Alabama - Roost

Alabama renters rights laws

Rights, rules and responsibilities for where you live

Knowing your rights as a renter (often referred to as tenant rights) helps protect you from housing discrimination or unfair practices like rent or fee gouging. It also helps ensure you always have a clean, safe place to live and that there's no confusion about which responsibilities are yours and which are your landlord's.

Every state's laws are a little different; read on for details about Alabama's.

Roost tip: Some cities and counties have additional rental and housing rules. If you need more specifics or have questions after reading the info below, it might be a good time to chat with an expert (an attorney that's focused on tenant/renter laws).

Your responsibilities

While lease agreements tend to be pretty lengthy, we strongly recommend you get yourself a tasty beverage, find a comfortable chair, and read the lease — at least three times. If this is your first time renting or the lease feels especially overwhelming, fear not. We’ll walk you through a couple of things to look out for.

As a renter, you have essentially agreed to pay a monthly rent to the owner of the house or apartment serving as your home. First and foremost, pay this rent! By signing a lease, you’re contractually obligated to submit this payment each and every month that you live at this home. 

While rent is your number one responsibility, there may be other things that you need to take care of, depending on what you agree to in your rental agreement/lease. For example:

  • Electricity 
  • Water
  • Gas
  • Trash
  • Yardwork (Cutting the grass, trimming the trees, etc.)
  • Parking
  • Renter insurance
  • Cable & Internet
  • Snow removal (if applicable)

Depending on how your lease reads, you may be expected to pay for or perform the work yourself. If you’re not comfortable doing so, try to negotiate in advance of signing a lease. (Some cities also required landlords to cover the cost of certain utilities so check your city or state website to confirm.)  It’s okay if you are not comfortable paying for or performing these responsibilities—try and negotiate with the landlord if possible. If you cannot come to an agreement on the terms of the lease agreement, shop around for a home and landlord that is willing to work with you.

Roost Tip! For a more comprehensive look, take a look through the statutory language that governs renter duties, which lives in Alabama State’s code: AL Code 35-9A-301 to 304.

Your landlord's responsibilities

In Alabama, a landlord cannot charge more than one month’s rent for a security deposit. However, landlords are permitted to charge extra, under state statute, for pets, changes to the rental unit, or increased liability risks for the landlord (AL Code 35-9A-201). (For alternatives to paying a full upfront security deposit, check out companies like Rhino and The Guarantors.) 

When it comes time to move out, when will you get your deposit money back? The general rule is that your landlord must return your security deposit (minus any deductions) within one month of the lease end date. However, if you both agree to a different timeline, that’s okay, too, but it can’t be any longer than 60 days (AL Code 35-9A-201). If a tenant fails to claim a security deposit return check (i.e. cash the check) within 90 days, the tenant forfeits the deposit in whole.

Another important detail: What types of things your landlord might charge you for. Your landlord can use your security deposit to be made “whole” (i.e. paid back) for damages or repairs they had to do but were your fault. They have to provide you with an itemized list of these charges. If they don’t, they may forfeit the right to keep any portion of the deposit (AL Code 35-9A-201).

Rental repairs and maintenance

In general, most landlords want to keep their rental units in decent shape. The longer they delay repairs, the more it costs them in the future. Here's Roost's guide on how to request repairs from your landlord, and here’s what you need to know specifically about Alabama.

  • Landlords are generally allowed to enter your rental unit to make repairs, but they must give you at least two days' notice ahead of time (unless it’s an obvious emergency). You should never feel like you have to let them in if they show up announced. 
  • If you find that your landlord has placed clauses in your rental agreement that make you responsible for something they should be doing themselves, this is not acceptable under Alabama State law. 
  • If a landlord does not fix a much-needed repair, you do have some options as a renter, including terminating the lease or pursuing legal action. 

Example Repair

Who’s usually responsible? 

A leak in the roof or ceiling

Landlord

Paint mistakenly splashed on the walls

Tenant

Broken steps to the front door

Landlord

Light bulbs burned out in your unit

Tenant

Broken water heater or dishwasher

Landlord

Power Outage due to loose wiring

Landlord

 

Rental security deposits

In Alabama, a landlord cannot charge more than one month’s rent for a security deposit. However, landlords are permitted to charge extra, under state statute, for pets, changes to the rental unit, or increased liability risks for the landlord (AL Code 35-9A-201). (For alternatives to paying a full upfront security deposit, check out companies like Rhino and The Guarantors.) 

When it comes time to move out, when will you get your deposit money back? The general rule is that your landlord must return your security deposit (minus any deductions) within one month of the lease end date. However, if you both agree to a different timeline, that’s okay, too, but it can’t be any longer than 60 days (AL Code 35-9A-201). If a tenant fails to claim a security deposit return check (i.e. cash the check) within 90 days, the tenant forfeits the deposit in whole.

Another important detail: What types of things your landlord might charge you for. Your landlord can use your security deposit to be made “whole” (i.e. paid back) for damages or repairs they had to do but were your fault. They have to provide you with an itemized list of these charges. If they don’t, they may forfeit the right to keep any portion of the deposit (AL Code 35-9A-201).

Read Roost's How to get your security deposit back for additional tips.

Rental agreements: rent increases, payment, and fees

If you are entering into a new rental situation, it’s very important to understand the financial side of your new living arrangement. While most people tend to base their decision on the rent amount,  don’t be surprised if your landlord requires you to pay other fees. These include:

  • Security deposit - These are allowed and the landlord cannot charge more than one month’s rent. 
  • Late rent fees - State law does not cover these, but a landlord must detail these in the rental agreement in order to charge late fees.
  • Cleaning fee - Must be detailed in writing before your landlord can charge you.
  • Rent increases - Rent increases can only take place outside of the term of a lease (meaning, at renewal) but how much is up to them. Landlords must provide at least 30 days advance written notice. Alabama does not have rent control laws.
  • Pets - Check your lease before you get a pet. Alabama law doesn’t require landlords to accept pets, and if you don’t get permission in advance, it can be considered a violation of your lease and be cause for eviction. Additional pet rent or pet security deposit is not uncommon.
  • Emotional support and service animals - If you have a mental or emotional disability, federal laws state landlords must make “reasonable accommodations”, which can include an emotional support or service animal. There are a few exceptions and this tends to be a pretty tricky area for both renters and landlords to navigate together, so be upfront about what you need and follow all required steps. Landlords cannot charge you extra for an emotional support or service animal.  

Roost Tip! Make sure to factor these types of fees into your rental budget before signing on the dotted line. Also, make sure you know whether or not your landlord requires you to purchase renters insurance.

Read Roost's What to know before signing that rental lease for additional tips.

Rent termination and eviction

Once you’ve moved into your rental unit, the place is yours until your lease is up, your landlord terminates the rental agreement early, or you’re evicted. Eviction is an unpleasant process for everyone, so it’s best for you and your landlord to do everything you can to avoid it. Being evicted makes it hard to find housing, can affect your credit, and does not relieve you from paying rent unless the landlord finds someone new to move in.

Here’s why a landlord can evict you in Alabama (AL Code 35-9A-421 to 427):

  • If you don’t comply with local or state laws and regulations related to the rental unit
  • Disruptive behavior that interferes with the landlord or other homeowners and renters around the unit to an unreasonable state
  • If you don’t follow the rules and regulations provided in the rental agreement
  • The condemnation of the rental unit
  • If you lied or falsified any rental application documents
  • Unreasonably dangerous behavior on the premises.

If your landlord decides to pursue eviction, they can’t simply change the locks, dump your stuff in the front yard and kick you out. They must follow specific procedures and serve you an eviction notice before you are required to move out of your rental unit. The proper, legal eviction process in Alabama goes like this:

  1. Following a lease violation or nonpayment of rent, the landlord must provide a 7-day (for non-payment of rent) or 14-day notice (violation of lease) to fix the violation (AL Code 35-9A-421); 
  2. If you don’t fix the violation after 7 days, the landlord can file an eviction suit (AL Code 35-9A-426); 
  3. For the suit to be effective, the landlord must provide proper service of process related to the suit (AL Code 35-9A-461);
  4. If the courts find in favor of the landlord and evict you, you’ll have 7 days to leave the rental unit voluntarily (AL Code 35-9A-461);
  5. If you don’t leave voluntarily, the sheriff may be contacted to remove you. Oof.

Renting with roommates

Sometimes your roommate situation just doesn’t work out. Unfortunately, you’re both responsible for the lease, and in many ways, you’re both responsible for each other’s actions. Depending on how your rental agreement is written, if your roommate bails, you could be stuck having to pay the full rent on your own. While you can use legal action to go after your former roommate, you may still have to pay full rent when it’s due.

One of the most common questions that come up when there’s a problem with a roommate is whether you can evict them. In short: no. If your roommate’s name is on the lease as a tenant, you cannot kick them out, so sending an eviction notice would be pointless. If they are not on the lease, they may not be considered a tenant, which technically means they don’t have any legal obligations to fulfill in regards to your lease anyway.

Rental housing discrimination

Thanks to Fair Housing laws in Alabama, you’re protected from discrimination when applying for a rental (42 U.S.C. 3601). This means that the landlord or property manager can’t base their decision any of the following: 

  • Race
  • Color
  • National Origin
  • Religion
  • Sex/Gender
  • Gender Identity
  • Marital Status
  • Sexual Orientation
  • Presence of Children
  • Disability
  • Military/Veteran Status

To further draw attention to discrimination and help prevent it, Alabama has codified its own set of statutes - the Alabama Fair Housing Law (AL Code 24-8).

Despite these protections, some landlords find a way to use a negative background check or a credit report as cover for discrimination. If you feel like any of the above factors were actually the reason why you were denied a place, you may want to talk with an attorney.

COVID-19

A number of states, including Alabama, have stepped up and provided resources to ensure renters can stay in their homes even if they’re struggling to make rent during the COVID-19 pandemic. Alabama Governor Kay Ivey issued an executive order and moratorium through July 25th. Per this moratorium, 

    • All state, county, and local law enforcement officers are hereby directed to cease enforcement of any order that would result in the displacement of a person from his or her place of residence.
    • This means that law enforcement cannot enforce an eviction order to remove you from your home, whether you are a renter or if you have a mortgage and have been foreclosed on. 

Note: All rent payments delayed through this moratorium will still be owed but a landlord must offer a tenant a reasonable repayment plan to enforce any collection of that debt. For additional resources, check out AlabamaLegalHelp.org.

Federal protection

The Trump administration recently announced a new executive order for a rent moratorium through the end of the 2020 year. The order was put forward by the Centers for Disease Control to help prevent Covid-19 spread. Under the updated directive, families must prove they tried to pay their rent and that eviction would force them into a shelter or close quarters with others. If this covers you, then you’ll need to attest to your situation and a substantial loss of income on a form. Forms are to come available via the CDC website.

The order does not waive any rent debt — it just defers it — still leaving many renters vulnerable. And, it still allows landlords to charge fees, penalties, and interest, according to the draft document posted on September 1st.

The executive order covers more renters than the former CARES Act moratorium which only protected those living in housing with a federally backed mortgage loan, public housing, Section 202 housing for the elderly, Section 811 housing for people with disabilities, rural rental housing, Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher, USDA housing voucher, or VA voucher. That Act protection expired on July 25, 2020.

The executive order covers more renters than the former CARES Act federal moratorium on evictions which only protected those living in housing with a federally backed mortgage loans, public housing, Section 202 housing for the elderly, Section 811 housing for people with disabilities, rural rental housing, Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher, USDA housing voucher, or VA voucher. That Act protection expired on July 25, 2020.

Stay tuned... Congress is currently working on a bill called the CARES Act 2, which could afford more protection for renters if passed.

Community resources

If you need some more information, check out some of the resources listed below: 

State rules and regulations

Advertising disclosure
You probably already know that we’re not a law firm, but just to make sure we get this out of the way: We can’t provide any advice or opinions about possible legal rights, remedies, defenses, options, selection of forms, or strategies. And by hanging out with us here at Roost, you agree to our Legal disclaimer.
Last Updated: May 26th, 2020