Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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UPDATED: Feb 5, 2020

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While the laws governing landlord and tenant relationships vary from state to state, there are general rights and obligations for those entering into lease agreements common to all states. Because landlord-tenant conflicts are relatively common, knowing the respective rights and obligations can help prevent or mitigate differences. Landlords and tenants typically enter into contractual agreements (otherwise called the lease), so it is important that all rights and obligations be clearly defined and agreed upon during the contract-signing stage of a landlord-tenant relationship.

General Tenant Obligations

In most cases, tenants have signed a contract to live on a landlord’s premises. Thus, certain general obligations come with such a contract. These obligations include but are not limited to:

  • Paying rent in full and on time every month as agreed.
  • Paying any late fees and bounced check fees as defined in the contract, when necessary.
  • Disposing of garbage in an appropriate and timely fashion.
  • Maintaining the property in a reasonable way and making every effort not to damage the property willfully or negligently.
  • Not taking on additional tenants or subletting without the express consent of the landlord.
  • Not creating a disturbance or safety hazard for other residents living in the building.

General Tenant Rights

Along with the obligations above, tenants have general rights, which may vary between states and depending on the lease agreement. These rights can include:

  • The right to exclude the landlord from entering the property except for times agreed upon in writing in advance.
  • The right to have the security deposit returned at lease-end, minus any expenses arising from damage or unpaid rents.
  • The right to have the property maintained and appliances repaired in a timely fashion.
  • The right not to be discriminated against during the rental or tenancy phases.
  • The right to be informed in writing of any changes to the contract or landlord-tenant arrangements.
  • The right not to be evicted without proper notice.

General Landlord Obligations

Meanwhile, leases often contain obligations on the landlord. When renting to a tenant, a landlord typically agrees to:

  • Maintain the property.
  • Make and/or pay for necessary repairs.
  • Provide notifications in writing when the property is being transferred to a new owner, or when other changes are made that potentially affect the tenant.
  • Refrain from turning off utilities in an effort to get unpaid rent or otherwise affect a tenant.
  • Ensure the premises remain safe and deal with other tenants who are causing a problem or who are violating the terms and conditions of their lease.

General Landlord Rights

In addition to the above obligations, landlords typically retain the following rights:

  • To receive rents as agreed.
  • To inspect the property during specific hours and under certain circumstances.
  • To increase the rent within a legally prescribed period of time.
  • To have the property kept free from damage, subletting, excessive noise, disruption to other tenants, etc.

Getting Help Enforcing Your Tenant Rights

If you are a tenant and you find yourself having problems within your apartment building, or if you believe your rights as a tenant have been violated, then you should contact an experienced landlord tenant attorney in your state. Your lawyer can help you enforce your tenant rights under the law and can help you make sure your living conditions remain safe and hospitable by holding your landlord to his or her obligations under the lease.