The relationship between a landlord and tenant is a contractual one, regardless of whether the two actually sign a written lease. This means that both the landlord and tenant have rights and responsibilities under their contract, as well as under certain state and federal laws. The laws governing those rights can vary greatly depending on what city you live in, as well as other circumstances such as the type of dwelling. For instance, state and federal law have specific rules governing mobile home leases, and leases for federally subsidized (Section 8) housing. That said, all leases for the use of living space have certain implied guarantees for both the landlord and tenant. Among these are:

If you are a landlord, you must:

  • Not discriminate in the rental of property based on race, color, creed, ancestry, or sex.
  • Ensure that the property is clean and habitable at the time the tenant moves in.
  • Make all necessary repairs to the property at their expense.
  • Make sure the property meets all applicable fire, health, and building codes.
  • Give reasonable notice to the tenant before entering the property.

If you are a tenant, you must:

  • Pay the rent and all utility bills on time.
  • Keep the property clean, and pay for major damage that is not normal wear and tear.
  • Not make major alterations to the property without the landlord's approval.
  • Give advanced notice to the landlord if you intend to not renew your lease.

Landlord and tenant law provides default rules for the length of leases and the notice required to end them. Unless the parties specifically agree otherwise, a tenancy for a term of years will end automatically one year after it begins, and no notice is required to terminate it. Similarly, a tenancy at will exists and continues as long as both parties want it to, and also requires no notice to terminate. A periodic tenancy, on the other hand, technically lasts for only the specified time (month to month, year to year, etc.), but automatically renews at the end of each period, provided neither the landlord or tenant expressly terminate it. In order to terminate a periodic lease, a landlord or tenant must give written notice by the last day of the month (or year, if it is a year to year lease), one period ahead of time.

Security deposit:

Often landlords will require tenants to pay a security deposit at the beginning of the term to insure against any potential damage to the property or unpaid rent. Technically there is no limit on the amount a landlord may charge for this deposit, though it is typically around 1 month's rent. If the landlord has to use any of the security deposit to pay for repairs or cover unpaid rent, he must account for these expenses with an itemized list and paid receipts within 30 days. If the tenant cleaned the apartment before moving out, does not owe any back rent and did not cause any damage to the unit, the landlord must return the full amount of the security deposit within 45 days. In addition, if the apartment is in a building with 25 or more units, the landlord must pay interest on the security deposit every 12 months from the time it was collected.