South Carolina Tenant-Landlord Rental Laws & Rights for 2024

Overview of South Carolina Landlord-Tenant Laws

South Carolina's landlord-tenant laws are primarily governed by the South Carolina Residential Landlord and Tenant Act. This comprehensive act establishes the rights and responsibilities for both landlords and tenants in residential rental situations across the state.

The Residential Landlord and Tenant Act covers a wide range of issues related to the rental of dwelling units, including security deposits, evictions, repairs and maintenance obligations, discrimination prohibitions, and more. It outlines the procedures landlords must follow when dealing with security deposits, terminating leases, or pursuing evictions against tenants.

The act also details the duties of both landlords and tenants regarding the condition of the rental property. Landlords are required to maintain fit and habitable premises, while tenants must keep their units safe and clean. Specific provisions cover repairs, access for maintenance, and what constitutes prohibited property damage.

Overall, the South Carolina Residential Landlord and Tenant Act serves as the foundation for rental laws in the state, aiming to protect the rights of both property owners and renters. It establishes a framework of rules and processes that landlords and tenants must adhere to throughout the rental agreement.

Tenant Rights and Responsibilities in South Carolina

As a tenant in South Carolina, you have certain rights and responsibilities under state law. One of your primary obligations is to pay rent on time as specified in the lease agreement. Failure to pay rent can lead to eviction proceedings being initiated by your landlord.

You also have a duty to comply with the terms of your lease and any reasonable rules established by the landlord regarding use and occupancy of the rental unit. This includes not damaging the property beyond normal wear and tear.

Under South Carolina's Residential Landlord and Tenant Act, you have the right to a habitable rental unit that is fit for living and complies with applicable housing codes. Your landlord must ensure the premises are safe and sanitary, with proper heating, plumbing, electrical systems, and structural components.

You are entitled to privacy and the right to access and peacefully enjoy the rental property. Your landlord cannot abuse their right of entry or enter without proper notice except in case of emergency.

As a tenant, you have an obligation for basic cleanliness and sanitation of the rental unit. You must use all facilities like plumbing and appliances in a reasonable manner, avoid damaging the property, and remove your belongings when the lease ends.

Landlord Rights and Responsibilities in South Carolina

In South Carolina, landlords have certain rights and responsibilities under state law regarding the rental properties they own and manage. These include:

Provide Habitable Rental Unit

Landlords must ensure that rental units are habitable and fit for human living at the start of the tenancy. This means the property must be in a safe condition, with working essential systems like plumbing, heating, and electricity. The property should also be free of any health or safety code violations.

Make Necessary Repairs

Once a tenant takes possession, landlords are responsible for making any necessary repairs to keep the property habitable and maintaining operational systems like HVAC and major appliances. Tenants must notify landlords of repair issues in writing, and landlords must address the issues in a timely manner.

Allow Tenant Peaceful Possession

Landlords must allow tenants the exclusive and peaceful possession of the rental unit for the duration of the lease term, as long as the tenant upholds their end of the lease agreement. This means not disturbing or harassing the tenant unnecessarily.

Follow Eviction Procedures

If a tenant violates the terms of the lease, landlords must follow the proper legal eviction procedures outlined in South Carolina law. This includes providing adequate written notice, filing with the court, and allowing tenants to contest if desired. Self-help evictions are illegal.

Maintain Property

Landlords have an obligation to maintain all areas of the property under their control in a reasonably safe and habitable condition. This includes common areas like lobbies, stairwells, parking lots, and grounds that tenants are entitled to access and use.

Handling Repairs and Maintenance

One of the most important - and frequently contested - areas of landlord-tenant law in South Carolina involves the responsibility for repairs and maintenance of the rental property. Under South Carolina law, landlords have an obligation to keep rental units in a fit and habitable condition by making necessary repairs and dealing with issues that materially affect health and safety.

Landlords must maintain in good and safe working order all electrical, plumbing, sanitary, heating, ventilating, air-conditioning, and other facilities and appliances supplied by the landlord. This includes repairs to things like the roof, walls, windows, doors, floors, stairs, porches, exterior buildings, chimneys, and other structural components.

If a tenant notifies the landlord in writing of a needed repair or maintenance issue that violates habitability requirements, the landlord must undertake the repair within 14 days. If the repair is one that qualifies as an emergency affecting health and safety, the landlord must begin work on the repair within 24 hours.

If the landlord fails to make necessary repairs within the required timeframes, the tenant has several potential remedies:

  • Withhold a portion of rent that reasonably reflects the reduced rental value until repairs are made
  • Terminate the rental agreement early if the issue violates habitability requirements
  • Pursue damages from the landlord for any injuries or losses due to the repair issue

However, tenants do not have the right to repair issues themselves and deduct from rent without the landlord's consent.

Tenants also have repair obligations of their own. They must use all facilities like plumbing and electrical in a reasonable manner, keep the premises clean and safe, dispose of garbage properly, and avoid damaging any part of the premises beyond normal wear and tear. If a tenant damages the rental unit, the landlord can deduct repair costs from the security deposit.

When making repairs, landlords must provide 24 hours notice to tenants before entering, except in emergencies. Tenants cannot unreasonably deny landlords access to make needed repairs or conduct inspections at reasonable times.

South Carolina Security Deposit Laws

In South Carolina, there is no statutory limit on how much a landlord can charge for a security deposit. However, it is generally accepted that the deposit should be reasonably related to the rent amount and the potential costs of repairing damage to the unit.

Landlords in South Carolina are permitted to deduct from the security deposit for any unpaid rent or utilities, as well as the cost of repairing damages beyond normal wear and tear. This can include excessive cleaning fees to restore the unit to its original condition. Landlords cannot, however, deduct for routine repainting or carpet cleaning costs associated with normal use.

South Carolina law requires landlords to return any remaining portion of the security deposit within 30 days after the tenant has surrendered the premises. The landlord must provide a written description of any deductions from the deposit.

If the landlord fails to return the deposit or provide the required documentation within 30 days, the tenant can seek to recover the full deposit amount, plus additional damages up to three times the amount wrongfully withheld, as well as reasonable attorney's fees.

It is advisable for tenants to conduct a move-in inspection and document the condition of the unit with photos or video. This documentation can help dispute any improper deductions from the deposit when moving out. Tenants should also provide the landlord with a forwarding address in writing before vacating.

Eviction Process in South Carolina

In South Carolina, landlords must follow specific legal procedures to evict a tenant. The most common reasons for eviction include non-payment of rent, violation of lease terms, or the tenant remaining on the property after the lease has expired.

To begin the eviction process, the landlord must provide proper written notice to the tenant. For non-payment of rent, the landlord must give a 14-day notice to quit. For violation of lease terms or remaining after the lease ends, the landlord must provide a 30-day notice to vacate.

If the tenant does not move out after receiving proper notice, the landlord can then file an eviction lawsuit with the local magistrate court. The tenant will receive a summons and complaint detailing the reasons for eviction. The tenant has the right to respond and present a defense in court.

Common defenses a tenant may raise include the landlord failing to maintain a habitable property, retaliation for requesting repairs, or discrimination. The court will hear arguments from both sides before deciding if the eviction can proceed.

If the court rules in favor of the landlord, it will issue a written order giving the tenant a specific timeframe, usually 5-10 days, to vacate the property. If the tenant still does not leave, the landlord can then request the county sheriff to forcibly remove the tenant.

It is illegal for a landlord to try to force a tenant out through lockouts, utility shutoffs, or other self-help measures without going through the formal court eviction process. Penalties for illegal evictions can include money damages and potential criminal charges.

Rent Control and Rent Increases in South Carolina

South Carolina does not have any statewide rent control laws that limit how much landlords can charge for rent or cap annual rent increases. Landlords are generally free to raise rent as they see fit when a lease term expires. However, some local municipalities have enacted their own rent regulations that landlords must follow.

Several cities and counties in South Carolina have passed ordinances that require landlords to give tenants advance written notice before raising the rent, typically between 30-90 days. These laws allow tenants time to decide whether to accept the new rental rate or make plans to move out.

For example, in Charleston County, landlords must provide at least 60 days' notice for any rent increase over 7.9%. In the city of Columbia, landlords must give 60 days' notice for any rent hike. Greenville County requires 30 days' notice for rent increases under 7.9% and 90 days' notice for larger increases.

A few localities also cap how much landlords can raise the rent each year, at least for certain rental properties. The town of Mount Pleasant limits rent increases to 7.9% per year for dwellings covered by their rent stabilization ordinance. Hilton Head Island caps annual rent hikes at the increase in the Consumer Price Index.

While most areas of South Carolina allow landlords to raise rent without strict limits, tenants should check if their city or county has any rent control regulations in place. Landlords must provide proper notice and follow local laws regarding rent increases.

Landlord Entry and Privacy Rules

Landlords in South Carolina have a right to access rental units, but this right is balanced against tenant privacy rights. Landlords can only enter for legitimate business purposes like making repairs, inspecting the premises, or showing the unit to prospective buyers or tenants. Landlords must provide at least 24 hours' notice before entry, except in emergencies.

Upon proper notice, tenants must allow reasonable entry by landlords during normal business hours. However, landlords cannot abuse this right or use it to harass tenants. Entry must be at reasonable times and for valid reasons related to the landlord's business interests.

Tenants have a reasonable expectation of privacy in their rental home. Landlords cannot enter without proper notice except in true emergencies that threaten health, safety, or property damage. Landlords also cannot enter solely to catch a tenant violating lease terms - they must have another legitimate business reason.

If a landlord makes unlawful or unauthorized entry, tenants can pursue remedies. This may include terminating the lease, recovering damages, or filing for an injunction to prevent further violations. Tenants who feel their privacy rights were abused should consult an attorney about their options under South Carolina law.

Fair Housing Laws in South Carolina

South Carolina has laws in place to protect tenants from housing discrimination based on certain protected characteristics. These fair housing laws make it illegal for landlords, property managers, real estate agents, lenders, and others to discriminate against individuals in the rental, sale, or financing of housing.

Under the South Carolina Fair Housing Law and the federal Fair Housing Act, it is unlawful to discriminate against someone based on their race, color, religion, sex, familial status, national origin, or disability. In South Carolina, additional protected classes include age, marital status, and creed.

Discriminatory practices that are prohibited include refusing to rent or sell housing, offering different terms or conditions, providing misleading information about availability, denying reasonable accommodations for disabilities, and more. Landlords cannot discriminate when advertising rental units, screening applicants, setting rental policies, or terminating leases.

The South Carolina Human Affairs Commission is the primary agency that enforces the state's fair housing laws. They investigate complaints of housing discrimination and can pursue legal action against violators. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) also investigates fair housing violations under the federal Fair Housing Act.

Penalties for violating fair housing laws can be severe. Landlords and others found guilty may face civil fines, punitive damages, attorney fees, and potential criminal charges in egregious cases. Victims of housing discrimination are entitled to compensation and injunctive relief to address the violation.

South Carolina Landlord Retaliation Prohibitions

South Carolina law prohibits landlords from retaliating against tenants for exercising their legal rights. Retaliation by a landlord is illegal when done to get back at a tenant for actions like:

  • Complaining to the landlord about needed repairs or violations of their rights
  • Exercising legal rights like withholding rent when repairs aren't made
  • Filing official complaints or legal action against the landlord
  • Joining or organizing a tenant's union

Examples of illegal landlord retaliation include terminating a lease, filing an eviction, increasing rent, decreasing services, or creating other penalties against the tenant within 6 months after they exercised their rights.

To prove retaliation, a tenant must show their protected act, like complaining about repairs, was the primary reason for the landlord's adverse action against them, like terminating their lease. Circumstantial evidence of the landlord's retaliatory motive is considered.

If retaliation is proven, the landlord may be liable for the tenant's damages, like moving costs or rent differentials. Tenants can also potentially break their lease or recover possession without penalties. Landlords may face fines or misdemeanor charges for willful violations.

Resources for Tenants and Landlords in South Carolina

South Carolina Legal Services provides free legal assistance to low-income tenants on issues like evictions, repairs, discrimination, and more. Contact them at 1-888-346-5592.

Landlord Associations

The South Carolina Apartment Association represents landlords and property managers across the state. They offer resources, training, and advocacy.

Tenant Unions/Advocacy

The Columbia Tenants Union and Charleston Area Tenant Union are grassroots groups that organize tenants and advocate for affordable housing.

State Housing Agencies

The South Carolina State Housing Finance and Development Authority oversees affordable housing programs and fair housing compliance.  

The South Carolina Human Affairs Commission investigates housing discrimination complaints under state and federal fair housing laws.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the main tenant rights under South Carolina law?

Under the South Carolina Residential Landlord and Tenant Act, tenants have the right to a habitable rental unit that is fit for living and complies with applicable building and housing codes. This means the property must have working essential services like heat, running water, and electricity. Tenants also have the right to privacy, with the landlord providing reasonable notice before entering except in emergencies.

Can a landlord raise the rent as much as they want in South Carolina?

South Carolina does not have any statewide rent control or rent stabilization laws that limit how much a landlord can increase the rent. However, some municipalities like Columbia have local ordinances that cap annual rent increases. Unless restricted by a local law or the lease agreement itself, landlords can raise the rent by any desired amount when the lease term expires.

What reasons can a landlord use to evict a tenant in South Carolina?

The most common legal reasons a landlord can evict a tenant in South Carolina include:

  • Nonpayment of rent
  • Violation of lease terms or rental agreement 
  • Tenant remains on the property after the lease expires
  • Tenant causes excessive property damage
  • Tenant engages in illegal activity on the premises

Landlords must follow the proper legal eviction procedures and cannot evict in retaliation for a tenant exercising their rights.

How much notice is required to end a month-to-month lease in SC?

For a month-to-month tenancy in South Carolina, either the landlord or tenant must provide written notice at least 30 days before the desired termination date. For example, if the tenant wants to move out by June 30th, they need to give notice by June 1st. Proper advance notice is required unless both parties agree otherwise in writing.

What fees can a landlord charge a tenant besides rent in South Carolina?

In addition to rent, it is common for landlords in South Carolina to charge:

  • Security deposits (maximum of two month's rent if a furnished unit)
  • Late fees for overdue rent payments
  • Application fees and credit/background check fees
  • Returned check fees if a rent payment bounces
  • Penalties for breaking the lease early without proper notice

However, landlords cannot charge tenants other miscellaneous fees not associated with the actual costs of offering the rental unit.

What steps can a tenant take if the landlord fails to make essential repairs?

If the landlord fails to repair serious issues like a broken heater or major leak after proper notice, South Carolina tenants have some options:

  • Withhold a portion of rent in an escrow account until repairs are made
  • Pay for the repair themselves and deduct the cost from next month's rent
  • Terminate the lease early if the property is deemed uninhabitable 
  • File a complaint with local code enforcement

However, tenants must provide written notice first and follow proper procedures. It's advisable to consult a lawyer before taking action.

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