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The following section will help you to navigate your time as a tenant. If you need further information or explanation for any of the topics listed below please contact us. 

Renting 101

Before You Rent

Moving into a new rental unit can be an exciting time. It is also an important time to review, understand, and make clear the rules contained in your rental agreement or “lease”. Knowing what rules and responsibilities you will have when you sign your lease empowers you as a renter. Understanding your rights under the Oklahoma Residential landlord and tenant Act (ORLTA) protects you from agreeing to something in a lease that might not be fair. To have an attorney review your lease for free please contact the landlord tenant Resource Center at LTRC@housingsolutionstulsa.org or call us at 918-218-4138.  

Any time you move into a new rental unit there are steps you should take to protect yourself and your security deposit. The first responsibility is knowing what rules and responsibilities you have under your lease. For more information please see Negotiating and Reviewing the Lease (Rental Agreement). The second step is making sure you know the basics of move-in day. Make sure you contact your new landlord to discuss: 

  • When you can pick up your new keys? 
  • When is your move-in date? 
  • What utilities are you responsible for setting up? 
  • Does your new landlord want to be present when you complete a move-in damage checklist? 

The third step is making sure you complete a move-in damage checklist. Go through each room of the rental unit and note any damage to the unit. You want to make sure you are as detailed as possible in noting any damage because you don’t want to be responsible for the cost of damage you didn’t cause. If your landlord does not provide you with a move-in checklist you should do one on your own and keep it for your records. Taking pictures of any existing damage is a good idea.  

If your landlord won’t let you move in on your scheduled move-in date there are steps you can take. At minimum, you must give WRITTEN DEMAND for your money back and include a mailing address.   

While You're Renting

 A landlord can include rules and regulations to: 

  • Promote the convenience, peace, safety or welfare of all tenants (i.e. having rules in the lease that prohibit smoking inside the unit), 
  • Protect your property from abuse, or 
  • Fairly distribute the services and facilities.  

The rules must apply fairly to all tenants and be clearly understandable by the tenants. The rules must be adopted in good faith (meaning they are honest and fair). A landlord cannot adopt rules to avoid his obligations, such as his obligation to maintain the property in a safe and livable condition. 

If a landlord adopts new rules after the lease agreement was signed, the tenants must be given notice of the rules that were added or changed. If a new rule or regulation substantially changes the tenant’s rights under the lease, the tenant does not have to follow it unless they agree to it in writing. 

A tenant must follow the terms of the lease agreement and perform his duties under the Oklahoma Residential landlord tenant Act. If the tenant breaches the lease or does not perform his duties, the landlord has the following options. 

Request Mediation  

The Early Settlement Mediation Program provides free mediation to resolve concerns between landlords and tenants. Mediation is a meeting between a landlord and a tenant with a neutral third party to help them resolve their concerns and come to a long-lasting agreement that is acceptable to both of them.  

The mediators at Early Settlement Mediation Program are professionally trained and certified by the Oklahoma Supreme Court. The Early Settlement Mediation Program has in-person and virtual mediation options.  

Both landlords and tenants can apply to this free program as soon as a dispute develops. You don’t need to wait for a missed rent payment or for an eviction to be filed.  

To apply for free mediation in Tulsa County: 

  •  Call 918-596-7786 
  •  Complete the intake form and email it to susan.johnson@tulsacounty.org.  

Serve the tenant with a Notice  

If the tenant have breached the lease agreement or violated their duties under the Oklahoma Residential landlord and tenant Act, then the landlord can give the tenant a written notice that states: 

  • What the tenant has done or failed to do 
  • That the lease will end not less than 15 days after the tenant receives the notice 
  • Unless the tenant addresses the breach within 10 days.  

If the tenant repairs the breach within 10 days, then the lease will not end. But if the tenant breaches the lease again in the same way, then the landlord can immediately terminate the lease with a written notice. If the tenant does not repair the breach, then the lease will terminate on the date specified in the notice. 

For example, a tenant may breach the lease by having a pet on the property when it is not allowed. The landlord may give the tenant a notice that the tenant has 10 days to remove the pet or the lease will terminate. The tenant does remove the pet within the 10 days, but then the tenant brings the pet back onto the property. The landlord can then immediately give the tenant a written notice terminating the lease. The landlord must still go through the legal process to evict the tenant after terminating the lease by filing an eviction in court. The landlord cannot lock the tenant out. 

If the tenant damages the property by violating the lease agreement or not performing his duties under the Oklahoma Residential landlord tenant Act, then a landlord can give the tenant a written notice that the tenant has 10 days to make repairs or clean the property. The notice has to be in writing. 

If the tenant doesn’t make the repairs or clean within the 10 days, then the landlord can enter and make the repairs or clean and give the tenant an itemized bill for the costs when the rent is next due. The bill must be itemized to show the actual, reasonable costs of the repairs or cleaning. 

This only applies to damages caused by the tenant abusing the rental property. It doesn’t apply to normal wear and tear from the tenant occupying the property. It also does not relieve the landlord of his obligation to maintain the property in a safe and livable condition. 

 A landlord can immediately end a lease if the tenant is engaged in: 

  • Criminal activity that threatens the health, safety or right of peaceful enjoyment of the rental property by other tenants (i.e. a tenant who walks around the complex threatening other tenants with a weapon), 
  • Criminal activity that is a danger to the rental property, or 
  • Drug-related criminal activity. 

After the lease is immediately terminated, a landlord may file a forcible entry and detainer (eviction) action in small claims court and request a court order for the tenant to leave the rental property or be removed. 

If you are a victim of domestic violence there is help available. Domestic violence does not constitute criminal activity for this purpose and you cannot be removed from your home if the only reason given is that you are a victim 

No, it is illegal for a landlord to lock out a tenant if the tenant breaches the lease. An illegal eviction occurs when a landlord: 

  • Turns off the utilities, 
  • Changes a tenant’s locks, 
  •  Removes the tenant’s personal property from the rental unit, 
  • Threatens or harasses the tenant to leave, or 
  • In any other way forces a tenant out of a rental property without going through the legal process of eviction. 

A landlord must go through the legal process of eviction to remove a tenant from the property for breaching the lease.  Even if the tenant is engaged in criminal activity that results in immediate termination of the lease, a landlord must go through the legal process and cannot lock out a tenant. 

If a landlord illegally evicts a tenant, the tenant can sue the landlord for twice the amount of the monthly rent or twice the amount of the tenant’s actual damages caused by the illegal eviction, whichever is greater.  

 A landlord can enter a rental unit occupied by a tenant for: 

  • Usual inspections, 
  • Repairs, and 
  • Other reasonable purposes.  

A landlord must give the tenant at least 24 hours’ notice before entering the rental unit, unless it is an emergency. 

A landlord can only enter during reasonable times (i.e. not late at night or very early in the morning), unless it is an emergency like a fire, flood, or to make reasonable repairs. 

A tenant cannot unreasonably prevent a landlord  from entering the rental property for usual inspections, repairs, or other reasonable purposes. 

If a tenant unreasonably prevents a landlord from entering the rental property for a permitted reason, such as to make repairs, then the landlord may: 

  • Request an order from a judge to prevent the tenant from continuing to refuse to let the landlord enter the rental property unlawfully or unreasonably; or 
  • Terminate the lease with written notice.  

But the tenant’s refusal has to be unreasonable before a landlord can request a court order or terminate a lease. A tenant’s reasonable refusal will not entitle the landlord to request an injunction or terminate the lease. 

 A landlord is not allowed to enter a rental property occupied by a tenant in an unlawful or unreasonable way. If the landlord: 

  • Enters the property unlawfully, such as without 24 hours’ notice, 
  • Enters the property in an unreasonable manner (i.e. enters your home at 4 a.m. to make repairs), or 
  • Harasses the tenant by making repeated unreasonable demands for entry, 

 Then the tenant may: 

  • Request an order from a judge to prevent the landlord from continuing to enter the rental property unlawfully or unreasonably; or 
  • Terminate the lease with written notice. 

In either case, the tenant can sue the landlord for actual damages caused by the unlawful or unreasonable entry. For instance, if the landlord enters your home to make repairs and causes damage to your personal property (i.e. a television or a computer) then the landlord would be responsible for the cost of the damage. It is important to keep documentation and receipts of any damage caused.  

The issue of late fees is extremely complex and you will need a lawyer’s help if you want to contest late fees. The law for late fees is very vague and can produce different outcomes depending on the facts of the case. To speak to a lawyer for brief legal advice on the issue of late fees please call the Landlord Tenant Resource Center at 918-218-4138. Legal Aid of Oklahoma also has attorneys on staff to assist at no charge, you can apply for their services here.

If you have not paid rent, your landlord has several options including: requesting mediation, asking about rental assistance, or serving the tenant with a notice of non-payment.  

Request Mediation  

The Early Settlement Mediation Program provides free mediation to resolve concerns between landlords and tenants, including non-payment of rent. Mediation is a meeting between a landlord and a tenant with a neutral, third party to help them resolve their concerns and come to a long-lasting agreement that benefits both of them. For example, a mediator can help you and your tenant come up with a repayment plan, help the tenant catch up on unpaid rent, and help you avoid the costs of eviction.  

The mediators at Early Settlement Mediation Program are professionally trained and certified by the Oklahoma Supreme Court. The Early Settlement Mediation Program has in-person and virtual mediation options.  

Both landlords and tenants can apply to this free program as soon as the dispute develops. You don’t need to wait for a missed rent payment or for an eviction to be filed.  

To apply for free mediation: 

  • Call 918-596-7786 
  • Complete the intake form and email it to susan.johnson@tulsacounty.org.  

Ask About Rental Assistance  

You may qualify for assistance that can help you catch up on rent. landlords can also access information about rental assistance. To find out about available rental assistance, landlords or tenants can call 2-1-1 or visit the 2-1-1 website.   

Serve the Tenant with a Notice  

A landlord may terminate a lease for non-payment of rent or file an eviction for non-payment of rent, but they must give the tenant a notice first.  

How much notice a landlord needs to give the tenant for non-payment of rent depends on whether the rental property is covered by the CARES Act.  

If a property is covered by the CARES Act, the landlord must give 30 days notice before filing an eviction for non-payment of rent. 

The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act requires a landlord to give a tenant 30 days notice before filing an eviction for non-payment of rent on or after July 26, 2020. The CARES Act does not have an end date for this requirement.  

The CARES Act applies to properties with a federally-backed mortgage, including: 

The CARES Act also applies to properties that participate in a federally-subsidized rental assistance program, including: 

  •  Public Housing 
  •  Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher Program 
  •  Section 8 Project-Based Housing 
  •  Section 202 Housing for the Elderly 
  •  Section 811 Housing for People with Disabilities 
  •  Section 236 Multifamily Rental Housing 
  •  Section 221(d)(3) Below Market Interest Rate (BMIR) housing 
  •  HOME 
  •  Housing Opportunities for Persons with AIDS (HOPWA) 
  •  McKinney-Vento Act homelessness programs 
  •  Low-Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC)  

If you are not sure if your rental property is covered by the CARES Act, you can check using the Fannie Mae search tool or the Freddie Mac search toolYou can also check the CARES Act database. If you receive any of these rental assistance programs and your landlord did not give you a 30 day notice, you should speak with a lawyer.  

If a property is NOT covered by the CARES Act, the landlord must give 5 days notice before filing an eviction for non-payment of rent.  

If the tenant pays the rent within the 5 days of the notice, the landlord must accept the rent and the lease will not terminate.  

A landlord is not limited to 5 days and can give the tenant additional time to pay before terminating the lease if they choose.  But the notice cannot be less than 5 days. 

No, it is illegal for a landlord to lock out a tenant without going through the legal process of eviction. An illegal eviction occurs when a landlord: 

  • Changes a tenant’s locks, 
  • Removes the tenant’s personal property from the rental unit, 
  • Turns off the utilities, 
  • Threatens or harasses the tenant to leave, or 
  • In any other way forces a tenant out of a rental property without going through the legal process of eviction. 

A landlord must go through the legal process of eviction to remove a tenant from the property for non-payment of rent.   

If a landlord illegally evicts a tenant, the tenant can sue the landlord for twice the amount of the monthly rent or twice the amount of the tenant’s actual damages caused by the illegal eviction, whichever is greater

Yes, the landlord must keep the rental property in a fit and habitable (safe and livable) condition. 

To be habitable (or safe and livable), a rental unit must be safe for a tenant to live in and comply with all safety and housing codes. This includes maintaining in good and safe condition all electrical, plumbing, sanitary, heating, ventilating, air-conditioning and other facilities and appliances, including elevators, that are supplied by the landlord. 

For multifamily property owners, this also includes 

  • Keeping common areas clean, safe, and sanitary, 
  • Providing garbage and waste removal, and  
  • Supplying running water and reasonable amounts of hot water, unless the water service is supplied directly to the rental unit with an independently metered connection. 

As a property owner, a landlord must comply with city and county codes. The Tulsa Health Department inspects properties, including rental units, and enforces minimum building standards, including requirements for sanitation, maintenance, electrical, mechanical and plumbing systems, and more. 

The Tulsa Health Department offers free courtesy inspections of homes and apartment units to ensure a healthy and safe home for their tenants. Qualifying properties can enroll in THD’s Safe and Healthy Homes Program. For more information, call 918-595-4200 or visit the Tulsa Health Department website. 

A landlord must make all repairs necessary to maintain the property in a safe and livable condition.  

Yes, but only if there is a separate written agreement between the landlord and the tenant stating: (1) the tenant will make repairs, and (2) what specific repairs, maintenance, alterations, or remodeling the tenant will perform. A landlord cannot make a tenant responsible for repairs in the lease agreement. Please note that this area of law is particularly complex and you should consult a lawyer before signing any written agreements. You can speak to an attorney for free by calling 918-218-4138 or by visiting Legal Aid Services of Oklahoma, Inc.  

Only if the tenant or the tenant’s guest caused damage beyond normal wear and tear. Normal wear and tear is property deterioration that occurs from living in the property. For example, carpet wearing out, paint fading, or door handles loosening.  

If the tenant or the tenant’s guests cause damage by abusing the property, then a landlord can give the tenant a written notice that the tenant has 10 days to make repairs or clean the property. The notice has to be in writing. If the tenant doesn’t make the repairs or clean within the 10 days, then the landlord can enter and make the repairs or clean and give the tenant an itemized bill for the costs when the rent is next due. The bill must be itemized to show the actual, reasonable costs of the repairs or cleaning.  

If a landlord makes the repairs and gives the bill to the tenant as described above, then the landlord cannot end the lease for the tenant’s failure to make the repairs.  

Under certain circumstances, a tenant can repair a rental property and deduct the cost of the repairs from a future rent payment, if they follow certain steps and inform their landlord in writing. 

The repair must: (1) be necessary for health or safety, and (2) cost $100 or less to make. The tenant can give a written notice to the landlord that the landlord has 14 to days to fix the problem or the tenant will repair it and deduct the cost from the rent. Only if the landlord does not make the repair within 14 days can the tenant make the repair. The tenant must also provide an itemized bill for the work done. Legal Aid Services of Oklahoma offers a sample demand for repairs letter that you can use.  

Yes, a tenant can terminate a lease if the landlord doesn’t make necessary repairs. The tenant must give a landlord a written notice that if the repair is not made within 14 days then the lease will terminate 30 days from the date of the notice. If the landlord does not make the repair within 14 days, the tenant can move out when the lease terminates and will not have to pay any more rent.   

If the rental unit is dangerous, unlivable, or uninhabitable (for example, without heat in the winter if the landlord is responsible for utilitiesthen a tenant can give a landlord a written notice of the problem and move out immediately. 

Yes, the Tulsa Health Department can issue a notice of violation for any violations of minimum building standards. For more information on inspections and corrective actions, visit the Tulsa Health Department’s website. 

The Working in Neighborhoods (WIN) department was created in October 2006 to focus on: Housing, Neighborhood Services, Neighborhood Investigations (Code Enforcement) and Animal Welfare. Their Mission Statement is: to promote community education, develop and sustain private-public partnerships that enhance public safety, neighborhood revitalization and the quality of life of all residents within Tulsa.  

The Housing section of WIN oversees the City of Tulsa’s Housing Assistance Programs and Property Maintenance enforcement. 

The Housing Assistance Programs are federally funded programs that assist citizens of Tulsa that own and occupy their home and meet specified income guidelines. Those citizens who are eligible can receive assistance for emergency repairs and rehabilitation loans. 

The Housing division also enforces the City of Tulsa’s Title 55 ordinance. This is considered the Property Maintenance ordinance that holds owners of all existing structures responsible for the minimum property maintenance standards for Title 55. 

Top Property Maintenance issues: 

Roof – All roofs shall be structurally sound, tight, and have no defects which might admit rain. 

  • Broken Windows – All windows must be maintained in an operable manner and watertight condition. 
  • Exterior Walls – Every exterior wall shall be free of holes, breaks, loose or rotting boards or timbers, and any other conditions which might admit rain or dampness to the interior portions of the walls or to the occupied spaces of the building. All exterior surface materials, including wood, composition, or metal siding, shall be maintained weatherproof and shall be properly coated when required to prevent deterioration. 
  • Accessory Structures – All accessory structures, including detached garages, fences, and walls, shall be maintained structurally sound and in compliance with Title 55. 
  • Stairs and porches – Every stair, porch, fire escape, balcony, and all accessories attached shall be so constructed as to be safe to use and capable of supporting the anticipated loads and shall be maintained in sound condition and good repair. 

Violations can be reported online or by calling the Customer Care Center at 311. Be prepared to give a physical address and your name. 

A landlord must ensure that all rental units are able to have electricity, heat, and running water. That includes maintaining everything needed for those utilities in good and safe working order. For example, plumbing must be maintained for the tenant to have running water.  

Multifamily property owners must supply running water and reasonable amounts of hot water, unless the water service is supplied directly to the rental unit with an independently metered connection. 

Yes. If your rental property doesn’t have an essential service required by the minimum building standards then the Tulsa Health Department can issue a notice of violation.  

For example, running water is required for sanitation, cleaning, personal hygiene, and preparing meals. If a rental property does not have running water, the Tulsa Health Department will issue a 10 day notice of violation and order to repair to the landlord. A copy of the notice will be provided to any tenant occupying the property. 

For more information on building standards and enforcement actions, visit the Tulsa Health Department’s website. 

If a landlord doesn’t supply running water, hot water, heat, electricity, gas, or any other essential service then the tenant must give the landlord a written notice of the problem and then can: 

  • End the lease with a written notice; or 
  •  Arrange for the essential service himself and deduct the cost of the service from the rent; or 
  • Sue the landlord for the difference between the monthly rent cost and what it is worth without the heat or other essential service; or 
  •  Move out of the rental unit temporarily until the service is restored and not pay rent for the time the tenant is away. 

Please note that anytime you are thinking of withholding or not paying rent due to lack of essential services, or if you are going to deduct the cost of repairs from your rent you should consult a lawyer. You can speak to a lawyer for free by calling 918-218-4138 or visiting Legal Aid Services of Oklahoma, Inc 

No, it is illegal for a landlord to turn off a tenant’s utilities for non-payment of rent. An illegal eviction occurs when a landlord: 

  •  Turns off the utilities, 
  •  Changes a tenant’s locks, 
  • Removes the tenant’s personal property from the rental unit, 
  • Threatens or harasses the tenant to leave, or 
  •  In any other way forces a tenant out of a rental property without going through the legal process of eviction.  

A landlord must go through the legal process of eviction to remove a tenant from the property for non-payment of rent.  

If a landlord illegally evicts a tenant, the tenant can sue the landlord for twice the amount of the monthly rent or twice the amount of the tenant’s actual damages caused by the illegal eviction, whichever is greater.  

Ending the Lease

You have a duty to leave the rental unit clean and without damage (beyond normal wear and tear). 

Your landlord is allowed to inspect the rental unit after you move, and to make repairs. You are not responsible for the problems that existed when you moved in or for normal wear and tear. You will be responsible for any damage you, your family, or a guest caused during your tenancy.

Make sure to take pictures of the unit upon moving out in case you need proof that you left the unit clean and without damage.  

You have six (6) months from the date you move out of your rental to request your deposit back, but it is best to do it when you notify your landlord that you are moving. 

Written Notice

You must give your landlord written notice that you are requesting your deposit back. You must give the landlord a new address where you can receive mail after you move. Keep a copy of this notice for your records. 

You can access a sample demand letter here

The landlord has 45 days after the date of your letter to return your security deposit, or to provide you with a list of the reasons for keeping some or all of your money.