Landlord-tenant disputes involve a range of issues, including rent increases, repairs, use of the property, and return of security deposits. State laws on landlord-tenant relationships vary, so know the law in your state before signing a lease or rental agreement. If you have a disagreement with your landlord, you may be able to use mediation to resolve the problem, or you may take your landlord to small-claims court.

Tenant rights

As a renter, you have basic rights. Your landlord must keep your unit in livable condition and free of hazards. However, if a problem arises as a result of your use of the property, the landlord may bill you for the cost of repairing or resolving the issue. If you refuse to pay, the amount may be deducted from your security deposit.

Your landlord may only enter your rental unit to show it to prospective renters or buyers, to make needed repairs, or if there is an emergency. In some states, landlords may enter if you are gone for a week or more to maintain or inspect the property. In most states, a landlord must give at least 24 hours' notice before entering your rental if it's not an emergency.

If you have a dispute

If you have a dispute with your landlord and can't resolve it on your own, the first step is to try mediation. A mediator is a neutral third party who tries to get both sides to find a mutually acceptable solution to the problem. You may be able to get a referral to free or low-cost mediation services through your local city manager's office.

If mediation doesn't solve the problem and your case involves money, you can sue your landlord in small claims court. Fees are fairly low and you should be able to represent yourself, so if your dispute involves a modest sum such as a security deposit, small claims court may be a good option.

If you get an eviction notice

To evict you, your landlord must give you advance written notice that follows your state's laws. You cannot be evicted unless you have done something to break your rental agreement. If you do not move out, pay rent owed, or otherwise correct the issue that caused the landlord to seek eviction, the landlord may use a court's help to evict you. If you feel you are being wrongly evicted, you may want to get legal advice.

Preventing landlord-tenant disputes

To avoid landlord-tenant problems, read your lease or rental agreement carefully before you sign, and make sure you understand the terms of the contract. If there is a problem, discuss it promptly with your landlord. Make any requests for repairs or lease changes in writing, and keep copies of your letters.

Additional resources:

Cornell University Law School: Landlord-Tenant Law

Universal Landlord and Tenant Act