Skip to main content

What You Need to Know About Tenant Legal Responsibilities

4 min read

Legal Boulevard Square Logo

By Sheryl Walters

When it comes to a residential tenancy, landlords and renteres both have legal obligations based on their lease agreements and state laws. Landlords must make sure a property is clean and safe to live in. Tenant responsibilities include looking after the unit and respecting neighbors and common areas. Here’s what you need to know about tenant legal responsibilities.

How Are Tenant Legal Responsibilities Determined?

The landlord-tenant relationship is governed by a number of rules:

This guide highlights a tenant’s obligations under both landlord-tenant laws and an individual rental agreement.

Local and State Landlord-Tenant Laws

Each state has its own set of landlord-tenant laws, but most have adopted all or parts of the Uniform Residential Landlord and Tenant Act. This standardized act was drafted in 1972 by the Uniform Law Commission, which creates uniform laws for each state to consider enacting.

In addition to state laws, tenants must follow local laws. While you should consult applicable state, county and municipal legislation, here are some of the common tenant legal responsibilities you’re likely to encounter.


1. Ensure the Rental Application Is Accurate

The landlord-tenant relationship begins with the rental application. Because the landlord uses this to evaluate the suitability of a tenant, it’s important that all information provided is accurate and that there’s no misrepresentation.

Tip: Here is a sample rental application form.


2. Keep Plumbing Fixtures Clear

Drains, toilets and sinks should be kept clear to avoid causing damage to pipes or possible clogs and flooding. Avoid flushing paper towels, wipes and personal hygiene items, and make sure items such as grease, wax, eggshells and coffee grounds aren’t washed down the drain.

3. Use Amenities With Care

Appliances should always be used responsibly and only for their intended use. Renters should avoid careless or negligent use of electrical, heating, plumbing and air conditioning systems — for example, using a frayed cord or overloading an electrical circuit.

4. Keep Premises Safe and Clean

Tenants must keep their rental property clean to prevent unsanitary conditions that can lead to mold, rust and pest infestations. Garbage and debris should be properly disposed of.

Tenants must also take precautions and avoid endangering their safety and that of others. This includes ensuring smoke and carbon monoxide detectors work, following fire safety and building codes, ensuring there’s no illegal or unauthorized activity on the premises and not storing hazardous materials in the unit.

Nathan Van Egmond/Unsplash

5. Avoid Damaging Property

While normal wear and tear is acceptable, tenants should not deliberately or carelessly damage or deface their unit. Fixtures and safety equipment should not be removed or tampered with.

Common areas such as hallways, elevators, laundry facilities, pools and parking areas should always be used respectfully and in consideration of others. Renters are also responsible for the behavior of family and other guests.

Damage done by the tenant or guests should be promptly repaired by the tenant or fixed by the landlord and billed to the tenant.

6. Don’t Make Changes to the Dwelling Without Approval

Putting up wallpaper or changing cupboard doors might improve the appearance of a unit, but renters must ask the landlord for approval before making any physical alterations to the premises. Changes that affect the landlord’s access, such as installing new door locks because of lost keys, must also be approved.

7. Be a Respectful Neighbor

Late-night parties, excessive second-hand smoke and aggressive behavior can disturb the rights of neighbors to enjoy their home. Tenants must act respectfully and ensure their activities aren’t disruptive to other residents.

8. Advise the Landlord Promptly of Issues

The landlord should be notified of any problems promptly so they can make repairs in a timely manner and avoid further damage. This includes signs of mold, moisture and leaks.

Tip: Keep a copy of any notifications you give to your landlord, including the date and time you send them. This will be important evidence if you bring a case against your landlord for not fulfilling their legal duties to you as a tenant.


9. Leave the Residence in the Same Condition as Move-In

A tenant is also legally obligated to leave the property in the same condition as when they moved in, except for normal wear and tear and circumstances beyond the tenant’s control. Wear and tear refers to any deterioration because of age or normal use, such as worn carpeting.

The unit should be left clean and all fixtures and appliances belonging to the landlord must be left in place.

Naomi Hébert/Unsplash

Conditions of Rental Agreement

While renters must abide by local and state laws, tenant legal responsibilities also extend to conditions outlined in a lease or rental agreement. This includes following rules for:

Any clauses that are illegal based on state or local law aren’t binding, such as penalties on late rent or asking tenants to pay for repairs that are the responsibility of the landlord.

Erda Estremera/Unsplash

Providing Landlord Access to the Rental Unit

Tenants are legally obligated to provide access to landlords in case of emergency. For non-emergencies, the landlord must give reasonable notice if they need to make repairs or to show the apartment to a prospective tenant or purchaser.

Giving Notice of Move-Out

When a renter plans to move out, they’re obligated to provide written notice to a landlord. The rental agreement should specify the minimum time required. The notice should include the address of the unit and the day that the tenant is moving out. It should also confirm that the required advanced notice has been provided, as indicated in this sample notice to vacate letter.

Tenants should include a forwarding address and phone number so that the landlord can return the security deposit and contact the tenant if needed.

Legal Boulevard Square Logo



How to Prepare for the Immigration Process Immigration

How to Prepare for the Immigration Process

The immigration process can be difficult to navigate. Learn what steps to take when preparing for your personal interview, naturalization test and medical exam. For many applicants, the immigration process is overwhelming and difficult to navigate. By taking the following steps to prepare, you can improve your chances of successfully achieving U.S. citizenship…

Read More about How to Prepare for the Immigration Process

5 min read

How to Determine If You Are Eligible for a Green Card Immigration

How to Determine If You Are Eligible for a Green Card

Determining eligibility for a green card can be complex. Discover eligible categories and which one might be the best fit for individuals or their families. For many people, obtaining a green card is an important milestone. It could be their first step on the road to working in the United States, joining a spouse or […]

Read More about How to Determine If You Are Eligible for a Green Card

5 min read

Class Action Lawsuits FAQ General

Class Action Lawsuits FAQ

Class action lawsuits let individuals join together to fight back against harm caused by corporations. Discover how class action lawsuits may pertain to you. Every day, deceptive business practices and outright on the part of corporations and other institutions cause physical and financial harm to individuals. Class action lawsuits give consumers the ability to fight back. Learn more […]

Read More about Class Action Lawsuits FAQ

5 min read

U.S. Immigration: How to Apply and What to Expect Immigration

U.S. Immigration: How to Apply and What to Expect

Explore the application process for U.S immigration. Learn about visa categories, eligibility requirements and information on visa approvals during COVID-19. Every year the U.S. Department of State issues immigration visas to family members, skilled workers and diversity immigrants. In 2019, the U.S. issued more than 450,000 immigrant visas to applicants across seven categories. There are different immigrant visas in […]

Read More about U.S. Immigration: How to Apply and What to Expect

4 min read