Real Estate

Your Rights and Responsibilities As a Residential Landlord

By Marcia Stewart, Co-Author of Nolo's Essential Guide to Buying Your First Home and Every Landlord's Legal Guide
Fulfilling your responsibilities as a rental property owner (and enforcing your rights as necessary) is key to successful landlording. Here are the basics you need to know.

Residential landlords are individual property owners or businesses that rent out apartments, condos, or houses for money. The renters who pay landlords to live in these properties are called residential tenants. Landlords and tenants each have legal rights and responsibilities that are typically spelled out in residential leases . These rights and responsibilities remain in place, regardless of whether or not they are covered in a lease or rental agreement; this would be the case, for example, if a landlord and tenant have an oral rental agreement to rent out a property or a very simple lease that just covers basic terms, such as the amount of rent and length of the lease.

State Laws Limit Landlord Rights

Landlords have many rights, including the rights to choose who will live in their rental properties; set lease terms (such as the amount of rent, pet policy, and number of occupants allowed per rental unit); furnish rental units as they like; and evict tenants who cause problems (such as damaging rental property or not paying rent). These rights are not unlimited, however. To avoid costly legal disputes and confusion with tenants, it’s crucial that landlords understand their legal responsibilities (typically under state law) that set limits on their rights by requiring landlords to comply with the following:

  • fair housing laws that prohibit housing discrimination, on the basis of race, gender, and other factors, when landlords choose and deal with tenants
  • rent rules that cover late rent fees, procedures and forms for terminating a tenancy for nonpayment of rent, and (in some communities with rent control) the amount of rent a landlord can charge
  • security deposit limits, uses, and return policies
  • habitability standards and requirements
  • mandated lease disclosures, such as shared utility arrangements
  • limits on landlords’ access to rental property
  • anti-retaliation laws that restrict landlords from raising the rent or evicting a tenant for exercising a legal right (such as complaining about an unsafe housing condition to a local housing authority), and
  • specific rules, procedures, and forms for terminating a tenancy and evicting a tenant.

See State-Specific Landlord Responsibilities on for details on your state rules in these areas.

A Landlord-Tenant Lawyer Can Help

The law dealing with and the rights and responsibilities of residential landlords can be complicated. Plus, the facts of each case are unique. This article provides a brief, general introduction to the topic. For more detailed, specific information, particularly when it comes to a complicated issue such as a tenant’s discrimination lawsuit or an eviction dispute, contact a landlord-tenant lawyer.

Questions for Your Attorney

  • My tenant is a day or two late with rent every month. I’d like to evict him, but I think I have to provide a day or two grace period before I can terminate a tenancy (in other words, he’s not officially late with the rent). What are the rules nonpayment of rent in my state?
  • I own a nicely-furnished rental house and I want to keep it that way. I’d like to check out the hardwood floors and cabinets once in a while, but my tenants say I don’t have the right to do so without their permission. Is that true? Do I have any right to inspect my rental property on an occasional basis?
  • My tenants have held several noisy parties that have resulted in neighbor complaints and police visits. I‘ve sent the tenants a few warning letters with no results. I’m ready to file an eviction lawsuit, but I’m afraid the tenants will complain that I am doing so in retaliation for their recent complaint to the local housing department about the heater. I don’t want a costly legal battle. How should I proceed?
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