Even as demand for rental housing remains very strong, there is a great deal of confusion over existing rental laws among many landlords, and among tenants themselves, according to a Zillow Rentals survey. On average, renters and landlords answered about half of survey questions incorrectly (47 percent incorrect for renters/50 percent for landlords) when asked about their respective rights and responsibilities.
Eighty-two percent of renters/76 percent of landlords lack understanding of laws on security deposits, credit and background checks. Seventy-seven percent of renters/69 percent of landlords lack understanding of privacy and access rights. Sixty-two percent of renters/50 percent of landlords lack understanding of laws on early lease termination.
The survey included those who rent the home they live in ("renters") and those who own the home they live in and own one or more additional homes, which they rent to a tenant ("landlords").
Renters and landlords alike demonstrated the least amount of knowledge around credit and background checks, security deposits, early lease termination, and privacy and access rights. Both renters and landlords showed the most knowledge around discriminatory advertising for rentals, responsibility for repairs and maintenance, and requirements around terminating month-to-month agreements.
"It's concerning that so many renters and landlords are signing a legal contract without fully understanding their basic rights. In doing so, landlords and renters could be setting themselves up for future disputes and legal costs," said Carey Armstrong, Zillow director of rentals. "While rental laws vary by state and local jurisdiction, there are some important rules that affect just about everybody. Every landlord and renter should take time to research and understand their rights."
Lack of Understanding on Security Deposit Laws:
MISCONCEPTION: 82 percent of renters and three-quarters (76 percent) of landlords said they believe the landlord has 60 days after a lease ends to refund a security deposit (or provide an itemized deduction statement and refund the balance).
TRUTH: In most states security deposits must be returned between 14 and 30 days.
Lack of Understanding on Early Lease Termination:
MISCONCEPTION: Nearly two-thirds of renters (62 percent) and half of landlords (50 percent) said the landlord has the right to terminate a lease in order to rent the home to his or her family member.
TRUTH: Landlords may not evict a tenant during the term of the lease simply because they would prefer to rent the unit to a friend or family member, or even to someone willing to pay higher rent.
Lack of Understanding on Credit and Background Checks:
MISCONCEPTION: More than three quarters (76 percent) of landlords and 82 percent of renters said a landlord has the right to reject any rental application on the basis of a prior conviction for illegal drug use.
TRUTH: While landlords do have the right to reject applications for criminal convictions of many kinds, they may not reject an applicant on the basis of a conviction for drug use. They can, however, reject a person who has been convicted of manufacturing or selling drugs, or who currently uses illegal drugs.