Here’s a guide to what you should know about your rights as a tenant in a North Carolina rental home
A North Carolina renter must maintain the property in reasonable condition, accepting that there will be some wear and tear. But the landlord also has a responsibility to maintain the premises in a clean and safe condition.
About one-third of North Carolinians rent their homes—that’s about 1.3 million households. Every renter has a landlord, whether it’s an individual and you rent a unit in a multi-family home or a single-family house, or you rent an apartment in a complex from a management company. And, like anything else, there are great landlords and less-great landlords (and the same goes for tenants!).
That’s why it’s important for both landlords and tenants in the Tar Heel state to have a basic overview of North Carolina landlord-tenant law. There are rights and responsibilities for both landlords and tenants, and knowing what they are and how to advocate for your position can save a lot of hassle if there’s a disagreement or conflict.
Guide to North Carolina tenants’ responsibilities
North Carolina General Statute §42-42(a) sets forth a landlord’s maintenance and repair obligations under the Residential Rental Agreements Act. However, the tenant has responsibilities, as well.
The tenant is required to pay all rent as agreed upon in the lease agreement, and is obligated to perform certain daily maintenance in order to enforce the landlord’s duties.
A North Carolina tenant’s responsibilities include:
- The premises must be maintained in a clean and safe condition. This includes the renter’s own unit and any common areas.
- Trash and waste must be disposed of in a sanitary fashion.
- Maintain plumbing fixtures within the unit as cleanly as possible.
- Do not intentionally or negligently destroy or damage any part of the premises.
- Do not cause damage to the smoke or carbon monoxide alarms.
- Comply with applicable building and housing codes.
- Do not damage, deface or remove any property inside the unit unless the damage is due to ordinary wear and tear.
- Notify the landlord in writing if repairs or replacement of a smoke or carbon monoxide detector is required. The tenant is required to replace batteries in these alarms as needed unless the landlord has made another arrangement. The exception is if the detector is a tamper-resistant, 10-year lithium battery smoke alarm.
Guide to North Carolina landlord’s duties
Under the same statute, North Carolina specifies that a landlord must uphold these obligations:
- Comply with building and housing codes.
- Make necessary repairs and maintain the premises in a fit and habitable condition.
- Maintain all electrical, plumbing, sanitary, heating, ventilating, air conditioning, and other appliances in good working order. The tenant is required to notify the landlord in writing of any needed repairs, except in an emergency.
- Keep common areas safe and clean. This includes parking lots, laundry rooms, and similar areas accessible to tenants.
- Provide smoke alarms. If the tenant notifies the landlord that a smoke alarm is not working, the landlord must repair or replace it within 15 days of notice. The landlord must make sure the alarm is operable and in good condition at the beginning of the tenancy. The landlord must install new batteries in each smoke alarm at the beginning of a tenancy unless the tenant and landlord have agreed otherwise in writing.
- If the landlord charges the tenant for water or sewer services and the landlord becomes aware that the water is above a maximum contaminant level, the landlord must provide the tenant with notice of that condition.
- If the unit as a heat source, appliance or fireplace that burns fossil fuels, or if there is an attached garage, there must be at least one operable carbon monoxide detector alarm per unit level. If the tenant notifies the landlord that a CO2 alarm is not working, the landlord must repair or replace it within 15 days of notice. The same rules regarding batteries and maintenance apply with respect to fire alarms and CO2 alarms. A CO2 alarm may be combined with a fire alarm if the combined alarm differentiates between the presence of carbon monoxide and the presence of smoke.
- A landlord is required to repair or replace these conditions within a reasonable amount of time following notice:
- Unsafe wiring
- Unsafe floors or steps
- Unsafe ceiling or roof
- Unsafe chimney or flue
- Lack of drinkable water
- Lack of operable locks on all exterior doors
- Broken windows or lack of operable locks on ground-level windows
- Lack of operable heating facilities capable of heating all living areas up to 65℉ when it’s 20℉ outside from November 1 through March 31
- Lack of operable toilet, bathtub or shower
- Rat infestation as a result of structure defects that make the premises available to rodents
- Excessive standing water, sewage, or flooding problems caused by leaks or inadequate drainage
The tenant could be responsible for costs if it’s the tenant’s fault that a repair is necessary.
What if your North Carolina landlord won’t repair a problem?
Some state laws allow a tenant to withhold rent until their landlord repairs a problem, but North Carolina does not permit this. There are only two exceptions: if the landlord consents to it in writing or if a judge allows the tenant to do this pursuant to a court order.
Why would a landlord consent to a tenant withholding rent?
There might be instances when a landlord lets a tenant know they can pay for the repairs and submit a receipt, which then is reimbursed after the repair is complete or is deducted from the next month’s rent payment due.
What are typical residential tenancy legal claims?
There are instances when a landlord is reluctant to repair or replace something that’s not working, or to repair a broken appliance, etc. In a situation where the landlord refuses to maintain property in accordance with the lease agreement or the Residential Rental Agreements Act, a tenant might need to consider legal measures.
There are also claims where the tenant’s personal property like furniture or electronics are damaged by the landlord’s failure to maintain the premises. The landlord would be responsible for the costs or value of repairing or replacing damaged or destroyed property. There are situations when the landlord might refuse to repair or pay for repairs, which might be the type of issue handled in small claims court.
Is North Carolina a landlord-friendly state?
North Carolina is considered to be a landlord-friendly state. There are not as many regulations for landlords as exist in some other states. However, there could be local jurisdictions that have stricter regulations in addition to state laws.
North Carolina landlord rights and responsibilities
North Carolina landlord’s rights
A North Carolina landlord has the right to be paid rent on time, to deduct repair costs from a security deposit, and to recover the unit if the tenant doesn’t pay on time or withholds rent.
North Carolina landlord’s responsibilities
The landlord has the responsibility to provide an inhabitable unit and provide repairs within a reasonable time with notice.
North Carolina tenant’s rights and responsibilities
North Carolina tenant’s rights
A tenant has a right to live in a property that complies with local safety and housing regulations. They are entitled to having their landlord repair or replace certain types of damage, provided they’ve notified the landlord in writing. The tenant may choose to terminate a lease if the unit is uninhabitable.
North Carolina tenant’s responsibilities
A North Carolina tenant must pay rent on time, keep the property in good repair (not including normal wear and tear) and not disturb other tenants.
North Carolina laws regarding rent payments and security deposits
North Carolina does not permit rent control, so a landlord may charge any amount of rent they wish. While rent increases should be reasonable, there is no law that requires a landlord to send advance notice of an increase before renewing a lease.
A landlord may charge a late fee up to $4 or 5% of the total rent if the tenant is on a weekly rent basis. If it’s a monthly rent, the fee can be up to $15 or 5% of the total. However, a landlord must provide a grace period of five days before imposing fees.
A landlord may collect a security deposit. If the lease is week-to-week, the security deposit may be up to two weeks’ rent. If the lease is month-to-month, they may charge a maximum of 1 ½ months’ rent. North Carolina law does not permit security deposits higher than two months’ rent. The landlord must return the security deposit to the tenant with 30 days of the tenant vacating the property. If the landlord requires longer than 30 days to assess the property they have up to 60 days. However, after 60 days, the tenant is entitled to the full value of the security deposit.
Terminating a lease
A North Carolina tenant may terminate a lease when it ends for any reason. They are required to provide notice to the landlord. If it’s a week-to-week lease, they may provide two days’ notice. They owe seven days’ notice for a month-to-month lease and 30 days for a year-to-year lease.
A tenant can end a lease early because of:
- Domestic violence or other unsafe situation
- Early termination clause
- Breach in the lease
- Active military duty
The North Carolina Office of Administrative Hearings and the Fair Housing Act prohibit a landlord from discriminating against a tenant or prospective tenant because of race, religion, familial status, sex, gender, and other protected classifications.
There are three situations when a landlord may evict a tenant:
- Nonpayment of rent, after 10 days’ notice by the landlord;
- Breach in the lease; and
- Criminal activity on the premises.
Do you need a lawyer for your North Carolina landlord-tenant issue?
It depends. If there’s a personal injury or substantial property damage, you should consult an attorney in case of multiple claims or strategies. But if it’s a rent dispute, a repair cost issue, or something else that’s a few hundred dollars in question, it might be something to handle yourself through small claims. In North Carolina, you can file a small claims court case for an amount up to $10,000.
However, if you have questions about a condition or situation related to your rental, it’s always a good first step to refer to your existing lease agreement. Your lease agreement is a contract between the renter and the landlord. It should outline exactly what is permitted or prohibited, and provide specifics about a tenant’s rights and responsibilities, along with the landlord’s obligations.