landlord-tenant law

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Landlord-tenant law refers to the body of law regulating the rental of commercial and residential property. It controls, among other aspects of a lease:

Landlord tenant law consists of state statutes, local laws, and common law. A number of states have based their statutory law on either the Uniform Residential Landlord and Tenant Act (URLTA) or the Model Residential Landlord-Tenant Code. Further, federal statutory law may be relevant during times of national/regional emergencies and in preventing discrimination.

A large portion of the landlord-tenant law is housing codes. Housing codes were established to ensure that residential rental units were habitable at the time of rental and during the tenancy. Most states have an Implied Warranty of Habitability. This requires a landlord to substantially comply with building & housing code standards and make repairs as to the property as necessary. 

When the warranty of habitability is breached, courts will typically allow for one of the following remedies: 

  • The tenant may be able to withhold rent until the landlord repairs the property
  • The tenant may be able to withhold rent and can use the money to pay for repairs themselves
  • The tenant may be able to sue for damages

A landlord, however, may not evict a tenant in retaliation for the tenant reporting housing violations or other problems with the condition of the property. This is typically referred to as the doctrine of retaliatory eviction. 


Landlord tenant law also regulates evictions. Eviction refers to a landlord barring a tenant from using the property, usually due to the tenant materially violating the lease and/or not paying the agreed-upon rent. In limited states, the landlord may physically remove the tenant themselves using reasonable force, known as a “self-help eviction”. In most states, the court requires the landlord to sue to evict the tenant and have a law enforcement officer enforce the judgment.

Constructive eviction is when a tenant leaves the leased property due to the landlord’s conduct that materially interferes with the tenant’s agreed-upon purpose and prevents the property from being in tenantable condition.

Constructive eviction is triggered by the landlord’s wrongful conduct. Wrongful conduct may be satisfied by a wrongful omission when the landlord:

  • Fails to perform an obligation in the lease
  • Fails to adequately maintain and control the common area
  • Breaches a statutory duty owed to the tenant
  • Fails to perform promised repairs
  • Allows nuisance-like behavior

In addition, the tenant must also leave the property within a reasonable time frame. Otherwise, the tenant waives the right to a constructive eviction claim. 


Federal law prohibits discrimination in housing and the rental market. See Civil Rights Act of 1866 & 42 U.S. Code, Chapter 45, Federal Fair Housing Act.

Neithamer v Brenneman Property Services Inc (1999) is an example of a case regarding a landlord discriminating against a potential tenant. The court in that case created a test (shown below) for when a landlord engages in discrimination of a potential tenant.

If the plaintiff (potential tenant) offers no direct evidence of discrimination, then the plaintiff must prove the prima facie case, which has 4 components. The burden of proof is on the plaintiff to prove all four components; if they do, then the court will find that the landlord acted in violation of the Fair Housing Act via an inference of unlawful discrimination:

  1. The plaintiff is a member of a protected class and the landlord knew this or suspected this to be true
  2. The plaintiff applied for and was qualified to rent the property in question
  3. The defendant rejected the plaintiff's application
  4. The property remained available and unrented thereafter

Anti-discrimination provisions of the Fair Housing Act do not apply to the selection of roommates. Further, it does not apply when the individual is the landlord of a single-family dwelling or when the individual is the landlord of an owner-occupied dwelling with 4 or fewer units.

[Last updated in July of 2023 by the Wex Definitions Team

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