Landlord-Tenant Laws in North Carolina

Key laws every North Carolina landlord and tenant needs to know.

By , Attorney · UC Berkeley School of Law

Navigating North Carolina landlord-tenant law can seem daunting, but in reality, a basic understanding of the state's laws is enough to help both landlords and tenants solve most issues they face—without assistance from a lawyer. Here's a breakdown of the rules every North Carolina landlord and tenant should know.

North Carolina Rental Application and Screening Laws

Can North Carolina landlords charge an application fee?

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

Can North Carolina 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 on the topic.

Even if the city or county where the rental is located doesn't 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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North Carolina Security Deposit Laws

What is the maximum security deposit a North Carolina landlord can charge?

The maximum amount of security deposit allowed in North Carolina depends on the type of tenancy.

  • For month-to-month rental agreements, landlords can charge one and one-half months' rent.
  • For tenancies with terms longer than two months, landlords can charge two months' rent.

(N.C. Gen. Stat. § 42-51 (2023).)

Do North Carolina landlords have to pay interest on security deposits?

There is no state law requiring North Carolina landlords to pay interest on security deposits. It's possible that a city or county law could require the payment of interest, though.

Can North Carolina landlords charge nonrefundable cleaning fees? Pet fees?

North Carolina landlords can charge a reasonable, nonrefundable pet deposit. (N.C. Gen. Stat. § 42-51 (2023).)

There is no state law prohibiting landlords from charging nonrefundable cleaning fees.

How long do North Carolina landlords have to return a security deposit?

Under North Carolina law, a landlord must return the tenant's security deposit within 30 days after the tenant moves out. If there is damage to the rental, the landlord must itemize the cost of repairs and how much money is being withheld from the security deposit. If the landlord can't ascertain the extent of the damage within 30 days, the landlord must provide an interim accounting no later than 30 days after the termination, and then provide a final accounting within 60 days of the termination. (N.C. Gen. Stat. § 42-52 (2023).)

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Required Landlord Disclosures in North Carolina

Under state law, North Carolina landlords must disclose information about the following to tenants:

  • Eviction fees. If landlords wish to collect fees relating to eviction, they must specify this in the written lease. Landlords must also disclose the fees they'll charge for to file a complaint, appear in court, and participate in a second trial.
  • Attorneys' fees. If a landlord wants to collect attorneys' fees in the event of a lawsuit, they must disclose their right to collect reasonable attorneys' fees (which can't exceed 15% of the amount owed by the tenant, or 15% of the monthly rent stated in the lease if the eviction is based on a default other than the nonpayment of rent).

(N.C. Gen. Stat. § 42-46 (2023).)

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Small Claims Lawsuits in North Carolina

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

Both landlords and tenants can sue for up to $10,000 in North Carolina small claims courts. North Carolina small claims courts can be used for both eviction lawsuits (summary ejectments) and lawsuits for money damages.

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North Carolina Late Fees and Other Rules

Can North Carolina landlords charge tenants late fees?

Yes. North Carolina landlords can charge late rent fees that aren't more than $15 or 5% of the rental payment, whichever is greater.

The landlord can't impose the late fee until the rent is at least 5 days late. A late fee may be imposed only one time for each late rental payment. A late fee for a specific late rental payment may not be deducted from a subsequent rental payment so as to cause the subsequent rental payment to be in default. (N.C. Gen. Stat. § 42-46 (2023).)

Can North Carolina landlords raise the rent?

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

There's no North Carolina law stating specifically how much notice a landlord must give to increase rent when a tenant is renting month-to-month. The general rule is that landlords should give month-to-month tenants 30 days' notice to change the amount of rent due.

Renters should always review their lease or rental agreement to see if it specifies how and when a landlord can increase the rent.

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Tenant Rights to Withhold Rent or Repair and Deduct in North Carolina

All tenants have a right to a livable rental. When a landlord doesn't make repairs that affect the health and safety of a rental, state law might make certain remedies available to the tenant.

What is a tenant's remedy when a North Carolina landlord doesn't make repairs?

North Carolina tenants don't have the right to withhold rent because of repairs unless a judge has issued an order giving them permission to do so. (N.C. Gen. Stat. § 42-44 (2023).)

Tenants can sue the landlord and ask the judge to order repairs, to reduce rent while repairs are being made, and for a retroactive rent cut for the time during which repairs weren't made.

If the repairs needed are severe—enough to make it so the tenant can't safely live in the rental—a court might consider the tenant to be "constructively evicted." This means that the tenant has the right to move out without further liability for rent. Tenants should consult with an attorney before moving out due to a situation like this, because if the tenant's assessment of the damage is incorrect, the landlord might be able to sue the tenant for the remaining rent due under the lease.

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North Carolina Termination and Eviction Rules

State laws specify when and how a landlord may terminate a tenancy.

Failure to Pay Rent: North Carolina 10-Day Notice

The default rule in North Carolina is that a landlord must give a tenant a 10-day notice to quit and provide "demand for payment of rent" (sometimes also called a "notice to quit") before a landlord can begin eviction proceedings for nonpayment of rent. (N.C. Gen. Stat. § 42-3 (2023).) Unlike an unconditional notice to quit, which requests a tenant to immediately vacate the rental property, a demand for payment of rent gives a tenant the option to pay or leave.

The contents of a demand for payment of rent should include the following:

  • the date on which the notice is given to the tenant
  • the name and address of the tenant
  • the landlord's name
  • the amount of rent presently owed by the tenant to the landlord
  • the landlord's signature
  • the deadline by which the tenant should make the said payment, and
  • a statement that the landlord will file eviction papers if the rent is not received by the said deadline.

How to Give a Demand for Payment of Rent and Notice to Quit

The manner in which a landlord presents a demand for payment of rent to the tenant will be dictated by the lease or rental agreement. For example, a lease might require that the notice be in writing and hand-delivered to the tenant. "Written notice," without further specification, will generally include emails and sometimes even text messages. But, if the rental agreement is very particular as to the method of delivery and format of the notice, its specifications will govern. Even if the rental agreement is vague, however, it's a good idea for the landlord to provide written notice and to deliver it to the tenant via U.S. first class mail, return receipt requested.

When to Serve the Demand for Payment of Rent?

Generally, a landlord may serve a demand for nonpayment of rent on the tenant the day after the date the rent is due. So, if the rent is due on the first of the month, a landlord may serve the notice on the second.

However, if the lease gives the tenant a grace period before the payment is considered late, the landlord must first wait for the expiration of the grace period before serving the demand. When a lease or rent agreement provides a grace period, such as three days, the rent will not be considered late until the contractually agreed upon period has passed. So, if rent is due on the first of the month, but the lease gives a three-day grace period before the rent is considered late, the landlord must wait until the fourth of the month to serve the demand for nonpayment of rent.

How a Forfeiture Clause and a Notice Clause in the Lease Might Change Eviction Rules for Nonpayment of Rent

As discussed above, if the tenant doesn't pay rent in full and on the date that it is due, the landlord may begin eviction proceedings by serving a demand for nonpayment of rent on the tenant. That, however, is the default rule. Whether or not a landlord is required to make such a demand and give notice depends on whether the lease or rental agreement contains a forfeiture clause and a notice clause.

A forfeiture clause is a clause that gives the landlord the right to terminate the lease or rental agreement earlier than it would have expired naturally. A notice clause outlines the kind of notice the landlord must give the tenant before beginning eviction proceedings. Many leases combine these clauses into one clause where cancellation and notification are simultaneously addressed. Importantly, in North Carolina, forfeiture and notice clauses dictate the procedures a landlord must follow to evict a tenant.

Such clauses may have various functions. For example, a forfeiture clause might state that the landlord is not required to give the tenant any notice at all prior to filing eviction papers for nonpayment of rent. In that scenario, the tenant completely waives, or voluntarily relinquishes, the tenant's right to notice. This results in the landlord being able to file the eviction without notifying the tenant.

Alternatively, instead of serving as a complete waiver, a forfeiture and notice clause may outline new notice terms. For instance, the clauses may state that the landlord must first provide a five-day written notice and demand that the tenant pay the rent due or vacate the premises, as opposed to the 10-day notice.

Lease Violation: North Carolina Unconditional Notice to Quit

North Carolina landlords can serve tenants with an unconditional notice to quit—a notice that doesn't give the tenant the chance to fix the problem—when the tenant violates a lease term that specifies that eviction will result from noncompliance. The notice can order the tenant to leave immediately. (N.C. Gen. Stat. § 42-46 (2023).)

How to End a Month-to-Month Tenancy in North Carolina

North Carolina landlords can end month-to-month tenancies by giving the tenant a seven-day written notice to quit (move out). If the tenant fails to move out after the seven days have passed, the landlord can file an eviction lawsuit.

Tenants can also end their month-to-month tenancy by giving the landlord a written notice.

(N.C. Gen. Stat. § 42-14 (2023).)

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North Carolina 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) or when the tenant has abandoned the property (moved out without an intent to return).

North Carolina doesn't have a landlord right of entry law; no statute specifies how much notice landlords should give before entering a property. A good rule of thumb is that landlords should give at least 48 hours written notice when the reason for entry isn't urgent, and should enter only during reasonable daytime hours.

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Other North Carolina Landlord-Tenant Laws

Does North Carolina have rent control?

No. North Carolina doesn't have statewide rent control, nor does it allow cities or counties to enact their own rent control laws. (N.C. Gen. Stat. § 42-14.1 (2023).)

Other North Carolina Landlord-Tenant Laws

Several other landlord-tenant laws in North Carolina affect both landlords and tenants, including:

  • The landlord's duty to provide fit and habitable premises, and to make repairs when needed to keep the premises fit and habitable. (N.C. Gen. Stat. § 42-42 (2023).)
  • Provide a smoke detector and a carbon monoxide detector. (N.C. Gen. Stat. § 42-42 (2023).)
  • Change locks on behalf of domestic violence victims under certain circumstances. (N.C. Gen. Stat. § 42-42.3 (2023).)
  • Not discriminate against victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, or stalking. (N.C. Gen. Stat. § 42-42.2 (2023).)

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Where to Find North Carolina Landlord-Tenant Statutes

If you want to read the text of a law itself, such as state security deposit rules, start by finding the citations for North Carolina landlord-tenant statutes. To access the statutes themselves, see the state section of the Library of Congress's legal research site or the North Carolina General Assembly's website. If you don't know the exact statute number, you can search for a keyword that is likely to be in it, such as "nonpayment of rent."

Local Ordinances Affecting North Carolina 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 North Carolina, and then do a search for the codes or ordinances 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 North Carolina.

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 North Carolina. 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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