Your Rights as a Tenant

If you apply for an apartment and are rejected, you have a right to know why. It is illegal and immoral for a landlord to refuse your application for reasons of prejudice or discrimination. Federal law prohibits discrimination on the basis of:

  • Race
  • National origin
  • Color
  • Age
  • Religion
  • Sex
  • Familial status (discrimination against pregnant women, or families with children)
  • Physical disability
  • Mental disability (this includes previous problems with drugs or alcohol)

States and many cities have their own housing laws, and yours may curb other types of discrimination, such as:

  • Marital status
  • Sexual orientation

Federal housing law prohibits a variety of discriminatory actions:

  • Advertising cannot contain any statement indicating a preference or limitation based on any of the protected classes listed above.
  • The landlord may not make any similar implication or statement.
  • A landlord cannot say that an apartment is not available when in fact it is available.
  • A landlord cannot use a different set of rules for assessing applicants belonging to a protected class.
  • A landlord cannot refuse to rent to persons in a protected class.
  • A landlord cannot provide different services or facilities to tenants in a protected class or require a larger deposit, or treat late rental payments differently.
  • A landlord cannot end a tenancy for a discriminatory reason.
  • A landlord cannot harass you.

Some of the above may not apply to you...

Note: The federal housing statutes do not apply to all rental property. The main exceptions are owner-occupied buildings with four or fewer rental units (such as a duplex), housing offered by religious groups or private organizations for their members(such as church safe houses), housing designated for senior citizens(nursing home and assisted living facilities), and single-family housing being rented without major advertising or a real estate agent.

A landlord cannot refuse to rent to you because of a "no pets" policy if you have a service animal, such as a seeing-eye dog, or a dog that helps you cope with a physical or mental disability. If the landlord does refuse, he or she has violated federal law, including the Americans with Disabilities Act.

For Example: A jury in Minneapolis, Minnesota, recently awarded large damages to a man who was grief-stricken after his son's murder and had begun taking care of his son's dog at the suggestion of his therapist. Before he started taking care of the dog he was severely depressed and not functioning normally. The jury concluded that enforcing the landlord's no-pets policy under those circumstances was a form of disability discrimination.

Your Right to Know

If you were turned down because the landlord received poor references about you, including calls to previous landlords, your boss, your bank or anyone else for that matter, you have a right to know why.

Under the federal Fair Credit Reporting Act a landlord has to tell you if the rejection of your application was based on bad credit info that came from somewhere other than your credit report.

  • The federal Fair Credit Reporting Act also requires a landlord to tell you that, during the sixty days after he or she informs you that there was negative credit information, you may submit a written request for disclosure of the negative information.
  • After receiving your request for why you were denied, the landlord must tell you "the nature of the information," within a "reasonable time." Unfortunately, the law doesn't specify how much detail they have to give you.

Your Right to a Livable Home

You have a right to "habitable" premises. This is a fancy way of saying the apartment or house you are renting is fit to be lived in. Don't compromise on this right. You have a right not to live in a hovel. Most states do not allow a landlord put terms in their lease stating that you "give up" this right. These are a few things that could make a place "unlivable".

  • Unsafe conditions, such as holes in the floor, plaster coming down from the ceiling, bad wiring, leaky plumbing, mold, etc.
  • Infestation of any type of vermin such as cockroaches, mice, or fleas.

Under federal law, rental housing must be free of lead-based paint. It is more common in older buildings, and almost 75 percent of housing is still touched by it. No matter how old or new your potential new home is, watch for chipping, peeling, or flaking paint, and paint dust