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Renters Have Legal Rights

Renters Have Legal Rights

March 2019

All renters (also called tenants) have legal rights. You have these rights even if

  • you do not have a written lease agreement,
  • you signed an agreement, or
  • you told your landlord you will give up your rights.

This article explains your rights and responsibilities as a renter.

    Todos los inquilinos (también llamados arrendadores) tienen derechos legales. Usted tiene estos derechos legales aunque

    • no tenga un contrato de alquiler por escrito,
    • haya firmado un acuerdo renunciando a sus derechos, o
    • le haya dicho a su propietario que renunciará a los mismos. 

    Este artículo le informa sobre los derechos y responsabilidades de los inquilinos.

      Things the landlord must do:

      Things the landlord must do:

      • Follow all health and safety laws so that the building, apartments, and common areas are safe. Common areas include the driveway, yard, halls, and laundry rooms.
      • Make all repairs needed to keep your apartment safe and livable.
      • Keep all electrical, plumbing, heating, ventilation, appliances, and elevators working and safe.
      • Provide containers for trash and arrange for its removal.
      • Supply heat, running water, and hot water. (A landlord may require to you to pay for gas, oil, electricity, or water.)
      • Repair cracked, chipped, or peeling paint and remove paint that contains dangerous and illegal amounts of lead. Lead is very dangerous for small children and pregnant women. Call your Health Department if you are worried about lead in your apartment. To learn more, see the legal aid booklet, Are You Worried About Lead Poisoning?

      If your landlord does not keep the apartment safe and in working order, you have the right to complain to your town’s housing code enforcement agency. If repairs still are not made after you complain, you can file a Housing Code Enforcement case in court and pay your rent to the court. You can also ask the court to order repairs and a refund of your rent. See the legal aid booklet, Tenants’ Rights: Repairs.  

      Warning! You will have to pay your rent to the court until the court decides your case.

      Things you, the renter must do:

      • Follow all housing and fire codes that apply to you.
      • Keep your apartment clean and safe, including sinks, toilets, tubs, and appliances.
      • Put all trash in the appropriate containers.
      • Use all services and facilities (such as the elevator, laundry room, and heating) reasonably.
      • Not destroy, damage, or take any property or allow anyone else to do so. You may have to pay the landlord if you, your family, or your guests cause damage that is more than normal wear and tear.
      • Not disturb your neighbors or allow any of your guests to do so.
      • Obey the landlord’s rules if they are reasonable, clear, apply to all tenants, and you were told about them.
      • Pay the rent, even if your apartment needs repairs, unless a court says otherwise. For more information, see the legal aid booklet, Tenants’ Rights: Repairs.
      • Let the landlord into your apartment if the request to go in is reasonable.

      Can my landlord enter my apartment?

      Your landlord cannot enter your apartment without your permission unless there is an emergency (such as leaking water) or you have been absent from your apartment for a period of time (for example, you were in the hospital).  You cannot refuse permission if the landlord has a good reason to go into your apartment and they

      • let you know in advance (in writing or by telling you);
      • want to go in at a reasonable time of day; and
      • need to go for repairs or an inspection, or to show the apartment to potential buyers, tenants, or contractors/workers.

      Your landlord must never go into your apartment without your permission unless

      • there is a real emergency, like water leaking into the apartment below yours;
      • the landlord has a court order that says they can go in; or
      • you have abandoned the apartment and moved out.

      Your landlord can never go into your apartment to harass or bother you. If this happens, call the police and file a complaint.

      Paying Your Rent

      Month-to-month renters should pay by check or money order by the 10th of each month. The deadline for week-to-week renters is the 5th day of each week.

      If you do not pay by the deadline, the landlord can charge a late fee if it says so in your lease. Landlords are not allowed to offer a discount if you pay before the deadline.

      Always write these words on your check or money order: “Rent in full for the month (or week) of ______.”

      Keep good records. Your cancelled check or copy of your money order is your receipt.

      Try not to pay your rent cash. If you pay cash, the landlord must give you a receipt with the date, the amount, and what the payment is for. Make sure to get a receipt for any cash payments.

      Rent Increases

      If you have a written lease, your landlord can increase your rent at the end of your lease term.

      If there is no written lease, the landlord can increase your rent at the beginning of any month.

      However, renters have protections if the rent increase is to punish you for complaining to the Housing Code Enforcement agency, or if you are over 62 years of age and live in a building with more than five units.

      For more information, see the booklet, Security Deposits and Rent Increases.

      Evictions and Lockouts

      Unless your landlord has a legal court order to evict you, you can stay in your apartment. Even if a bank is foreclosing on your landlord’s property, you have the right to stay there. It is against the law for your landlord to

      • change the locks on your apartment,
      • keep your belongings, or
      • do anything else to keep you out of your apartment.

      If your landlord locks you out, call the police and ask them to let you back in. It is illegal for the landlord to lock you out even if you owe money.

      For more information, see the following legal aid booklets:

      Rules

      The rules must be the same for all tenants.

      A landlord can refuse to rent to you if

      • you don’t have enough income to afford the rent;
      • you have been evicted in the past for destroying property or not paying rent; or
      • there is a policy against pets and you have one (unless you have a disability and need a service animal).

      A landlord can require all renters to

      • give credit references;
      • pay a security deposit of up to 2 months’ rent (or up to 1 month's rent if you are 62 or over);
      • give references from former landlords; and
      • pass a criminal background check.

      Retaliation

      It is illegal for your landlord to evict you or raise your rent if in the last 6 months you

      • asked your landlord to fix your apartment;
      • complained to the health department, housing code office, or the Fair Rent Commission; or
      • joined a tenants’ union.

      Utilities

      Your landlord must not interfere with your utilities, including gas, electricity, heat, and hot water. If this happens, call the police. Your landlord could be arrested if the utilities are not turned back on.

      Any utilities you pay for must be for your use only. You cannot be required to pay for utilities for common areas or for other tenants.

      For more information, see the legal aid booklet, Utility Problems with Landlords.

      Lead Poisoning

      Lead is very dangerous for children under 6 and pregnant women and their babies. Lead can cause serious health problems, such as

      • learning disabilities and lower IQ scores;
      • vision, hearing, growth, speech disorders, hyperactivity, and behavior problems; and
      • death.

      In Connecticut, all children must be tested for lead poisoning twice before the age of 3. If your child is between 3 and 6 years old and has never been tested for lead, the doctor must test your child. Children less than six years old with developmental delays should also be tested. If the test shows high levels of lead, the doctor will tell the Department of Health. The Department of Health will come to your home and work with you and your landlord. If you are worried about lead poisoning, contact your child’s doctor or dial 2-1-1.

      See the legal aid booklet, Are You Worried About Lead Poisoning?

      Discrimination

      Whether you are renting or buying a home, you have the right to choose where you live. It is illegal for a landlord to refuse to rent to you or treat you differently because of your

      • race, religion, national origin, or color;
      • family (if you have children, or whether you are married or not);
      • sexual orientation or gender identity; or
      • disability.

      It is also illegal to treat you differently because you get Section 8 or other assistance to help you pay the rent. This illegal treatment is discrimination.

      A landlord can refuse to rent to you if you

      • have bad credit,
      • were evicted from another apartment, or
      • have a criminal record.

      How do I know if I am a victim of discrimination?

      Discrimination happens in many ways. It is usually hidden, but you may feel that you’re being treated differently.
      Here are some examples of housing discrimination:

      Race, color, or national origin:

      • A landlord, rental agent, or realtor only shows you apartments or homes in areas where most people look like you.
      • A sign says “For Rent,” but the landlord says it is already rented.

      Renters with children:

      You have children or are pregnant or adopting, or you will have custody of a child and the landlord says you can only live on a certain floor of the building or that you must pay more in rent or your security deposit than tenants without children.

      Public assistance, child support, or spousal support:

      • A landlord says they don’t take Section 8 renters.
      • A landlord wants cash instead of the state security deposit guarantee.
      • A landlord makes you fill out more paperwork than other renters.

      Disabilities:

      You or a family member have (or seem to have) a physical or mental disability and the landlord says

      • you can’t live there because there is no one to take care of you;
      • they would like to rent to you, but their insurance will go up;
      • they don’t rent to alcoholics or drug addicts, even if they’re in recovery programs; or
      • they need your medical records.

      What are my rights as someone who has a disability?

      You have the right to make changes to the apartment whenever you need them. This is called a reasonable accommodation. For example, you may need ramps or bathroom grab bars.

      The landlord has the right to ask you to prove that you need the changes, but you do not have to provide any medical records or information about your disability. The only information you have to give is to say

      • you have a disability, and
      • your doctor thinks you need those changes in order to live in the apartment.

      You may have to agree to pay for the change yourself or to remove the change before you move out.

      If you have a disability, the landlord must be flexible with the rules so you can use your apartment just like other tenants. For example, a landlord must allow you to have a service animal even if pets are not allowed. But the landlord does not have to agree to changes that would be very expensive or unreasonable.

      Visit the Connecticut Fair Housing Center website to get help writing a letter to your landlord asking for a reasonable accommodation for your disability.

      What should I do if I think someone has discriminated against me?

      Keep a record of all phone calls and meetings and save all your papers or documents related to the unfair housing treatment.

      Make notes of these things:

      • The dates, times, meeting places, and people involved (including names and job titles, if possible).
      • What happened, what was said, and who said it.
      • The reason you were turned down.
      • The address of the apartment/house and the type of building.
      • The names and addresses of any witnesses.

      Save all your papers or documents related to the unfair housing treatment, such as

      • letters, e-mails, and voicemails;
      • applications and receipts;
      • notices;
      • business cards; and
      • lease agreements.

      Where can I get legal help?

      You can call the following agencies for advice, information and help filing a complaint. But contact them soon.

      Discrimination cases must usually be filed within 180 days. The longer you wait, the harder it may be to find witnesses who remember what happened and documents that support your case.

      Connecticut Fair Housing Center
      221 Main Street, Suite 401
      Hartford, CT 06106
      860-247-4400
      888-247-4401

      Commission on Human Rights & Opportunities (CHRO)
      CHRO Fair Housing Unit
      21 Grand St., Hartford, CT 06106
      860-541-3403
      800-477-5737, ext. 3403
      TDD: 860-541-3459

      Statewide Legal Services:
      Central Connecticut: 860-344-0380
      All other areas of Connecticut: 800-453-3320

      Get Help From Legal Aid

      Age 60+: Get help from legal aid.
      Under age 60: Find legal help or apply online.
      Not from Connecticut? Find help in another state.