8 Things Landlords Do That Seem Illegal But Aren’t

published Jun 15, 2021
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Can your landlord enter your apartment without your consent? Do they have to tell you about bedbugs? If you’re a renter, it’s essential to know your rights. Sometimes landlord behaviors that seem shady are perfectly legal. The more you know, the better you can advocate for yourself. 

Laws vary depending on where you live. For example, the Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination at the federal level due to race, color, national origin, religion, sex, familial status, or disability. States also make laws governing landlord rights, so check your local tenant laws before signing a lease.

What can landlords legally do?

1. Inspect your apartment. According to Seattle real estate broker Jia Tang, landlords can enter your apartment for an inspection as long as advance warning is given. They can also enter to deliver a package that won’t fit in your mailbox, show the property to prospective tenants, or make repairs you haven’t requested. “They are required to give tenants notice to enter,” Tang says.

2. Remove unapproved window coverings. “Landlords can ask tenants to remove inappropriate window coverings like blankets or sheets,” Tang says. Fortunately, curtains don’t have to be expensive. Try making these cute no-sew curtains to liven up your space.

3. Restrict DIY home improvements. You may unknowingly violate your lease by installing a subway tile backsplash or swapping a dated light fixture for a contemporary one. “The landlord must approve all alterations,” says Tang.

4. Increase your rent. If you live in a rent-controlled or rent-stabilized apartment, your landlord can only increase your rent by a certain percentage each year. However, if the home isn’t rent-controlled, they could increase your rent to keep up with market value (which may be significantly higher than your current rate).

5. Make repairs on their own time. In many cases, landlords can decide which maintenance requests to address first. Unfortunately, while they’ll respond to gas leaks and power outages quickly, they may not prioritize your broken air conditioner. 

6. Keep quiet about deaths on the property. It’s a common assumption that landlords have to tell you about recent deaths at a property, but only a few states have such a requirement, and they only have to disclose if the tenant asks.  

7. Stay silent about bedbugs. Believe it or not, only 23 states have legislation requiring landlords to disclose bedbug infestations to renters. 

8. Leave out information about flooding. Your landlord may not have to tell you if your rental is in a flood zone. According to NPR, of the 29 states that require flood disclosure in real estate transactions, only one of them mentions renters.

How to advocate for yourself

“It can be very stressful if you don’t have a clear way to advocate for yourself,” says maintenance technician Mercury Stardust, who uses her TikTok platform to teach renters how to care for their homes and protect themselves as tenants. “I understand the frustration and vulnerability people feel when talking to a landlord,” she says.

Stardust notes that every state has a tenant resource organization to help renters learn their rights and resolve landlord issues. For bigger problems, you can file a complaint with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, which handles discrimination, or contact your local health department if there’s a health and safety issue. 

“No matter what, this is your home,” she says. “You have so many rights.”