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Landlord-tenant laws affect all aspects of a tenancy, from move-in (starting with tenant screening) to move out (when and how a tenancy ends). Both landlords and tenants have specific rights and responsibilities, primarily under state law. Tenants typically have clearly defined legal rights when it comes to discrimination; privacy; habitability; security deposits (amount, use, and return); and how and when a landlord may end a tenancy. Tenants also have legal responsibilities, usually spelled out in the lease or rental agreement; these include paying the rent by a specified date; keeping their unit in good condition; complying with limits on the number of people who may live in the rental unit; providing a specified amount of notice to end a tenancy; and avoiding damage to the rental property or disturbing other tenants or neighbours.
Typical disputes occur when a tenant feels that his or her rights have been violated, or when a landlord claims that a tenant has failed to comply with a lease or rental agreement requirement, such as to pay rent on time. Many landlords and tenants are able to negotiate an agreement on their own or, perhaps, with the help of an outside mediator. In some cases (such as discrimination complaints), a government agency (such as, a federal or state fair housing agency) may be involved. Should a landlord-tenant dispute end up in court (for example, in an eviction or personal injury lawsuit), both landlord and tenant will need an experienced attorney to represent them. A dispute that ends up in small claims court (such as a fight over the security deposit) is an exception: Lawyers are not necessary in small claims court and are not even allowed in many states.