Not all states view tenant laws as the same. In general, renters in Western, Northeastern, and Central states have many more protections than renters in the Deep South and parts of the Midwest, according to a new study by RentCafe. But the best and worst places for tenants rights can vary wildly even among neighboring states.
The report ranked Vermont as the friendliest state for renters; Arkansas and West Virginia the worst. Landlords in Vermont are required to return security deposits within 14 days of a tenant moving. They must also give 48 hours notice before entering a residence, 14 days notice for nonpayment of rent, and 60 days notice of rent increases for month-to-month contracts.
Vermont tenants also have the right to not pay rent if something breaks down (like the heater) and the landlord hasn’t fixed it. Vermont, however, sets no limit on the maximum amount landlords can charge for a security deposit on unfurnished apartments with a one-year lease.
Similar laws are in place in Delaware, Hawaii, Rhode Island, Arizona, Washington, D.C., Maine, and Alaska.
On the other end of the spectrum, renters in Arkansas and West Virginia have a rough go, according to the report. While the two states cap security deposits at two months rent (but only if a landlord has five or more properties), no statutes protect tenants from sudden rent hikes, unannounced landlord entry, or by when a landlord has to return a security deposit.
If the air conditioner breaks down in the middle of summer, Arkansas or West Virginia residents can complain, but not withhold rent until it’s fixed. Arkansas is also the only state in which a tenant can face criminal charges for failure to vacate after an eviction.
Louisiana, Georgia, Wyoming, North Carolina, Idaho, Ohio, Mississippi, and Colorado are similarly less friendly to tenants than to property owners.
Landlords in Maryland, Georgia, New Jersey, South Dakota, and Missouri have the option to immediately terminate a lease and file for eviction when the tenant is just a few days late on rent. However, lockouts and utility shut-offs are never allowed in any state.
In Arkansas and West Virginia, no laws protect a tenant’s leave-behinds. If a tenant moves out, whatever is left the moment he or she steps off the property can be disposed of by the property owner, without notice.
Wisconsin landlords need to give renters 30 days to claim left-behind items, but after 30 days landlords there can sell the items at auction. Proceeds must be given to the Wisconsin Department of Administration, which uses the money to help feed the homeless. In Illinois the law on abandoned tenant property only covers crops.