Overview of Landlord-Tenant Laws in Alabama

Key laws every Alabama landlord and tenant needs to know.

By , Attorney · UC Berkeley School of Law

Alabama has many laws that regulate the landlord-tenant relationship, but it tends to be a landlord-friendly state. Both landlords and tenants in Alabama should be familiar not only with their state laws, but also with their city's landlord-tenant laws: Many cities have more restrictions than the state does. This article discusses state laws.

Alabama Rental Application and Tenant Screening Laws

Can Alabama landlords charge an application fee?

Yes. There is no law in Alabama that prohibits landlords from charging an application fee.

Can Alabama landlords ask about an applicant's criminal history?

It depends. A city or county law might prohibit landlords from asking about an applicant's criminal history and running a criminal background check, but there is no statewide law prohibiting landlords from doing so.

Even if the city or county where the rental is located does not prohibit landlords from considering applicants' criminal histories, landlords must be careful. When landlords consider applicants' criminal history, they must do so in a consistent, nondiscriminatory manner. If a landlord's practice of considering criminal history has a discriminatory effect—for example, if the landlord asks only applicants of a certain color for criminal history information—the landlord is engaging in illegal discrimination and can be subject to penalties. Also, landlords can reject applicants only for past convictions that are "directly-related" to the application—in other words, convictions that have a negative bearing on a legitimate business concern of the landlord.

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Alabama Security Deposit Laws

What is the maximum security deposit an Alabama landlord can charge?

Alabama landlords can charge no more than one month's rent as a security deposit. However, this deposit does not include pet deposits, deposits to cover undoing tenant's alterations, or deposits to cover tenant activities that pose increased liability risks. (Ala. Code § 35-9A-201 (2022).)

Do Alabama landlords have to pay interest on security deposits?

No. Alabama state law does not require landlords to pay interest on security deposits.

Can Alabama landlords charge nonrefundable cleaning fees? Pet fees?

Yes. Alabama does not prohibit nonrefundable cleaning fees or pet fees.

How long do Alabama landlords have to return a security deposit?

Alabama landlords must itemize and return the security deposit within 60 days after the tenancy has terminated and the landlord has regained possession of the property. (Ala. Code § 35-9A-201(b) (2022).) If the landlord doesn't return the deposit or provide an accounting of how it was applied within the 60-day period, the landlord must pay the tenant double the amount of the tenant's original deposit. (Ala. Code § 35-9A-201(f) (2022).)

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Required Landlord Disclosures in Alabama

Alabama landlords must disclose to the tenant in writing at or before the beginning of the tenancy:

  • the name and business address of the person authorized to manage the rental, and
  • the name and business address of an owner of the rental or a person authorized to act on behalf of the owner for the purpose of service of process and receiving notices and demands.
(Ala. Code § 35-9A-202 (2022).)

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Small Claims Lawsuits in Alabama

What is the limit a landlord or tenant can sue for in Alabama small claims court?

Individuals can sue in Alabama small claims court for up to $6,000.

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Alabama Late Fees and Other Rent Rules

Alabama law regulates some rent-related issues, such as how much a landlord can charge for a bounced check and the amount of time a tenant has to pay rent or move before a landlord can file for eviction.

Is there a grace period for paying rent in Alabama?

No, Alabama landlords are not required to give tenants a rent payment grace period. Rent is due on the date specified in the lease or rental agreement, and a landlord can consider it late if it is not paid on that date. However, if the lease or rental agreement gives the tenant a grace period for paying rent, the landlord must honor it, and cannot consider rent to be late until after the grace period has passed.

How long does an Alabama landlord have to wait after a tenant is late with rent before filing an eviction suit?

When a tenant is late with rent in Alabama, the landlord cannot file an eviction suit until the landlord has given the tenant a properly written and served seven-day notice to pay rent or quit (move out). If the tenant does not pay the rent owed or move out within those seven days, the landlord can file an eviction lawsuit. (Ala. Code § 35-9A-421 (2022).)

Can Alabama landlords charge tenants a fee for bounced checks?

Yes. Alabama law allows landlords to charge tenants $30 for bounced checks.

Can Alabama landlords charge tenants late rent fees?

Yes, Alabama landlords can charge tenants a fee for paying rent late. Rent is legally due on the date specified in the lease or rental agreement (usually the first of the month). If the tenant doesn't pay rent when it is due, the landlord can begin charging a late fee.

However, late fees should always be a reasonable estimate of the cost that the landlord incurs because the rent is late (for example, any interest or collection costs), and should be disclosed in the lease or rental agreement. If the lease or rental agreement doesn't say anything about late fees, the landlord may not impose one, no matter how reasonable it is.

Can Alabama landlords raise the rent?

Alabama does not have a state statute on the amount of notice the landlord must provide tenants in order to increase the rent or change other terms of a month-to-month rental agreement. Unless the rental agreement specifies otherwise, the landlord must typically provide the same amount of notice to change the rent or another term of the tenancy as state law requires the landlord to provide when ending the tenancy—in this case, 30 days. Keep in mind that with a long-term lease, the landlord cannot increase the rent until the lease ends and a new tenancy begins—unless the lease itself provides for an increase.

Alabama landlords may not raise the rent in a discriminatory manner—for example, only for members of a certain race. Also, Alabama landlords may not use a rent increase in retaliation against a tenant for exercising a legal right—for example, in response to a legitimate complaint to a local housing agency about a broken heater.

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Tenant Rights to Withhold Rent or Repair and Deduct in Alabama

Can Alabama tenants withhold rent when a landlord doesn't make repairs?

No, Alabama tenants cannot withhold payment of rent when a landlord doesn't make repairs.

Can Alabama tenants make repairs and deduct the cost (use the "repair and deduct" remedy) when a landlord doesn't make repairs?

Despite popular opinion, Alabama tenants can't withhold rent or use "repair and deduct" when landlords fail to make important repairs that are necessary to keep the rental fit and habitable. (Ala. Code § 35-9A-164 (2022).) Tenants should put their requests in writing and deliver the notice to the landlord, giving the landlord 14 days to accomplish the repair (or less, if it's an emergency). If the landlord does not make the repairs, tenants can move out without responsibility for future rent. Alternatively, tenants can remain in the rental and sue the landlord for damages, which would be the difference between the stated rent and the value of the rental in view of its uninhabitable state. Judges can also direct landlords to make repairs.

Tenants in Alabama who are evicted for failure to pay rent can raise, as a counterclaim, the landlord's failure to make needed repairs. But this does not mean that tenants can withhold rent. When tenants properly file a counterclaim in an eviction lawsuit, they must pay all rent due into the court, and the court will then hear the counterclaim. If the judge decides that the counterclaim is frivolous, the landlord might be able to obtain attorneys' fees from the tenant. (Ala. Code § 35-9A-405 (2022).)

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Alabama Termination and Eviction Rules

Alabama state laws specify when and how a landlord may terminate a tenancy. Landlords must officially terminate a tenancy before they can file an eviction lawsuit.

Failure to Pay Rent

When an Alabama tenant fails to pay rent on time, the landlord must give the tenant a seven-day notice to pay rent or quit (move out) before the landlord can file an eviction suit.

What happens next depends on how the tenant responds to the termination notice:

  • If the tenant pays the rent within the seven-day time period, the landlord cannot file an eviction lawsuit.
  • If the tenant does not pay the rent, but moves out within seven days, the landlord can use the tenant's security deposit (if any) to cover the unpaid rent after following certain steps required under Alabama law. If the security deposit does not cover all the rent due and owing (including late charges if they're provided for in the lease or rental agreement), the landlord can sue the tenant in court for the rent still owed.
  • If the tenant does not pay the full rent within the seven-day time period and does not move out, the landlord can file an eviction lawsuit with the circuit court to gain possession of the property.

Lease Violation

When an Alabama tenant violates a term of the lease—such as having a pet in violation of a no-pets policy—the landlord must give the tenant a seven-day notice to cure (fix the problem) or quit (move out). If the tenant does not fix the problem or move out within those seven days, the landlord can sue. (Ala. Code § 35-9A-421 (2022).)

Unconditional Quit Notice

Alabama landlords can give tenants a seven-day unconditional quit notice (meaning that the tenant does not have the chance to remedy the problem) when tenants:

  • intentionally misrepresent a material fact in a rental application or rental agreement
  • possess or use illegal drugs in the rental or common areas
  • illegally use, possess, or discharge a firearm on the premises
  • criminally assault a tenant or guest on the premises, or
  • substantially breach the same acts or omissions for which a notice to terminate has previously been provided for by the landlord and cured by the tenant within the past six months.

(Ala. Code § 35-9A-421 (2022).)

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Alabama Rules About Landlords' Access to Property

In all states, even in the absence of a statute, landlords can enter a rental without giving notice in order to deal with a true emergency (an imminent and serious threat to health, safety, or property); and when the tenant has abandoned the property (left for good). Alabama law also addresses when and how landlords can enter rental property in non-emergency situations.

How much notice does an Alabama landlord have to give a renter before entering the rental?

Alabama landlords must give two days' notice and can enter only at reasonable times. (Ala. Code § 35-9A-303 (2022).)

Does a landlord's entry notice need to be in writing?

Alabama law does not specify that notice must be in writing. However, Alabama law does provide that notice can be given by posing on the main door of the rental a note that states the intended time and purpose of the entry.

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Other Alabama Landlord-Tenant Laws

Several other landlord-tenant laws might affect both property owners and renters in Alabama, including:

Does Alabama have rent control?

No. Alabama does not have statewide rent control, nor does it allow cities or counties to enact their own rent control laws.

Can Alabama leases and rental agreements require tenants to pay the landlord's attorneys' fees or costs of collection?

No. Under Alabama law, a lease or rental agreement cannot require the tenant to pay the landlord's attorneys' fees or costs of collection.

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Where to Find Alabama Landlord-Tenant Statutes

If you want to read the text of a law itself, such as state security deposit rules, start by checking citations for Alabama landlord-tenant statutes. To access the statutes themselves, see the state section of the Library of Congress's legal research site. You can search the table of contents for the landlord-tenant statutes. Or, if you don't know the exact statute number, you can enter a keyword that is likely to be in it, such as "nonpayment of rent." You'll find citations for many of the specific statutes themselves in the relevant Alabama articles (see links, above) on the Nolo site.

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Local Ordinances Affecting Alabama Landlords and Tenants

Cities and counties often pass local ordinances, such as health and safety standards, noise and nuisance regulations, and anti-discrimination rules that affect landlords and tenants. Many municipalities have websites—just search for the name of a particular city in Alabama and then do a search when you're on the site.

State and Local Government on the Net and Municode (click on "Code Library" in the main menu) are good sources for finding local governments online. Also, your local public library or office of the city attorney, mayor, or city or county manager can provide information on local ordinances that affect landlords and tenants in Alabama.

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Federal Landlord-Tenant Laws and Regulations

Congress and federal agencies, such as the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), have enacted laws and regulations that apply to the landlord-tenant relationship in Alabama. These laws and regulations address topics such as discrimination and landlord responsibilities to disclose environmental health hazards, such as lead-based paint.

The U.S. Code is the starting place for most federal statutory research. It consists of 53 separate numbered titles, each covering a specific subject matter. Most federal regulations are published in the Code of Federal Regulations ("CFR"). To access the U.S. Code and Code of Federal Regulations online, see the federal section of the Library of Congress's legal research site.

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Nolo Resources on Legal Research and Landlord-Tenant Law

For more information on legal research, check out Legal Research: How to Find & Understand the Law, by Stephen Elias (Nolo). This nontechnical book gives easy-to-use, step-by-step instructions on how to find legal information.

You'll also find a wealth of information in Nolo's landlord-tenant books.

For landlords:

For tenants:

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Types of Rentals Not Covered by Alabama Residential Landlord-Tenant Law

The following types of living arrangements are not covered by Alabama's residential landlord-tenant laws:

  • occupancy under a contract of sale of a dwelling unit or the property of which it is a part, if the occupant is the purchaser or a person who succeeds to the interest of the purchaser
  • occupancy by a member of a social organization in the portion of a structure operated for the benefit of the organization
  • transient occupancy in a hotel, motel, or lodgings
  • occupancy by an employee of a landlord whose right to occupancy is conditional upon employment at the premises
  • occupancy under a rental agreement covering premises rented by the occupant primarily for agricultural purposes
  • continuation of occupancy by the seller or a member of the seller's family for a period of not more than 36 months after the sale of a dwelling unit or the property of which it is a part, and
  • rental agreements most recently entered into, extended, or renewed before January 1, 2007.

(Ala. Code § 35-9A-122 (2022).)

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