Every tenant is covered by state, local, and federal law. In some areas, like antidiscrimination standards, laws overlap. When they do, the stricter laws will apply. In practical terms, this usually means that the laws that give tenants the most protection (rights and remedies) will prevail over less-protective laws.
You can get the text of every federal and state statute (except Louisiana) free, online. Rules put out by federal and state regulatory agencies are often available, too, and the Internet’s legal resources grow every day. We list the websites where you can get your hands on legal information below.
State Landlord-Tenant Laws
As a tenant, you’ll be primarily concerned with state law. State statutes cover many aspects of the landlord-tenant relationship, including deposits, privacy, discrimination, housing standards, rent rules, repair and maintenance rights and responsibilities, and eviction procedures. See the State Landlord-Tenant Statutes chart for citations for the major state landlord-tenant laws.
You can easily find state statutes online by going to Nolo’s Legal Research Center. Under "State Law Resources," choose your state, click the link to the code or statutes, and then follow the directions on the resulting official state page.
You can find detailed information about specific state laws in the state landlord-tenant charts included here. These 50-state charts give you two kinds of information:
- citations for key statutes and cases, which you can use if you want to read the law yourself or look for more information, and
- the state rules themselves, such as notice periods and deposit limits—in other words, what the statutes and cases say.
When you’re looking for information for your state, simply find your state along the left-hand list on the chart, and read to the right—you’ll see the statute or case, and the rule.
Don’t forget to check your state consumer protection agency—many provide useful publications explaining state laws that affect tenants.
Local Landlord-Tenant Rules
Local ordinances, such as rent control rules and health and safety standards, also affect tenants.
Many municipalities have local ordinances online. Go to State and Local Government on the Net and search for the name of a particular city. Sometimes this presence is nothing more than a not-so-slick public relations page, but often it includes a large body of information, including local ordinances available for searching and downloading.
Finally, your local public library or office of the city attorney, mayor, or city manager can provide information on local ordinances that affect tenants.
If your rental unit is rent-regulated, be sure to get a copy of the ordinance, as well as all rules issued by the rent board covering rent increases and hearings.
Federal Landlord-Tenant Statutes and Regulations
Congress has enacted laws, and federal agencies such as the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) have adopted regulations covering discrimination and other issues affecting tenants, such as disclosure of environmental health hazards. The U.S. Code is the starting place for most federal statutory research. To access the U.S. Code online, see the Cornell Legal Information Institute.
How to Research Landlord-Tenant Law
Nolo’s Legal Research Center provides an overview of legal research. It includes articles on legal research, links to state and federal laws, advice on finding local ordinances an court cases and more. If you want to go further, we recommend Legal Research: How to Find & Understand the Law, by Stephen Elias and the Editors of Nolo. This nontechnical book gives easy-to-use step-by-step instructions on how to find legal information.