North Carolina Tenant Rights: Relationships Between Landlords and Tenants Can Be Complex
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North Carolina Tenant Rights: Relationships Between Landlords and Tenants Can Be Complex

If you do things right from day one and understand what each party is required to do, you can have a long and beneficial relationship with your landlord and avoid many of the hassles caused by simple misunderstandings

January 19, 2021

Laws governing relationships between a landlord and a tenant are complex. While most problems that arise are caused by simple misunderstandings, some are caused intentionally and may require a legal strategy. One of the simplest ways to protect yourself is to thoroughly read and understand your lease before you sign it. If problems do happen down the road, the lease becomes critically important.

If you have questions or need help

The content of this page does not constitute legal advice and is not a complete resource for every landlord-tenant issue. For more information on renting and residential tenant rights in the state of North Carolina, contact the North Carolina Attorney General's Office. If you need legal assistance, consider a lawyer on the North Carolina Law Directory.

sources of laws governing landlord-tenant relationships

Because of the multitude of sources for the laws that govern relationships between landlords and their tenants, there is often a lot of confusion about what each party is legally obligated to do. Sources for the laws governing the relationship between landlords and tenants include the law of contracts (leases are a type of contract), the law of negligence, the North Carolina General Statutes, federal laws and regulations governing subsidized rental housing, the Constitutions of the United States and the State of North Carolina, and local health, safety and building codes.

Misunderstandings often lead to big disagreements

Most disagreements between tenants and landlords occur because of simply and preventable misunderstandings. Unfortunately, these misunderstandings can escalate quickly and create an uncomfortable situation that permanently damages the relationship. So whenever possible, you should always try to avoid these misunderstandings before they happen by thoroughly understanding what you are required to do.

Everything needs to be in writing

As we always say, make sure to get all promises in writing. In the case of landlord-tenant relationships, the one thing that absolutely should be in writing is the lease agreement or contract. Your lease becomes the source for any legal arguments you may need to make in the future. If something isn't in writing, it didn't happen as far as the courts are concerned.

The landlord can make as many claims or promises as there are stars in the sky. But if the landlord only orally agrees to something and later fails to deliver, you have no way to prove it unless it's in writing. So make sure that you get a completed lease, that you understand your lease, and that any promises made are made in writing.

If there is a problem...

If you run into any problems with your landlord or the property you are renting, you should always remain calm as a level head can usually resolve most issues. The moment you raise your voice, do something you'll later regret, start complaining to government agencies without cause, organize tenant associations, or otherwise become unreasonable, the landlord may become much less accommodating or may stop working with you altogether.

Both the tenant and landlord have a vested interest in maintaining a relationship, so a civilized and rational discussion may be all that's needed to resolve an issue. In any case, make sure to document in writing as much as possible and follow up in writing on any verbal conversations. If you are having a problem with a malfunctioning appliance, it's a better idea to send an email that you can produce later as opposed to mentioning the problem in passing.

responsibilities of the tenant

  • Pay all rent legally due under the terms of the lease.
  • Keep occupied premises as clean and safe as possible, in addition to helping to keep all common areas clean.
  • Dispose of all ashes, rubbish, garbage, and other waste in a clean and safe manner.
  • Keep all plumbing fixtures in the dwelling unit or those used by the tenant as clean as their condition permits.
  • Do not deliberately destroy, deface, damage, or remove any part of the premises or knowingly permit any person to do so.
  • Comply with any obligations imposed by current applicable building codes.
  • Be responsible for all damage, defacement, or removal of any property inside a dwelling unit if caused by tenant.
  • Notify the landlord, in writing, of the need for replacement of or repairs to a smoke detector.

responsibilities of the landlord

  • Comply with the current applicable building and housing codes.
  • Do whatever is necessary to put and keep the premises in a fit and habitable condition.
  • Keep all common areas in a safe condition.
  • Maintain in good and safe working order and promptly repair all electrical, plumbing, sanitary, heating, ventilating, air conditioning, and other facilities and appliances supplied or required to be supplied by the landlord provided that notification of repairs is made to the landlord in writing by the tenant except in emergency situations.
  • Provide operable smoke detectors, either battery-operated or electrical, having an Underwriters' Laboratories, Inc. listing or other equivalent national testing laboratory approval, and install the smoke detectors in accordance with either the standards of the National Fire Protection Association or the minimum protection designed in the manufacturer's instructions, which the landlord shall retain or provide as proof of compliance.

withholding rent payments

If you are a tenant and your landlord will not make repairs required under specific housing, fire, and health codes and the Residential Rental Agreements Act, DO NOT WITHHOLD RENT PAYMENTS. North Carolina law does not allow tenants to withhold rent payments except under two circumstances: when the landlord consents to it in writing or when a judge or civil magistrate allows you to withhold rent pursuant to a court order. Withholding rent payments can cause you a lot of trouble later and may open you to a counterclaim by the landlord.

Tenant’s Right to Fair Housing

All tenants in North Carolina are protected by the Federal Fair Housing Act and the North Carolina Fair Housing Act. The laws seek to prevent discrimination to persons in certain protected classes in housing matters, which includes renting property, buying property, or getting financial assistance. This means that all persons should be treated equally by a potential landlord, who cant refuse to rent to someone, change lease terms, use discrimination, make false statements about availability, or refuse to make disability accommodations.

Seven classes of people have been set aside for protections under the Federal Fair Housing Act and the North Carolina Fair Housing Act:

  • Color
  • Disability
  • Familial Status
  • National Origin
  • Race
  • Religion
  • Sex

Maximum Security Deposit

The maximum amount of a security deposit in North Carolina depends upon the length of the tenant's lease. Generally, the longer the lease the higher the security deposit can be collected. The maximum security deposits are:

  • Weekly Renters: Amount of Rent for Two Weeks
  • Monthly Renters: Amount of Rent for One and One-Half Months
  • Yearly Renters: Amount of Rent for Two Months

Tenant's Right to A Security Deposit

North Carolina has specific rules regarding how much a landlord can collect from a tenant for a security deposit. The law also states which reasons a landlord can use to deduct from a security deposit, the requirements for how the deposit much be stored, and how long the landlord has to return the deposit.

Deductions from a Security Deposit

A landlord in North Carolina may only deduct from a security deposit for:

  • Damage in excess of normal wear and tear
  • Unpaid utility bills
  • Removing a tenant’s possessions after an eviction
  • Unpaid Rent
  • Breach of lease
  • Costs of re-renting the unit
  • Court costs
  • Any additional unpaid bills the tenant has accumulated during their tenancy that could cause a lien to be placed against the property.

Storing the Security Deposit

There are only two options for how a landlord can store a tenant's security deposit. The landlord must either place the deposit into a trust account or post a bond for the amount of the security deposit.

Returning the Security Deposit

The tenant typically has a right to expect the return of a security deposit within thirty (30) days of the lease termination. If any deductions are made from the deposit, the landlord must include an itemized list of those deductions.

If you have questions or need help

The content of this page does not constitute legal advice and is not a complete resource for every landlord-tenant issue. For more information on renting and residential tenant rights in the state of North Carolina, contact the North Carolina Attorney General's Office. If you need legal assistance, consider a lawyer on the North Carolina Law Directory.