Both landlords and tenants should be able to deal with many legal questions and problems without a lawyer, once they understand the basics of state law. This overview of key landlord-tenant laws in North Carolina will get you started.
Under North Carolina law, landlords must disclose specific information to tenants (usually in the lease or rental agreement), such as the name and address of the banking institution where the security deposit is kept. For a full list, see North Carolina Required Landlord Disclosures.
State law limits how much a landlord can charge for a security deposit (one- and one-half month's rent for month-to-month rental agreements or two months if the rental term is longer that two months, and landlords may apply an additional "reasonable" nonrefundable deposit for pets), when it must be returned (within 30 days after a tenant moves, though if a landlord's claim against the deposit cannot be finalized within that time, the landlord may send an interim accounting at the 30-day point and then a final accounting within 60 days), and sets other restrictions on deposits. See North Carolina Security Deposit Limits and Deadlines for more on the subject.
Tenants can sue landlords in small claims court for the return of their deposit, up to a dollar amount of $10,000. See Filing a Security Deposit Lawsuit in North Carolina Small Claims Court for advice for tenants filing suit. Landlords defending a security deposit lawsuit should check out North Carolina Landlord's Guide to Security Deposit Disputes in Small Claims Court.
State law regulates several rent-related issues, including late fees and how much time (10 days) a tenant has to pay overdue rent or move before a landlord can file for eviction. For details, see North Carolina Late Fees, Termination for Nonpayment of Rent, and Other Rent Rules.
Unfortunately, tenants cannot withhold rent or exercise the right to "repair and deduct" if a landlord fails to take care of important repairs. For specifics, see Tenant Options if Your Landlord Won't Make Major Repairs. However, tenants can sue in small claims court, asking a judge to order repairs, to reduce rent while repairs are being made, and for a retroactive rent abatement for the time during which repairs were not made. Or, tenants can repair the problem and sue in small claims court for reimbursement. For more information, see the North Carolina Attorney General's publication; Landlord's Maintenance and Repair Duties: Your Rights as a Residential Tenant in North Carolina.
State laws specify when and how a landlord can terminate a tenancy. For example, some leases specify that eviction will result if certain terms are not followed. A landlord can serve an Unconditional Quit Notice on a tenant who violates one of those terms. If the tenant does not move out immediately, the landlord can file for eviction. See State Laws on Unconditional Quit Terminations and State Laws on Termination for Violation of Lease for details on these types of termination notices.
Several other landlord-tenant laws affect both property owners and renters, including:
If you want to read the text of a law itself, such as state security deposit rules, you'll find citations in many of the articles and charts included in the State Landlord-Tenant Laws section of the Nolo site. To access the statutes, go to the North Carolina Laws and Legal Information section of the Nolo site and find the link to your state laws.
If you just want to browse through the North Carolina landlord-tenant law, you can find state statutes at N.C. Gen. Stat. § § 42-1 to 42-14.2; 42-25.6 to 42-76. 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."
In addition to accessing state laws via Nolo's website, North Carolina statutes are available in many public libraries and in most law libraries that are open to the public (typically found in a county courthouse or at the state capitol or in a publicly-funded law school).
Cities and counties often pass local ordinances, such as health and safety standards, noise and nuisance regulations, and antidiscrimination 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 when you're on the site. For example, if you search for the noise ordinance in the City of Charlotte website, you'll easily find a summary of it.
State and Local Government on the Net and Municode 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.
While most landlords and tenants will primarily be concerned with state law in North Carolina, several federal laws come into play. Congress has enacted laws, and federal agencies, such as the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), have adopted regulations, covering 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 50 separate numbered titles, each covering a specific subject matter. Most federal regulations are published in the Code of Federal Regulations ("CFR"), also organized by subject into 50 separate titles.
To access the U.S. Code and Code of Federal Regulations online, see Nolo's Federal Law Resources page. Also, the Cornell Legal Information Institute provides the entire U.S. Code as well as the Code of Federal Regulations. Finally, check USA.gov, the official U.S. website for government information.
Nolo's Laws and Legal Research page includes links to state and federal laws, explains how to research and understand statutes, and provides advice on finding local ordinances and court cases, including Supreme Court cases. To go further, check out Legal Research: How to Find & Understand the Law, by Stephen Elias and the Editors of Nolo (Nolo). This nontechnical book gives easy-to-use, step-by-step instructions on how to find legal information.