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Landlord and Tenant Law

The laws governing relations between landlords and tenants are almost entirely on the state and local level, with little federal government involvement, except in public housing.

In most communities, if you rent an apartment or house, you have certain legal rights and responsibilities, even if you do not have a written lease. You must pay the agreed-upon rent in a timely fashion. The landlord must maintain the property adequately. Community standards back up these obligations, whether or not a lease exists. As one example, a tenant may not use an extremely minor maintenance issue, say, a loose bathroom tile, as an excuse not to pay rent. On the other hand, a landlord may not evict a tenant for being just a few days late with the rent. Reasonable standards apply in both directions, backed up often by specific legal rights.

Another example would be a case in which a lease expires, and is not renewed. In many states and localities, the tenant might have a legal right to continue to occupy the premises, at the same rent as the lease, on a month-to-month basis. In some jurisdictions, landlords have the right to raise the rent each year by a specified percentage. Some municipalities have rent control laws, severely restricting the amounts landlords may ask for rent.

An important aspect of landlord and tenant law involves discrimination in housing. This covers instances where a landlord refuses to rent to a person on the basis of their race, gender, ethnicity, religion, or sexual orientation, and sometimes on the basis of their age, or their having children or pets. Housing discrimination is strictly prohibited in all jurisdictions and at every level of government, but it is not always so easy to prove.

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