If you’re a landlord or a tenant, it’s important to know the difference between state and federal landlord-tenant laws. These laws dictate how a landlord can interact with tenants, what tenants can expect from their landlord, and what responsibilities both parties have in maintaining a rental property. Although both state and federal laws govern landlord-tenant relationships, there are significant differences between the two. Understanding these differences can help you navigate the often complicated world of renting.
State landlord-tenant laws vary widely depending on the state you’re in. Some states offer more protections to tenants, while others are more landlord-friendly. Generally speaking, state laws cover the following areas:
- Security Deposits: State laws regulate how much a landlord can charge for a security deposit when it must be returned, and under what circumstances the landlord can keep all or part of it. Some states require landlords to put security deposits in an interest-bearing account, while others do not.
- Eviction: State laws dictate the reasons a landlord can evict a tenant, how much notice must be given, and the process that must be followed to carry out an eviction. Some states require landlords to go through a court process to evict a tenant, while others do not.
- Rent: State laws determine how much rent can be charged, how frequently it can be increased, and whether late fees can be charged. Some states allow landlords to charge late fees, while others do not.
- Repairs and Maintenance: State laws require landlords to provide safe and habitable living conditions for their tenants. This includes ensuring that the rental property is free from hazards, such as mold or lead paint, and that it has functioning heating, plumbing, and electrical systems.
- Discrimination: State laws prohibit landlords from discriminating against tenants based on race, religion, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, and other factors.
Federal landlord-tenant laws apply to all states, regardless of state law. These laws provide additional protections for tenants and cover the following areas:
- Fair Housing Act: The Fair Housing Act prohibits landlords from discriminating against tenants based on race, color, national origin, religion, sex, familial status, or disability. Landlords cannot refuse to rent to someone based on these factors or impose different terms or conditions on tenants because of them.
- Americans with Disabilities Act: The Americans with Disabilities Act requires landlords to make reasonable accommodations for tenants with disabilities. This includes making modifications to the rental property to make it accessible, such as installing grab bars or wheelchair ramps.
- Lead-Based Paint: The Lead-Based Paint Disclosure Rule requires landlords to inform tenants if the rental property was built before 1978 and if it contains lead-based paint. Landlords must also provide tenants with a pamphlet outlining the dangers of lead-based paint and how to protect themselves from exposure.
- Tenant Screening: The Fair Credit Reporting Act governs tenant screening and requires landlords to obtain a tenant’s consent before obtaining a credit report or background check.
- Security Deposits: The Federal Trade Commission’s rule on the Fair Credit Reporting Act prohibits landlords from charging non-refundable fees in place of a security deposit. Landlords must also inform tenants in writing of the terms and conditions of the security deposit.
Although state and federal laws cover similar topics, there are key differences between the two. Here are some of the most important differences:
- Protections: State laws offer varying degrees of protection to tenants, depending on the state. Some states offer more protections than federal law, while others offer fewer.
- Enforcement: State laws are enforced by state agencies, while federal laws are enforced by federal agencies. This means that if you have a complaint about a landlord, you will need to file it with the appropriate agency, whether it’s a state or federal agency.
- Requirements: State and federal laws may have different requirements that landlords must meet. For example, federal law requires landlords to provide tenants with a notice of their rights under the Fair Housing Act, while some states may require additional notices or disclosures.
- Penalties: State and federal laws may also have different penalties for violations. Tenants can sue landlords for damages and violations of federal law can result in fines. State law penalties can include fines, injunctions, or even criminal charges in extreme cases.
- Jurisdiction: Federal law applies across the country, while state law only applies within the boundaries of that state. This means that if you are a landlord or tenant in a state that offers fewer protections than federal law, federal law may provide you with additional rights and protections.
Understanding the differences between state and federal landlord-tenant laws is essential for both landlords and tenants. State laws provide varying degrees of protection to tenants, while federal laws provide additional protections that apply across the country. Knowing your rights and responsibilities under both state and federal law can help you avoid legal trouble and ensure a fair and successful landlord-tenant relationship.
If you are a landlord or tenant, it’s important to familiarize yourself with the laws that apply to you. You can consult with an attorney or seek information from your state or federal agencies to ensure that you are in compliance with all relevant laws. With the right knowledge and preparation, you can ensure a successful and mutually beneficial landlord-tenant relationship.