Landlord-tenant laws have evolved over the past century to make it crystal-clear what your landlord is and isn't required to do. You can pretty much always assume that once you sign a lease you have the right to get the keys, be left alone in your apartment rental, and benefit from basic services like heat or hot water. Below, we break down all the thing landlords can (and can't) be expected to do while you're living in their rental unit.
Your landlord can't discriminate against you
The federal Fair Housing Act prevents landlords from treating a tenant differently based on their gender, race, sex, familial status, or disability. (This includes sexual harassment by a landlord or any of their employees.) Landlords are also required to consider reasonable requests to change their policies if it would allow a tenant with disabilities to use their apartment in the same way as their neighbors.
Your landlord must give you access to your rental
If you sign a lease on July 1st and the first day of the lease is August 1st, then the landlord is obligated, according to the Uniform Residential Landlord Tenant Act, to make sure you get access to the rental unit on that date. If any problems come up that prevent you from getting the keys and moving in, your landlord is required to deal with them.
The idea behind this is that a landlord has more resources to handle unforeseen circumstances than you, as the tenant. For example if you can't get access to the space because the previous tenant refuses to leave, your landlord has the resources to evict this person as fast as possible. If the locks are broken (or anything else is wrong with the unit) then it's your landlord's responsibility to fix this by the first day of the lease.
Your landlord must follow entry laws
Your landlord isn't allowed to enter your unit whenever they feel like it. They can only enter without your permission or using force if there's an emergency that warrants quick action and presents "imminent peril"—that is, serious and immediate danger. This concept would help a judge to decide if your landlord was in the right or in the wrong if they entered your apartment without asking.
Your landlord is also prevented by law from doing other things that might interferes with your ability to use your rental. If they, for example, let a movie crew into your apartment to shoot a scene while you're at work, then they are breaching the covenant of quiet enjoyment. You can pretty much assume that if they're entering your apartment without notice, letting other people use it without your permission, starting construction nearby that clearly affects you or preventing you from entering your own place then they're definitely in the wrong.
Your landlord must maintain your unit so it's livable
Your landlord is legally required to make sure your rental unit is always providing you with basic shelter. This includes maintaining the systems for heat, hot water and electricity, making sure the doors and windows lock and keep out any pests, among other things—all of which are described in a law called the warranty of habitability.
If you have a specific issue in your apartment that you think your landlord should be addressing, read about a landlord's responsibility for repairs and how to get them to fix things quickly.
Your landlord must follow state laws about storing and returning security deposits
Each state has specific rules for security deposits, but generally you should expect your landlord to request a reasonable amount as a deposit, hold it in a bank account that's separate from their own, and return it to you in a timely manner (assuming you're paid up on rent and didn't cause any damages).
Your landlord can't retaliate if you exercise your rights as a tenant
Retaliation against a tenant who tries to exercise any of their rights is strictly illegal. For instance, if your landlord tries to make you leave because you asked them to fix something, it would be considered retaliation and you would be able to sue them for damages.
Landlords are also required to offer leases that don't contradict or hide their tenant's rights. It's pretty common for landlords to put illegal clauses into their lease agreements that waive any of the responsibilities mentioned here.
The information provided on this website does not, and is not intended to, constitute legal advice.