Landlord Tips & Tricks
February 21, 2024

10 Things a Landlord Can’t Do

Steadily's blog cover page for information around landlord insurance.

Once a rental unit becomes another person’s home, the landlord has limited control over it. Thus, many landlords, especially new landlords, are confused about their rights during a tenancy.

Usually, what landlords can’t do after renting their property is determined by their lease agreement and the state the property is in. Although these things may vary, there are common rights that apply everywhere.

1. Can’t Enter Without Notification

A landlord may need to enter the leased property for various reasons, including:

  • Making repairs.
  • Routine inspections.
  • Showing the property to potential future tenants.  

However, under a lease agreement, the landlord has given up all rights of use. The landlord cannot enter the property without proper notice to the tenant. If the landlord enters the rental property without consent, this action could be considered trespassing. It doesn’t matter whether the tenant is home or not.

hand knocking on a door of a landlord

In most states, landlords must provide at least 24 hours notice to enter an occupied property. The notice must specify the reason for the access and be provided in writing unless the tenant says otherwise.The landlord may only enter the rental property without the consent of the tenant in emergencies such as:

  • Fires.
  • Natural disasters.
  • Emergencies that could harm someone’s life.  

Even if the lease agreement does not require giving notice before entering a rental, a landlord must provide notice if the law states that the notice is mandatory.

Likewise, if the lease doesn’t have an entry provision or mention anything about when the landlord can enter, your state’s privacy laws still apply.

A tenant who believes their landlord has violated the rules by entering their premises in a non-emergency situation without prior notice has some options.

It is illegal to enter a tenant’s property without their permission or notification. Entering a home without notice or consent may result in significant legal repercussions, as shown by the following:

  • The tenant can bring the attention of the local or state housing authority or file a trespassing claim to the local police or court system.
  • One purpose of the notice of entry is to safeguard a tenant’s right to privacy. If the landlord enters unannounced, they may be physically invading a tenant’s private area. A tenant can sue the landlord for invasion of privacy or harassment if they go through their things without permission.
  • The tenant may sue for breach of contract. A covenant of quiet enjoyment can be found in every lease agreement. The tenant’s right to exclude undesirable visitors from the apartment, as well as an unintentional entry that breaches this right, is included in this category.

2. Can’t Change the Locks or Duplicate the Keys

It may not be illegal for the landlord to have a copy of the key to the rented property, but this can breach the tenant’s privacy.

All restrictions and regulations related to a tenancy must be included in the lease agreement. This also applies to the keys. Without the tenant’s express consent or a corresponding contract, the landlord cannot keep a copy of the apartment keys.

repair man fixing a door

The landlord must give the tenant all existing keys to the apartment once the tenancy starts. The landlord has no right to request a key back except when the tenancy is over. For example, even if the tenant is away for an extended period, the landlord cannot ask for the keys.

Therefore, the landlord cannot change the locks before a tenancy is terminated or otherwise granted by a judge. This applies even if the tenant is late with the rent payment or breaks other lease rules.

However, the tenant must ensure that, in justified emergencies, third parties can grant access to the property upon request. Therefore, it is advisable to leave a spare key to a neighbor, friend, or even the landlord. In some cases, it is even beneficial for tenants if the landlord has a copy of their key, for example, if the primary key disappears or is lost.

At the same time, changing the locks during a tenancy without giving notice is illegal in most cases unless there are specific circumstances outlined under their lease agreement.

This means that once a tenant has signed a residential tenancy agreement, their landlord cannot change the locks or have copies of their keys without their permission.  This applies regardless of whether tenants are on a periodic tenancy or a fixed-term lease.

3. Can’t Ask for Unannounced Rent Increases

If both the landlord and tenant agree on a graduated rent, the rent increases automatically by a specified amount after specific periods. The landlord may only request this if he has already expressly consented to the graduated rent with the tenant in the rental agreement.

Landlords can’t make rent increases monthly; they can only increase the rent once every 12 months. In addition, if a landlord increases their tenant’s rent, they must give proper notice first – the term is usually 30 days but can be longer.

The amount added to the rent must be clearly specified in the lease agreement for each planned increase. Because the lease is a legally binding contract, once signed, there are few circumstances in which the landlord can increase the rent without being agreed on the first time. These include:

  • A new tenant is entering the family.
  • Adopting a pet.
  • When the landlord significantly removes part of the property.
  • The property is in a city with rent control or rent stabilization routines that allow for such changes.

4. Cannot Cut the Services

The law in the US does not allow a landlord to cut utility service to force a tenant to leave before the lease termination. The landlord must make the rented property available during the tenancy and keep it in the contractually agreed upon condition.

This also regularly includes the provision of supply services such as electricity, water, or heating. The landlord may, therefore, not simply interrupt these services.

This applies even if the tenants do not meet their own obligations (rent or ancillary costs). Landlords who cut off these services are often seen as committing an illegal act and can face civil penalties for their actions.

Note, if all utilities are in the tenant’s name, the landlord has no control over cutting these off. Only the utility company can cut the utilities in this case, a common situation of the tenants failing to pay their bills on time. However, if the utilities are interrupted for an unknown reason, the landlord should be the one to deal with the situation if the utilities are in his name.

5. Can’t Evict Tenants Before Lease Termination

Sometimes, landlords may wish to evict their tenants because they cannot fulfill their duties under the rental agreement.

A landlord can evict a tenant for various reasons, but each must follow the correct legal channels and notify the tenant well in advance. The number of days required for proper notification varies by state, varying from almost immediately to 30 days or more.

Landlords who don't follow correct protocol while terminating the rental agreement or tenant occupancy before the lease expires can face legal issues. Landlords who suddenly lock a tenant out of the property without notice may fall within the definition of eviction.

The steps required for legal eviction are not complicated if you follow these procedures:

  • Serve a notice: The first step in evicting your tenants is to give them a written notification. This will usually be a final warning, and you need to make sure that it’s clear, mentioning any breaches of the tenancy agreement and the consequences.
  • Apply for eviction through court:   If your tenants fail to comply with this notice, you must then go to court and ask for an order of eviction that legally forces them out of your property. This can be granted if there are good reasons for doing so (breach of tenancy conditions) and submitted within six months after their last appearance in court.

Note, tenants have the right to defend themselves against applications made by their landlords. In this case, the judge may adjourn the hearing to give them time to prepare their defense. You should also remember that if your tenant is a mortgagor, you can apply for a writ of possession instead of a court order of eviction.

  • Eviction Court Order: The final step in evicting your tenant is executed by taking possession of his personal belongings and serving him with a notice confirming the date they must leave your home.

In most cases, tenants have no right to appeal against the court’s decision once they have been given one month from receiving it. If they don't leave within this time, you or somebody on your behalf will have to ask the authorities to help you evict your tenants.

6. Can’t Use the Rented Property as Storage Space

Once the tenant starts living in the rental unit and the lease agreement is signed, the landlord can no longer use that space in any circumstances.

A landlord cannot keep a portion of a tenant’s storage unit or garage to store their tools or other personal items unless specified in the lease.

Garage facilities, parking facilities, driveways, storage spaces, laundry rooms, decks, patios, or gardens on the same lot, lobbies supplied in connection with the use or occupancy of a unit may not be severed from the tenancy by the landlord.

Even if the landlord uses the space commercially and not for personal items, if the tenant did not consent nor give proper notice before doing so, the tenant can take some action in this regard.

For instance, the tenant may withhold rent until this situation is addressed and resolved. This can lead to the lease being terminated, and legal action against the landlord may be taken in either a civil court or small claims court if necessary. The type of legal action depends on what state you live in and the circumstances.

7. The Landlord Can’t Withhold the Deposit

A security deposit is meant to reimburse the landlord for property damage and other financial losses such as late rent payments. The amount is determined by state legislation and ranges widely across the country.

Related fact: There are states where no legal limit is imposed on the security deposit that a landlord can request. These include Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Tennessee, and Texas.

However, landlords are restricted in other states and can only charge one or two months of rent for a security deposit. However, many of these regulations allow for a higher security deposit to cover pets, increased liability risks, or modifications to the property.

There are some generally accepted reasons why a landlord may keep all or part of the tenant’s security deposit:

  • Necessary cleaning or repairs for which the tenant is liable – The landlord has a legal right to deduct any costs to return the rental unit to its original state at termination of tenancy, excluding the reasonable wear and tear.
  • Unpaid Rent – If rent is unpaid by the end of a lease term, the landlord may deduct that amount from the security deposit even if no damages are cited in the premises when vacated by the tenant.
  • Additional Fees – A landlord can keep money from a security deposit for additional fees such as missed bills payments.

The landlord is responsible for returning a security deposit to a tenant after the lease term has expired. Each state has its time limit for returning a tenant security deposit.

For instance, in some states, a landlord must return a security deposit within 14 business days from the end of a tenancy, while in other states, the limit is 30 days.

8. Can’t Discriminate Tenants Based on Certain Criteria

One of the most significant landlord obligations is the requirement to offer fair housing. Under the Fair Housing Act (FHA), landlords are prohibited from discriminating against tenants based on race, sex, religion, ethnicity, family status, disability, mental or emotional impairments. This means that a landlord cannot deny housing or charge a different rate based on these listed factors.

While some landlords don't like renting to tenants with children, fearing the noise and wear and tear that kids might cause, the federal Fair Housing Acts prohibit discriminating on this basis as well. A landlord may not legally turn away or evict a tenant because they have children or an applicant or tenant is pregnant.

The following are valid legal reasons to reject tenant rental applications:

  • Poor Credit Score / Low Income
  • Negative references
  • Eviction history
  • Criminal Records
  • Pets
  • Incomplete or Inaccurate Applications.

9. Can’t Refuse to Make the Necessary Repairs

Landlords must make reasonable efforts to ensure that their properties are safe and secure. Among other things, the landlord bears the so-called maintenance obligation.

The requirements of state and local building and housing codes generally require the property to be kept in good repair. Conditions that affect the physical health and safety of ordinary tenants are the highest priority. These could include roaches, rats, sewage leaks, roof leaks, faulty electrical wiring, and normal wear and tear to the unit (such as ripped carpeting or broken flooring).

Landlords must also repair damage caused by emergencies, including:

  • Fire
  • Hailstorms
  • Hurricanes
  • Flooding

The landlord can wait to make repairs in these cases until the insurance company pays the property damage claim.If the landlord refuses to fix the bad conditions, tenants may agree to withhold rent until the landlord makes repairs or take the landlord to court.

Hot Tip: Landlords should consider getting landlord insurance to protect their properties against natural disasters.

10. Can’t Refuse Disclosing Certain Conditions of the Property

By law, landlords must disclose certain information about their rental properties to prospective tenants. All renters have the legal right to know about specific conditions and the history of the property they are about to rent. Most disclosures center on issues that can affect the health and safety of occupants.

Failure to adequately disclose means the landlord is violating several federal, state, or local statutes and health codes. Depending on the impact on the tenant’s health and safety, landlords can face fines, penalties, and, in rare cases, criminal charges for failing to provide proper disclosures promptly.

Landlord disclosure must always take place before any prospective tenants sign a lease agreement. Landlord disclosure must always take place before any prospective tenants sign a lease agreement. These vary by state but usually include:

  • information on the installation and maintenance of smoke detectors
  • disclosure of the presence of hazardous materials like lead-based paint, mold, radon, or bedbugs
  • any recent flooding that occurred on the property(or if the property is within a flood zone)
  • the availability of fire protection, such as in-ceiling sprinkler systems, fire extinguishers, or fire alarms on the premises
  • other things not related to the property condition like security deposit details and tenant’s rights to receive a move-in checklist.

The Baseline

Landlords still have possession of the property they rent, but once it becomes someone else’s residence, they generally lose their rights. As a result, tenants are entitled to specific protections against discrimination, intimidation, excessive rent increases, and wrongful eviction.

The laws that govern tenant-landlord relationships can be complex, and even a small mistake might result in serious legal ramifications for landlords. It is advised that landlords learn about their local landlord-tenant legislation before signing a lease.

By following the laws and regulations, you can be the best you can be as a landlord.

This post is for informational purposes only and does not serve as legal, financial, or tax advice. Consult your own legal, financial, or tax advisor for matters mentioned here. The information on this site is general in nature. Any description of coverage is necessarily simplified. Whether a particular loss is covered depends on the specific facts and the provisions, exclusions and limits of the actual policy. Nothing on this site alters the terms or conditions of any of our policies. You should read the policy for a complete description of coverage. Coverage options, limits, discounts, deductibles and other features are subject to individuals meeting our underwriting criteria and state availability. Not all features available in all states. Discounts may not apply to all coverages. Steadily is not liable for any actions taken based on this information. If you believe any of this information may be inaccurate please contact us.

Download your free resource

Table of Contents

Get coverage in minutes

One of America's best-rated landlord insurance services. No hidden cancellation fees. Competitive rates nationwide.

Get a quote
Get Appointed

Delight your clients with one of America's best-rated landlord insurance services nationwide.

Apply Today

Video Library

View all videos

Other Resources

Get coverage in minutes

No hidden cancellation fees. Competitive rates nationwide.

    Thank you! Your submission has been received!
    Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.

    Get Appointed

    Become a Steadily appointed agent and start selling one of America's best-rated landlord insurance services.