Know your rights: Basics of landlord tenant law in Alabama

  • Published
  • By Capt. Peter J. Smyczek
  • 42nd Legal Office
Assistant Staff Judge Advocate, Summer at Maxwell means it is PCS season. Knowing some of the basics about Alabama Landlord Tenant law can really save you some headaches and potentially a lot of money as you get ready to move in or out. Here are some things you need to keep in mind if you are renting in the Montgomery area.

Landlord Obligations
Under Alabama law, the landlord must ensure that the rental dwelling complies with all applicable building and housing codes that materially affect health or safety. The landlord is also responsible for keeping all common areas in a safe condition and making all repairs necessary to keep the property in a habitable condition. If the landlord fails to maintain the rental unit in a habitable condition, the tenant may provide written notice to the landlord of intent to terminate the rental agreement within 14 days if the conditions are not remedied. If the landlord makes the necessary repairs within the 14 days, the rental agreement continues. However, if the landlord fails to make the repairs, the rental agreement terminates at the end of 14 days, and the landlord must return the security deposit and any prepaid rent to the tenant.

Renter Obligations
Pay your rent. You do not have the right to withhold your rent under Alabama law. In addition, as tenant you have the obligation to keep your dwelling clean and safe. This means disposing of all garbage, ash and other waste in a clean and safe manner and using all electrical, plumbing, sanitary, and heating and A/C units in a reasonable and safe manner. Avoid behavior (by the tenant or your guests) that would disturb the neighbors. And allow reasonable access to the landlord to enter the dwelling to inspect the condition of the property or to make necessary repairs or to show the unit to prospective buyers or renters. The landlord may not threaten to raise the rent or evict you because you complain to him or to the government about a problem affecting health or safety. The landlord also may not change the locks, shut off utilities or remove your things to make you leave. The landlord may send you an eviction notice if you break the lease, and the court can make you leave. If you get an eviction notice for unpaid rent, you have seven days to pay.

Usually, the lease will specify who is responsible for which repairs. But if it does not, obtain an agreement in writing, signed by both the landlord and tenant that sets forth the repair and maintenance obligations of each party. You may not use your rent to pay for repairs for which the landlord is responsible. You also may not withhold payment of rent if your landlord fails to make needed repairs. However, to protect your rights, make sure all of your repair requests are in writing, and be sure to document (i.e. take pictures) of all items that are in need of repair. This will protect you should a dispute arise later. It is also essential to document the condition of the house or apartment when you move in, as well as when you vacate, to protect yourself and assist in resolving disputes down the road.

Early Termination
Active duty service members, who receive military orders for a permanent change of station or deployment orders, for not less than 90 days, may terminate their lease. Military members entering active duty service for the first time may also terminate their lease. Activated reservists and National Guardsmen (when serving in federal active duty or under certain circumstances, when serving in state active duty) are also entitled to terminate their lease if the lease was entered into prior to active duty service. To terminate, you must deliver a written notice of termination to the landlord, along with a copy of your orders. Once proper notification has been provided to the landlord, the effective date of termination for a lease that requires monthly payments of rent is 30 days after the first date on which the next rental payment is due.

If you have been sued by a landlord or tenant, seek the advice of a lawyer that can represent you personally. For all other questions or concerns about these and any other landlord-tenant issues, the 42nd ABW Legal Office is here to help in any way we can. We can be reached at 953-2786.