and obligations, landlord rights and obligations and landlord/tenant laws. Requirements outlined include lease obligations, security deposit disbursement, eviction laws, oral agreements, discrimination laws and lease termination.
A lease is a the best way for both the tenant and landlord to protect themselves and their rights. A tenant should ensure that a lease states monthly rent, the security deposit total and the landlord's conditions for it to be returned, the address of the property, full contact information for the landlord, due dates for rent and the length of the lease. If your landlord has a grace period for monthly rent, this should also be specified. For example, if your rent is due on the first, your landlord could specify a three-day grace period for your rent to arrive before a penalty fee is assessed. If you and the landlord agree on alterations to the lease, these must be put on the lease paper and initialed by both the tenant and landlord.
Oral agreements do not afford the same amount of protection for a tenant as an actual lease does. In Missouri, an oral agreement only obligates the landlord for a period of one month. If the landlord submits a written vacate notice, the tenant has only until the end of the rental period that occurs immediately after 30 days have passed to leave. In Wisconsin, only 28 days notice must be given before the end of the rental period.
Security Deposit Disbursement
State law in Missouri requires that your security deposit be returned to you within 30 days of vacating your rental, while Wisconsin law specifies a 21-day time frame. If your deposit is not going to be returned, your landlord must send you an itemized statement specifying why the funds were withheld and how they were applied within the same time period. Landlords can withhold your security deposit if a rental property is damaged beyond ordinary wear and tear, if you failed to pay your rent or if you failed to pay your utility bills.
In Missouri, Colorado and most other states, a tenant cannot be evicted without a court order. Your landlord cannot begin eviction proceedings without a specific cause such as property damage, failure to pay rent, lease-term violations or tenant use of the rental property to conduct illegal activities. A tenant has a right to be heard in court prior to an eviction order being issued.
As a potential tenant, you are entitled to basic rights. You cannot be discriminated against because of your race, sex, religion, familial status or national origin. Your landlord cannot charge you higher rent or untruthfully state that a property is not available because of these things. If you feel that you have been discriminated against, contact the Human Rights Commission in your state or the Department of Housing and Urban Development.