Your Rights as a Tenant Under Idaho law
If you rent a home or apartment, you view the property as your personal living space. Landlords, on the other hand, tend to view a tenant as a source of income in an investment property that must be managed. Many disputes between landlords and tenants arise from these competing points of view.
As a tenant, many of your rights will be determined by the lease agreement. You should therefore read your lease carefully. However, there are certain rights established by Idaho law that cannot be avoided by the lease. In brief, these rights include the right to privacy, the right of quiet use and enjoyment, the right to safety and health, the right against discrimination, and the right to possession of the premises.
Right to Privacy
Some landlords are overly aggressive in their desire to inspect or re-enter a property. While a lease may state when a landlord has a right of re-entry, Idaho Code 55-210 states that “reentry may be made at any time after the right has accrued, upon three (3) days’ notice.” (emphasis added). Thus, the Idaho Supreme Court has held that a landlord was liable where it “exercised immediately its right of re-entry” without first providing the mandatory three-day notice required under I.C. § 55-210. Adair v. Freeman, 92 Idaho 773, 780, 451 P.2d 519, 526 (1969). In fact, in that case, the landlord was liable for conversion (i.e.: civil theft).
Right to Safety and Health
Idaho Code 6-320 establishes certain duties that a landlord has in relation to the condition of the property. This statute dictates that a tenant can bring a lawsuit in court against a landlord for:
(1) Failure to provide reasonable waterproofing and weather protection of the premises;
(2) Failure to maintain in good working order electrical, plumbing, heating, ventilating, cooling, or sanitary facilities supplied by the landlord;
(3) Maintaining the premises in a manner hazardous to the health or safety of the tenant;
(4) Failure to return a security deposit as and when required by law;
(5) Breach of any term or provision of the lease or rental agreement materially affecting the health and safety of the tenant, whether explicitly or implicitly a part thereof; and
(6) Failure to install approved smoke detectors in each dwelling unit, to include mobile homes, under the landlord’s control.
Right to Quiet Use and Enjoyment
“In Idaho there is an implied covenant in every lease for quiet enjoyment of the property.” Worden v. Ordway, 105 Idaho 719, 722, 672 P.2d 1049, 1052 (1983). This right stems from Idaho Code 6-320(a)(5), which is provided in the prior section, and basically acts as a catch-all provision for any issues that impacts the health and safety on the tenants. See Silver Creek Computers, Inc. v. Petra, Inc., 136 Idaho 879, 42 P.3d 672, (2002). This can include being locked out the premises (without due process of law), air quality, or complying with city, county, and state regulations regarding housing conditions.
Another issue may be instances where the landlord or property management company undertakes repair work that would otherwise require a contractors’ license. I have observed instances where a property manager has attempted to repair electrical components for a heating system through an in-house handyman. The house had repeated problems with overheating. Finally, a licensed electrician came out and observed faulty wiring that created a serious risk of fire. If a landlord hires out repair services, a tenant should be entitled to have that repair work performed by a licensed contractor.
Right to No Discrimination in Housing
Housing discrimination is prohibited by the Federal Fair Housing Act. A landlord may not discriminate based on sex, race, color, religion, disability, familial status or national origin. In cases of a disability, the landlord is required to make reasonable accommodations or modifications to the rental unit or lease policies. This includes allowing a service animal even if the landlord does not allow “pets.”
Right to Possession
Idaho law does not recognize self-help evictions. This means that if a landlord wishes to remove you from the property, the landlord must follow the eviction procedures established by Idaho law. Evictions are governed by Idaho Code, Title 6, Chapter 3. To be evicted, you must be served a notice and an eviction trial must be held. It is unlawful for a landlord to lock you out without following the eviction laws. A landlord may also not try to drive you out by turning off your utilities.
Right to the Return of Your Security Deposit
The return of the security deposit is a commonly disputed matter. Landlords and tenants often disagree on what deductions should be taken or permitted. Inspections prior to moving in may not be detailed enough to discover all existing damages and a landlord may have a different idea of what “normal wear and tear” mean than the renter. These types of disputes are highly factual and must be determined on a case-by-case bases.
Idaho property managers have generally found ways to identify “repairs” that will consume or even exceed your security deposit. This mostly involves white-glove type inspections of hidden or obscure areas that most renters (including prospective renters) would overlook. Some of these items may be legitimate but others are highly questionable. This is an area prone to abusive conduct that may be difficult to prove due to the nature of the charges and the lopsidedness of power and leverage. If a renter disputes charges, it seems the landlord will just send the account to collection, where it damages the renter’s credit history.
By default, a landlord must return your security deposit within 21 days. The lease agreement may extend this time to 30 days. If the landlord does not provide a full return of the deposit, you must be given an itemized statement.
What if Your Landlord is Mistreating You? Know Your Renter Rights.
Idaho Code 6-320 allows a tenant to go to court to enforce the landlord’s duties. Prior to doing so, the tenant must give the landlord 3-days’ notice, listing each failure or breach upon which his action will be premised and written demand requiring performance or cure. If the landlord fails to remedy the issues raised in the notice, the tenant may then file an action in court. You can find more information about making this demand here: How to Request Your Landlord to Make Repairs.