Landlord-Tenancy Law


PLEASE NOTE: The information contained in this webpage has been prepared for educational purposes only. Communication of information through this webpage does not create or constitute an attorney-client relationship, is not intended to solicit clients or to provide legal services as to any particular matter, and is not intended to convey or constitute legal advice or provide a substitute for obtaining legal advice from a qualified attorney. It is important for you to consult with an attorney regarding your rights and responsibilities in a particular situation.



Moving out of your parents’ house? Leaving the dorms? Renting an apartment can be exciting and give you independence, but renting also comes with a lot of responsibility. If you are renting for the first time or have already started living somewhere, the following information can help protect your interests as a renter:



Before You Sign a Lease
There are a whole host of important property aspects to look for before signing a lease.


Look carefully at the property, and take your time.
Check things such as:
  • Is it clean inside and out?
  • Do the faucets work?
  • Are there plumbing leaks under the sink?
  • Are the toilets working?
  • Are the refrigerator and other appliances in good shape? Look inside them.
  • Are any of the windows broken or cracked.
  • Is there adequate water pressure in the shower?
  • Are the smoke detectors, door locks, and any amenities maintained well?
  • Are there cracks or water stains on the ceiling or walls?


Don't rent a place if:
  • The owner doesn’t have a rental or lodging license posted.
  • Your bedroom ceiling is less than seven feet high.
  • You live in a third floor attic that does not have two stairways leading to the ground.
  • The room you sleep in does not have a window or door that leads to the outside.
  • There are four or more people sleeping in a single bedroom.


Many of the above are legal requirements for tenancy to protect you and ensure safety.


Get the name and address of the owner and/or manager.
You must be given this information by law. It should be posted at the property and noted in the lease. Also, ask if there is a caretaker or other person responsible to handle maintenance requests or other housing problems.


It pays to investigate your landlord and the property.
Talk to current or prior tenants and ask how they would rate the property and landlord. Contact the local city housing inspections office to see if there is a record of serious repair problems at the property. You can find out if the landlord has been a party to lawsuits by checking with the County Conciliation Court.


Know what you're signing before signing it.
Don't sign anything, including an application or a lease, until you read it carefully and understand what it means. Ask questions if you aren't sure. Look at what your rent covers. Do you have to pay extra for utilities, internet, cable, parking, and garbage; or are they included? If possible, take a day or so to review the lease before you sign and/or consult with a housing specialist or attorney to fully understand its meaning. Get copies of all documents you sign.


Get everything in writing.
If the landlord makes any promises to fix or change something before you move in, get this agreement in writing before you sign a lease or pay a deposit.


Talk the lease over with roommates.
Make sure all roommates understand and agree that each is fully obligated under the terms of the lease. You are individually and jointly responsible for the payment of all rent due and any damage to the property. Ask your landlord about the zoning occupancy limits, which is maximum number of unrelated persons who can live there.


Understand the deposit restrictions.
Don't pay a nonrefundable deposit to hold the property unless you are sure you want to rent. Ask to review the lease before paying the deposit. Know the landlord’s requirements to get your full deposit back when you end the lease.




After You Sign a Lease
Once you've signed on the dotted line, you must complete some essential tasks and responsibilities you should understand:


Pay your rent on time.
If you don’t, the landlord may take legal action to evict you. If you move out before the lease ends, you are still responsible to pay the rent for the full term of the lease. The landlord may also charge a late fee for late payments.


Your landlord needs to send written notice before raising your rent.
Under periodic tenancy, landlords cannot raise the rent unless they give proper written notice. During a definite term lease, the landlord cannot raise your rent unless the lease allows for it.


You have a right to privacy
Your landlord can only enter your residence for a reasonable business purpose and only after making an effort to notify you first. If the landlord breaks this law, you can take the landlord to court to break the lease, recover your deposit, and receive a civil penalty of up to $100 per violation. Examples of a reasonable business purpose include:
  1. Showing the unit to prospective tenants.
  2. Showing the unit to a prospective buyer or insurance agent.
  3. Performing maintenance work.
  4. Showing the unit to state or local officials (i.e. fire, housing, health or building inspectors) inspecting the property.
  5. Checking on a tenant causing a disturbance within the unit.
  6. Checking on a tenant the landlord believes is violating the lease.
  7. Checking to see if a person is staying in the unit who has not signed the lease.
  8. Checking the unit when a tenant moves out.
  9. Performing housekeeping work in a senior housing unit. A senior housing unit is a building where 80 percent of the tenants are age 55 or older.


Your landlord must keep units in responsible repair.
If something in your apartment is in disrepair, send your landlord a notice in writing. We provide a downloadable template here. If you have trouble getting your landlord to make the necessary repairs you can :
  1. File a complaint with the local housing, health, energy or fire inspector, if there is one, and ask that the unit be inspected.
  2. Place the full rent in escrow with the court, and ask the court to order the landlord to make repairs.
  3. Withhold the rent by depositing it with the court administrator.
  4. Sue the landlord in district court under the Tenant’s Remedies Act. 
  5. Sue in conciliation court or district court for rent abatement (this is the return of part of the rent or in extreme cases all of the rent).
  6. Use the landlord’s failure to make necessary repairs as a defense against either eviction or the landlord’s lawsuit for unpaid rent.




Terminating Your Lease
Sometimes you will have the grounds to terminate your lease; other times, you may be contractually bound to pay for the entire lease.


Periodic tenancies must give one period of written notice before termination.
This written notice must be received by the landlord at least one full period before the last day of tenancy. A period in this situation is one payment period plus a day.


Definite term tenancies generally have to pay for the entire term agreed to.
Regardless of when you leave, definite term leases are binding for the entire term. Some leases have provisions to break the lease. Often they include a fee in order to break the lease.



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