Federal, state, and local laws often require landlords to disclose certain information and policies to tenants. Although these laws differ from location to location, they typically require landlords to make the disclosures before tenants move in. Some laws require landlords to include specific language directly in the lease or rental agreement.
Under federal law, landlords who manage buildings constructed before 1978 might have to provide tenants with disclosures about lead-based paint in the property. This is the only federally required landlord disclosure; all others are required by state or local law. (Note that states and cities might also require disclosures about lead-based paint.)
Many states require landlords to disclose:
Read your state's required landlord disclosure laws to find out what landlords must disclose where you live.
Some cities and counties require more detailed disclosures than what's required by state law. For example, New York City requires landlords to inform tenants of the building's and the rental unit's bed bug history for the past year. (New York City Administrative Code § 27-2018.1 (2024).)
In states that allow cities to pass rent control laws, local rent control ordinances typically require additional disclosures, such as the name and address of the government agency or elected board that administers the ordinance.
Many municipalities and counties have local ordinances online—search for the name of a particular city or visit State and Local Government on the Net. You can also check with the office of your city attorney, mayor, city manager, or county administrator.
Part of a landlord's responsibility to provide habitable premises includes the obligation to warn tenants about hidden (not obvious) aspects of the rental property that could cause injury or substantially interfere with tenants' safe enjoyment and use of the dwelling—for example, a warning that the building walls contain asbestos insulation which could become dangerous if disturbed. Depending on the applicable law, landlords may make these disclosures orally or in writing.
Keep in mind that some problems need to be fixed, not merely disclosed. A landlord who warns a tenant about a hidden defect, such as a faulty heater, remains legally responsible if the heater makes the rental uninhabitable or unreasonably dangerous.
The consequences to landlords who fail to make disclosures vary tremendously. Some disclosure statutes clearly lay out penalties, but many do not. When a statute doesn't specify consequences, general rules take over—tenants can sue (typically in small claims court) for the damages they have suffered as a result of the nondisclosure
Disclosure laws that contain penalty provisions usually aren't as difficult to enforce as those that don't. Often, tenants can lodge complaints with a government agency, which in turn can impose penalties such as fines or the revocation of the landlord's rental license (if applicable). Tenants should note, though, that disclosure laws typically don't allow self-help remedies, such as breaking the lease or withholding rent.
Several disclosure laws carry specified monetary penalties. At the top of the list is the federally-required disclosure of lead paint hazards. First violations can result in a "notice of noncompliance" from the federal government, which gives landlords additional time to notify tenants. Civil and criminal fines of up to $21,018 per violation are also possible. (24 C.F.R. § 30.65 (2024).)
Some disclosure statutes provide for "actual damages," which is an amount intended to compensate the tenant for calculable damages, such as lost work, moving expenses, or doctors' bills. For example, many states require landlords to disclose to tenants whether they will end up paying for common area utilities, such as heat and electricity. Failure to explain these arrangements commonly carries a penalty of actual damages, which, for example, could be the cost to the tenant of paying for these utilities.
The violation of some disclosure laws will result in consequences that aren't monetary. For example, many states require landlords to disclose the property manager's identity and contact information. Typically, these statutes provide that if the landlord doesn't provide this information, the tenant won't be penalized for paying rent to or delivering legal notices and demands to the person who negotiated the lease rather than the officially designated person.
Nolo's Every Landlord's Legal Guide goes into detail on why landlords must disclose certain information, and includes a state-specific chart of required landlord disclosures.
Nolo's Every Tenant's Legal Guide breaks out how tenants can deal with challenging landlords and what steps they can take when their landlord doesn't follow the law.