Overview of Landlord-Tenant Laws in Kentucky

A breakdown of important laws every Kentucky landlord and tenant needs to know.

By , Attorney · UC Berkeley School of Law

Kentucky laws govern much of the landlord-tenant relationship, including security deposits, late rent, and evictions. Here's a breakdown of key laws that affect nearly all Kentucky landlords and tenants.

Kentucky Rental Application and Tenant Screening Laws

Kentucky law regulates very little of the tenant application and screening process.

Application Fees

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

Tenant Screening Reports

A tenant screening report is a credit report, criminal background report, employment history report, or rental history report that a landlord uses to determine whether an applicant would be an acceptable tenant. Kentucky landlords are free to charge reasonable amounts for tenant screening reports.

Criminal History Screening

Kentucky does not have a state law prohibiting landlords from considering applicants' criminal histories. However, landlords must still 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.

Fair Housing Laws

All landlords need to follow federal and state antidiscrimination laws when screening applicants for a rental. Federal fair housing laws prohibit landlords from discriminating on the basis of:

  • race or color
  • religion
  • national origin
  • familial status or age (includes families with children under the age of 18 and pregnant women)
  • disability or handicap, and
  • sex (includes gender identity and sexual orientation).

Kentucky's fair housing law mirrors the categories protected under the federal fair housing laws. (Ky. Rev. Stat. § 344.360 (2024).)

For more information about Kentucky's fair housing laws, check out the fair housing brochures on the Kentucky Commission on Human Rights' website.

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Kentucky Security Deposit Laws

Kentucky doesn't set a cap on how much landlords can charge for a security deposit. It does regulate what a landlord must do when accepting a security deposit and how the landlord must hold the security deposit.

What Landlords Must Do Before Accepting a Security Deposit

Before the tenant gives the landlord a security deposit, the landlord must provide the tenant with a list of any then-existing damage to the rental which could be the basis for a charge of keeping some or all of the security deposit. The list must include the estimated cost of repairing the damage. The tenant has the right to inspect the rental before moving in to make sure that the list is accurate. Both landlord and tenant should sign the list. If the tenant disagrees with any items, they must sign a statement noting the disagreement. (Ky. Rev. Stat. § 383.580(2) (2024).)

How Landlords Must Hold Security Deposits

Landlords must deposit security deposits in an account used only for security deposits in a bank or other lending institution regulated by Kentucky or the U.S. government. Landlords must inform tenants of the location of the account as well as the account number. (Ky. Rev. Stat. § 383.580(1) (2024).)

Security Deposit Return

At the end of the tenancy, the landlord must inspect the rental and make a list of any damages and the estimated costs of repairing damages. The tenant has the right to then inspect and review the accuracy of the landlord's list. The tenant must object to items in writing, and both landlord and tenant should sign the list. (Ky. Rev. Stat. § 383.580(3) (2024).)

If the tenant disputes charges, they can sue the landlord in district court. The tenant can sue over only the items that they objected to on the list, and only if they signed the list and objections. (Ky. Rev. Stat. § 383.580(5) (2024).)

Landlords who don't follow the security deposit rules lose their right to retain any portion of the security deposit. (Ky. Rev. Stat. § 383.580(4) (2024).)

If a tenant leaves owing the last month's rent and doesn't demand a return of the deposit, the landlord can, after 30 days, remove the deposit from the account and apply any excess to the unpaid rent. (Ky. Rev. Stat. § 383.580(6) (2024).)

If a tenant leaves and doesn't owe rent and hasn't caused damage, the landlord must notify the tenant of the amount of refund due. The notice must be sent to the tenant's last known address. If the landlord doesn't receive a response within 60 days of the notice, the landlord can keep the entire security deposit. (Ky. Rev. Stat. § 383.580(7) (2024).)

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Required Landlord Disclosures in Kentucky

In many states, landlords must disclose specific information to tenants and potential tenants. Kentucky landlords must disclose information about:

  • Owner or agent identity: The landlord must disclose to the tenant in writing at or before the commencement of the tenancy the name and address of the person authorized to manage the rental, and an owner of the rental or a person authorized to act for or on behalf of the owner for the purpose of service of process and for receiving notices and demands. (Ky. Rev. Stat. § 383.585 (2024).)
  • Methamphetamine contamination: An owner who rents a property where the local health department has posted a methamphetamine contamination notice must disclose in writing to potential tenants that the property is contaminated and has not been decontaminated pursuant to the state's requirements. The disclosure must contain the physical address of the property, the location within the posted property that was used in the production of methamphetamine, and a copy of the Notice of Methamphetamine Contamination. If a prospective tenant asks, the owner must provide a copy of any documents related to the methamphetamine contamination provided to the owner by law enforcement, the Energy and Environment Cabinet, the Department for Public Health, or the local health department. (Ky. Rev. Stat. § 224.1-410; 902 Ky. Admin. Regs. 47:200.)

In addition, landlords in all states must follow federal lead-based paint disclosure rules.

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Kentucky Late Fees and Other Rent Rules

In Kentucky, rent is due on whatever day the landlord and tenant agree to. (Ky. Rev. Stat. § 383.565 (2024).)

Grace Periods and Late Fees

Kentucky does not require landlords to give tenants a grace period for paying rent. However, a landlord and tenant can agree in the lease or rental agreement that there will be a grace period.

Kentucky landlords can charge late fees, and there is no cap on how much they can charge. Most judges won't enforce unreasonable late fees, though. In general, a late fee will be considered reasonable as long as it doesn't exceed 4%-5% of the rent and has an upper limit.

Rent Increases

Kentucky landlords can't raise the rent during the term of a lease unless the lease specifically allows them to do so.

For month-to-month tenancies, Kentucky law doesn't specify an amount of notice landlords must give to raise the rent. A reasonable amount of notice would likely be the same length of time that the agreement is for: 30 days.

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Kentucky Landlords Must Provide Habitable Rentals

Like landlords in all states, Kentucky landlords must provide rentals that are safe and fit for human habitation. Specifically, Kentucky landlords must:

  • follow applicable building and housing codes
  • make all repairs and do whatever is necessary to put and keep the rental in a fit and habitable condition
  • keep all common areas of the rental in a clean and safe condition
  • maintain in good and safe working condition all electrical, plumbing, sanitary, heating, ventilating, air conditioning, and other facilities, elevators, and appliances, and
  • supply running water and reasonable amounts of hot water and heat except as required by law.

In some situations, landlords and tenants can agree to have a tenant perform specified repairs, maintenance tasks, alterations, and remodeling, but the agreement generally must be entered into good faith and not for the purpose of evading the obligations of the landlord. (Ky. Rev. Stat. § 383.595 (2024).)

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Tenant Rights to Withhold Rent in Kentucky

Kentucky tenants can withhold rent in very specific circumstances. Tenants should review the applicable statutes and procedures carefully before withholding rent—failure to follow the rules could result in an eviction.

Minor Noncompliance by Landlord

When a landlord fails to comply with the rental agreement or live up to their legal duties, and the noncompliance materially affects health and safety and can be fixed for less than $100 or half the monthly rent, the tenant can notify the landlord of their intent to fix the condition at the landlord's expense.

If the landlord doesn't respond or fix the problem within 14 days of the notice, the tenant can have the work done, deduct the cost from rent, and provide the landlord with an itemized statement for the work done. (Ky. Rev. Stat. § 383.635 (2024).) This remedy is often referred to as "repair and deduct."

Major Noncompliance That Affects Health and Safety

If the landlord willfully fails to supply heat, running water, hot water, electric, gas, or other essential service, the tenant can give the landlord written notice of the breach and may:

  • procure reasonable amounts of heat, hot water, running water, electric, gas, and the essential service during the period of the landlord's noncompliance and deduct the actual cost from the rent
  • recover damages based on the diminution in the fair rental value of the unit, or
  • procure reasonable substitute housing during the period of the landlord's noncompliance (and not have to pay rent).

The tenant may also recover any attorneys' fees they incur. If the tenant chooses one of the remedies listed above, they may not use the repair-and-deduct method noted above or the termination option noted below. (Ky. Rev. Stat. § 383.640 (2024).)

In situations where the landlord materially fails to comply with the lease or rental agreement or fails to live up to their duties in a manner that affects health and safety, the tenant might also have the choice to terminate the tenancy. The tenant must provide the landlord with written notice of the noncompliance, and the notice must state that the tenancy will end 30 days after the notice if the breach isn't remedied in 14 days. If the landlord fixes the problem within the 14 days, the tenancy won't terminate. (Ky. Rev. Stat. § 383.625 (2024).)

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Small Claims Lawsuits in Kentucky

If you find yourself in a battle over a security deposit or repairs, small claims court is a good place to bring your grievance. Small claims courts in Kentucky can hear cases in which the plaintiff—the person suing—isn't asking for more than $2,500. Kentucky small claims courts can also hear eviction cases.

Small claims court procedures tend to be simpler than those of regular courts, and although Kentucky allows parties to have lawyers, many people represent themselves.

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Kentucky Termination and Eviction Rules

Kentucky landlords must follow very specific rules and procedures in order to terminate a tenancy and then, if necessary, file an eviction lawsuit (also called a "forceable detainer" action in Kentucky).

Notice of Termination for Cause

A landlord who wants to evict a tenant in Kentucky before the lease or rental agreement has expired must have cause—in other words, a legally valid reason to terminate the tenancy. Common reasons for terminating a tenancy in Kentucky include failure to pay rent or violating the lease or rental agreement.

When a landlord wants a tenant to leave for cause, the landlord must first terminate the tenancy. This is done by giving the tenant notice—the type of notice depends on the situation.

  • Seven-day notice to pay rent: When a tenant fails to pay rent, the landlord can give the tenant a seven-day notice informing the tenant that if rent isn't paid within the seven days that the landlord will terminate the tenancy. If the tenant doesn't pay, the landlord can file an eviction lawsuit against the tenant. (Ky. Rev. Stat. § 383.660(2) (2024).)
  • 14-day notice to cure: When a tenant violates the lease or rental agreement, the landlord can give the tenant a notice stating the nature of the violation and that, if the tenant doesn't remedy (cure) the problem, the tenancy will terminate 14 days after receipt of the notice. If the tenant doesn't fix the problem, the landlord can file an eviction lawsuit. (Ky. Rev. Stat. § 383.660(1) (2024).)
  • 14-day unconditional quit notice: When a landlord has already given the tenant a 14-day notice to cure within the past 6 months and the tenant commits the same violation, the landlord can give the tenant a 14-day unconditional quit notice. The notice must inform the tenant that because the tenant committed the same violation within a six-month period the tenancy will be terminated at the end of 14 days. The landlord doesn't have to give the tenant the opportunity to fix the violation. If the tenant doesn't move out by the deadline, the landlord can file an eviction lawsuit. (Ky. Rev. Stat. § 383.660(1) (2024).)

Notice of Termination Without Cause

The process for ending a tenancy without cause depends on the type of tenancy. Here's what needs to happen for month-to-month tenancies, tenancies with a long-term lease, and tenancies without a written lease or rental agreement.

Ending a Month-to-Month Tenancy Without Cause

If the tenant has a written month-to-month rental agreement, and the landlord wants the tenant to move out but doesn't have cause to end the tenancy, the landlord must give one the tenant a 30-day notice to vacate. The notice must inform the tenant that the tenancy is ending in 30 days and that the tenant must move out by this date. If the tenant doesn't move out by the deadline in the notice, the landlord can file an eviction lawsuit. (Ky. Rev. Stat. § 383.695 (2024).)

Ending a Tenancy With a Long-Term Lease Without Cause

When a landlord wishes to end a fixed-term lease but doesn't have cause to evict the tenant, the landlord has to wait until the lease has expired before expecting the tenant to move. The landlord isn't required to give the tenant notice of the approaching end of the tenancy unless the terms of the lease require it.

Tenant Defenses to Eviction

Even though a landlord might have a valid reason to evict a tenant, the tenant can still choose to fight the eviction. For example, the tenant could claim that the eviction is the result of the landlord illegally discriminating, or is in retaliation for the tenant exercising a legal right.

Kentucky law also allows special protections for tenants who have experienced family violence or sexual assault. Some of these protections might provide a tenant with a defense against eviction. (Ky. Rev. Stat. §§ 383.300, 383.302 (2024).)

A tenant's decision to fight the eviction could increase the costs of the eviction, and it could result in the tenant having more time to remain in the rental. For these reasons, it's often in the best interests of both the tenant and the landlord to try to negotiate a compromise rather than head to court. Mediation is a common way for landlords and tenants to work issues out—check to see if your community has a low-cost or free housing mediation program.

Illegal Evictions

Under Kentucky law, landlords can't take self-help measures to evict a tenant. For example, a landlord can't exclude the tenant from the rental or willfully cut services such as heat, running water, hot water, electric, gas, or other essentials. If a landlord is found to have illegally evicted a tenant, the tenant has the right to move back into the rental or terminate the tenancy. The tenant is also entitled to an amount not more than three months' rent and reasonable attorneys' fees. (Ky. Rev. Stat. § 383.655 (2024).)

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Kentucky Rules About Landlords' Access to Property

Landlords can always enter a rental with the tenant's consent or when there's a reasonable belief that there's imminent danger to lives or property. Otherwise, under Kentucky law, tenants are required to give their landlord reasonable access to the rental so the landlord can inspect, make necessary repairs, and show the unit to possible buyers or renters.

Except in cases of emergency or when it's not practical to do so, landlords must give tenants at least two days' notice of the intent to enter and can enter only at reasonable times. (Ky. Rev. Stat. § 383.615 (2024).)

Also, Kentucky landlords have the right to enter a rental if necessary when the tenant is gone for longer than seven days. (Ky. Rev. Stat. § 383.670 (2024).)

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Where to Find Kentucky Landlord-Tenant Laws

If you want to read the text of a law itself, see the Kentucky General Assembly's website.

Local Ordinances Affecting Kentucky Landlords and Tenants

Cities and counties often pass local ordinances, such as rent control rules, 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 Kentucky and then do a search when you're on the site.

Municode is a good source 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 Kentucky.

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 Kentucky. 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.

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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