Gun control has been a hot topic of debate in the U.S. for decades, though it recently received renewed fervor following the school shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, on Feb. 14, where 17 people were killed and 17 more were wounded.
The tragedy sparked heated debate on both sides – while some are calling for stricter laws regarding gun ownership, others fear such laws will take away their right to bear arms.
But in the case of private property, the decision to keep firearms on the premises may not be up to you. For tenants in apartments or rental homes, depending on the state you live in, your landlord may have the ability to restrict gun ownership.
While the Second Amendment establishes the right to bear arms, it does not keep individual property owners from restricting the presence of guns. Retail stores across the U.S. place signs at entrances that establish the spaces as a gun-free zones – and in many cases landlords will do the same.
The ultimate decision on whether guns can be restricted in any form in rental property comes at the state level, where “it varies a lot on how gun laws are interpreted,” says Michael Skojec, senior counsel at Ballard Spahr LLP, a law firm specializing in litigation on behalf of property owners, developers and property management regarding real estate and fair housing.
Whether you own a gun or are looking to keep as far away as possible from one, it’s important to understand how your right to bear arms and your tenant rights coexist, differ and intersect. Here’s what you should know about a landlord’s ability to restrict firearms.
What States Decide
Like many issues regarding residential property, landlord-tenant laws are largely left to individual states to determine and regulate.
The major exception, of course, is fair housing. The Fair Housing Act was originally enacted in 1968 and protects against housing discrimination based on race, color, national origin, religion, sex, disability or family status. Gun ownership is not a protected class under fair housing laws and is therefore subject to potential restrictions or laws based on the state.
Most states remain silent on the issue, which effectively allows landlords to stipulate in the lease whether firearms are allowed on the property or not.
“If there’s no state law that says they are prohibited from limiting guns, then the default would be that as a private landlord, you can prohibit any activities on your property that you want, other than those that might discriminate under discrimination laws,” Skojec says.
Some states go further and establish that a landlord has the express right to ban guns from their property. Tennessee law explicitly allows landlords to prohibit firearms in their rentals by including the ban through a clause in the lease or by following a uniform landlord-tenant act that exists in some counties in the state. If a Tennessee landlord posts signs prohibiting firearms that follow state requirements, a violating tenant could even be subject to criminal prosecution.
Minnesota, on the other hand, forbids landlord prohibitions of firearms outright. As the 2017 firearm possession statutes note: “A landlord may not restrict the lawful carry or possession of firearms by tenants or their guests.”
Other states limit a landlord’s right to establish rules but leave room for some restrictions. Ohio law, for example, restricts landlords from prohibiting tenants or their guests from possessing a firearm when they are concealed carry licensees.
Public Housing Rules
Regardless of the state, restrictions on gun ownership in public housing where the federal government plays a more direct role are tougher. “Whenever the government is involved and providing any restrictions or prohibitions directly – not a landowner but a government agency – then that constitutional amendment has to be respected,” Skojec says.
Skojec recalls a federal case out of Delaware in 2012 – Doe v. Wilmington Housing Authority – which ruled policies restricting firearm possession could stand as long as they fell under “reasonable regulation.” In this case, that included limiting guns in common areas and requiring gun owners to be able to provide the proper paperwork for ownership, possession or transport of a firearm.
In appeal, however, the case was redirected to the Supreme Court of Delaware, which ruled that the state’s constitution, which defines the right to bear arms more broadly than the U.S. Constitution, and the housing authority’s policies violated rights established by the state.
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development does not offer any guidance on the issue of firearms in public housing, leaving it to state laws and local housing authorities to decide. In Virginia, the law specifically prohibits restrictions on lawful firearm possession for public housing only, unless the restriction follows a federal law or regulation. In states that don’t specify, Skojec says many public housing authorities will err on the side of reasonable regulation – establishing rules for common areas, but otherwise allowing a gun to be lawfully kept in a rental and appropriately transported to and from the home.
When You’re Not Sure
In states where prohibitions on gun possession are not allowed, any clause in a lease agreement violating that law would not be upheld in court. Even in states where restrictions are permitted, a landlord should get legal advice to ensure any clauses in the lease follow the law. "The best thing is to have their attorneys draft the lease to put the language in there," says Kris Taylor, president and owner of American Tenant Screen Inc., a tenant-screening company.
But even when a landlord can ban firearms from his or her property, if it’s otherwise lawful ownership, there’s little immediate recourse to get a gun off the property. Police departments enforce local laws, and if the gun is registered, properly stored and not being used in a threatening manner, the quickest action is through eviction court for violation of the lease.
Whether you're a proud firearm owner or you prefer to live in a gun-free zone, it doesn't hurt to ask if there is a policy when you tour the rental or apply for a lease. Otherwise, you likely won't hear about any restrictions until you're going through the contract with a leasing agent, unless there are signs displayed. Taylor says her company doesn't include any information about gun ownership in its tenant screening process, but they've also never had a request by landlords, either. "It's not something that we ask or people ask us to do," she says.
For the sake of avoiding future problems, if you fundamentally disagree with a landlord’s firearm policy, look to live elsewhere in the same way you’d avoid an apartment building that doesn’t allow dogs if you have a Labrador retriever.
Pulling one over on your property manager won't work.
Your ability to communicate with your landlord or property manager as a renter is key to living happily and in peace. When you fail to notify your landlord of problems you encounter – or try to hide guests or other things that may not be permitted in your lease – the relationship is often compromised. Especially in instances when you’ve brought in an unauthorized pet or let a maintenance issue get worse due to not reporting it, you may find yourself having to pay your landlord extra, losing your security deposit or even getting evicted.Stay in touch.
Stay in touch.
Any good landlord will encourage tenants to be in communication often, which makes it easy to request maintenance or ask a question about what the lease allows. Property management companies often offer multiple forms of communication, from face-to-face conversation with a receptionist or leasing agent to contact via email or an online resident portal, says Lynn Edmondson, regional manager of Wendover Housing Partners, a property management company based in Altamonte Springs, Florida. Once you send a request, the property manager or landlord will then “communicate in writing about what’s going on and what needs to be done,” Edmondson says. Read on for seven things you shouldn’t – and likely won’t be able to – hide from your landlord.A new roommate
A new roommate
Living with a roommate is a great way to save on housing expenses, but your landlord has to know about said roommate – and approve. It may be a matter of simply revising the lease once you notify your landlord of the desired addition, but your landlord also has the right to run the potential roommate through the same vetting process as with every other tenant, which can include a credit check, employment confirmation and previous residence referrals. If you sneak a roommate in, your illegal co-tenant could be evicted. One exception is when you have a dependent, which can be a child, elderly parent or an adult relative you legally care for. Laws in certain states clarify that “you’re not allowed to ask an applicant if they have any dependents living in the unit with them,” says Nat Kunes, vice president of product at AppFolio, a full-suite property management software company. Check your state's landlord-tenant laws, which should be available online, for more information.A sublet
Just like a roommate, sneaking a sublet tenant into your rental will likely be found out by a landlord, and it can have devastating consequences. Always review your lease first for a subleasing policy. The landlord may not allow sublets at all or could require the subtenant to go through the same vetting process all residents go through when applying to live there. Also check your state laws on subleasing, which may give you more or less leeway depending on how detailed the law is. In South Carolina, for example, the law states a sublease agreement isn’t valid unless the landlord has signed off on it. An illegal sublet could result in your eviction for violating the lease, as well as the subtenant’s eviction for residing there illegally.A pet
A dog or cat won’t help you pay the rent, but millions of Americans love adding to the rental family by bringing a pet home. Again, however, your landlord has the right to establish a no-pets policy or place restrictions on the pets allowed, such as the type of animal, size and breed. “If the pet [is] qualified to live there, it’s just a minor thing of changing the lease to add that and collect the appropriate fee,” Edmondson says. If you get caught keeping a pet in your place when the landlord hasn’t approved it, you’ll likely have to fork over the fees anyway. But if the place doesn’t allow pets, you’ll likely either be asked to move out or rehome your pet.Pet damage
Outside of properly notifying your landlord or property manager of a new pet, Edmondson says damage to a rental caused by a pet is one of the more common issues she sees residents try to cover up. Whether you struggled to housetrain a puppy or your cat loves scaling the blinds, the best course of action is to own up to the damage before moving out. “I’ve had that happen several times, when [cleaners] go in to clean the carpet and they come back and say, ‘We can’t clean it, there’s too much pet damage,’” Edmondson says. You’ll have to pay for the repairs regardless, but it keeps a more positive interaction between you and the property manager if you’re honest. Trying to get away with damage could also lead to a negative report from the property manager if any future landlord calls to check on your residential history.Maintenance problems
Whether it’s a backed-up toilet, a leaky roof or fire damage in the kitchen, any problem should be reported to your landlord or property manager as soon as you become aware of it. “A lot of those types of maintenance issues that over time get much, much worse,” Kunes says, noting a leak can lead to extensive water damage and mold. Edmondson says there are tenants who simply don’t report such issues for fear of having to cover damage they caused: “They think after they move out they will not be responsible for those damages.” Of course, any damages outside normal wear and tear will come out of your security deposit, and you can additionally be billed for damages exceeding that amount.Broken appliances
If the fridge, dryer, garbage disposal or any other appliance stops working properly, you have the right to report it and expect it to be fixed. There’s a good chance the landlord will replace an older appliance at no charge to you. If the appliance is relatively new or was damaged from particularly hard use, the landlord may look to you to cover it. If you move out before notifying the landlord, it will be discovered, and you’ll be expected to pay it, Edmondson says.A pest problem
A pest problem
Pests can get into a rental property in a variety of ways: Rodents could be stirred up by construction next door, or maybe other tenants have a habit of leaving food uncovered on the counter or table. Either way, it’s imperative you notify your landlord immediately about a pest problem so it can be taken care of. Most large apartment complexes have standing relationships with pest control companies, which consistently work to keep pests from accessing any rental homes and limit the spread of those that do get inside. If you don’t start communicating with your property manager early on, the problem could become worse – and the blame may fall on you as a result. “That could be a tenant-caused issue that the tenant could be responsible for to pay,” Kunes says.Read More
She has appeared in media interviews across the U.S. including National Public Radio, WTOP (Washington, D.C.) and KOH (Reno, Nevada) and various print publications, as well as having served on panels discussing real estate development, city planning policy and homebuilding.
Previously, she served as a researcher of commercial real estate transactions and information, and is currently a member of the National Association of Real Estate Editors. Thorsby studied Political Science at the University of Michigan, where she also served as a news reporter and editor for the student newspaper The Michigan Daily. Follow her on Twitter or write to her at firstname.lastname@example.org.