The information in this page is provided as a free resource for renters in Delaware. It is not legal advice. If you need legal advice or additional legal help, contact

  • http://www.declasi.org/
  •  https://www.dvls.org/
  • https://www.lscd.com/

Does Delaware have “rent control?”

Rent is not regulated in Delaware. This means that the only limit on how much a landlord in Delaware can charge for rent is what people are willing to pay. This is sometimes called a “market rate.”

What does it mean to have a “safe, habitable” place to live in Delaware?

DE requires landlords to maintain premises in compliance with applicable housing/building codes (DE’s state codes are versions of the standardized codes used by many states). Relevant portions of Newcastle County’s local codes are highlighted in this tenants’ rights guide (including landlord obligations to maintain premises free of leaks, pests, and mold and to provide locking doors/windows)

Landlords must also:

  • Maintain common areas in clean and sanitary conditions
  • Make all repairs ” necessary to put and keep the rental unit and the appurtenances thereto in as good a condition as they were, or ought by law or agreement to have been, at the commencement of the tenancy.”
  • Maintain all electrical, plumbing, and “other facilities supplied by the landlord” in working order.
  • Provide hot water, heat, water, and electricity to the dwelling and remedy conditions that interrupt the provision of these services.”

Windows

The landlord is required to provide locks on exterior dwelling doors as part of state building codes. The same codes require windows to be held in place by “window hardware,” but it is unclear whether such hardware must be a lock. State/local codes might have more detailed security requirements.

Heat and Air Conditioning

The landlord must provide heat to the dwelling. State law does not mandate air conditioning, but it is possible local codes might contain such a mandate.

Does my landlord have to provide smoke detectors or carbon monoxide detectors in Delaware?

“Smoke detectors are required in all houses and apartment buildings.  CO detectors are required in all “Lodging Establishments” that contain either an attached garage, a “fossil-fuel burning” appliance, or any other fixture that emits CO. Lodging establishments are defined here and seem to include all types of rental properties. ”

How long does my landlord have to fix problems at my apartment in Delaware?

Usually, that depends on how severe the problem is. Landlords have 48 hours to repair conditions that deprive the tenant of access to “essential services,” which include hot water, heat, water or electricity. Other similar services may qualify as well.

Conditions that are significant enough to ” render the premises uninhabitable or pose an imminent threat to the health, safety or welfare of the tenant or any member of the family” must be repaired immediately, and the tenant may still terminate the lease immediately upon giving notice to the landlord of the condition.

Landlords have 15 days to repair conditions that “deprive the tenant of a substantial part of the benefit or enjoyment” of the dwelling. Landlords have 30 days to make other repairs that are required by law and/or the terms of the lease. “. How can you tell the difference? Those that are needed to restore access to essential services or to prevent a threat to the health, safety, or welfare of the tenant(s).

In Delaware, there are specific rules for pest issues. Likely 15 days to the extent pest issues “deprive the tenant of a substantial part of the benefit or enjoyment of the dwelling.” If the pests are bad enough to “render the premises uninhabitable or pose an imminent threat to the health, safety or welfare of the tenant or any member of the family,” then the tenant may be able to terminate the tenancy immediately without the need to give the landlord the opportunity to repair.

What can I do if my landlord can’t or won’t fix problems at my apartment in Delaware?

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For conditions that “deprive the tenant of a substantial part of the benefit or enjoyment” of the dwelling, the tenant may break the lease if the landlord does not repair them within 15 days of receiving notice of the need for repair.   For any conditions the landlord is required to repair, the tenant may make the repair themselves and deduct the cost from the rent.

Tenants may only use this remedy if the landlord fails to make the repair for 30 days or fails to begin the process of completing the repair (e.g., by hiring someone to come inspect the problem and create an estimate) for ten days after receiving notice from the tenant. A tenant may only use this remedy for costs up to $400 or 1/2 of a month’s rent (whichever is less), and they cannot use it at all if they are behind on rent.

For conditions that deprive the tenant of access to essential services (water, heat, electricity, etc.) or similarly deprive the tenant of the ability to use the dwelling for its intended purpose, the tenant may break the lease if the landlord fails to complete the repair within 48 hours.

Alternatively, the tenant may

  • (1) retain 2/3rds of the total rent that would be due (calculated daily for as long as the services are unavailable) or
  • (2) obtain alternative housing until services are restored at the landlord’s expense (capped at 1/2 the cost of rent for the period when services are unavailable).

What are the rules for security deposits in Delaware, and how do I get my security deposit refunded?

Deposits are usually limited to 1-months rent. Landlords may retain the deposit to cover damages to the dwelling (other than normal wear and tear) and any expenses associated with early termination of the lease. The landlord must return any unretained portion of the deposit within 20 days, along with an itemized list of any deductions. If a tenant disputes any deductions, they must object in writing within ten days of receiving the itemized list of deductions from the landlord.

If a landlord fails to return the deposit or provide an itemized list of deductions within the 20-day period, the tenant will be entitled to 2x the total deposit in damages.

What kind of notice does my landlord need to give me in Delaware?

Eviction

For evictions based on the non-payment of rent, the landlord must give the tenant five days’ notice before starting eviction proceedings. For evictions based on other violations of the lease, the landlord must give the tenant 7 days’ notice.

Renewal

The landlord must provide the tenant with a written copy of the lease, which must include the landlord’s contact information and/or the contact information of anyone who will be managing the property on the landlord’s behalf.  The landlord must also provide the tenant with a written summary of DE landlord-tenant law (published by the Consumer Protection Unit of the Attorney General’s Office or its successor agency this) at the start of the rental term.

If the landlord fails to do so, the tenant may plead ignorance of the law as a defense in future actions.   Landlords must give notice to tenants of their right to representation in eviction proceedings when they sign the lease each time the lease is renewed and before the landlord begins the process to evict a tenant.    Landlords must give 48 hours’ notice prior to entering the dwelling.

Can I end my lease early in Delaware?

If something comes up in your life, you may find that you need to end your lease early. This can be stressful and very expensive, with most leases including steep penalties and fines for early termination. Here are some potential options.

Military

If you’re active military, you may be able to terminate your lease early under the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA). The SCRA provides certain protections for active-duty military members, including the right to terminate a lease early if you receive orders for a permanent change of station (PCS) or deployment.

To terminate your lease early under the SCRA, you must provide your landlord with written notice and a copy of your orders. The notice must be provided at least 30 days before the date on which you intend to terminate the lease.

Seniors and Those with a Disability

DE law also allows tenants to terminate a lease early by delivering the landlord 30-day notice when:

  1. There is a change in the “location of the tenant’s employment … [that] requires a change in the location of the tenant’s residence in excess of 30 miles”;
  2. There is a “serious illness of the tenant or the death or serious illness of a member of the tenant’s immediate family [that resides in the dwelling]” if that illness or death ” requires a [permanent] change in the location of the tenant’s residence”;
  3. The tenant is ” accepted for admission to a senior citizens’ housing facility, including subsidized public or private housing, or a group or cooperative living facility or retirement home”;
  4. The tenant is ” accepted for admission into a rental unit subsidized by a governmental entity or by a private nonprofit corporation, including subsidized private or public housing”;
  5. The tenant enters active duty military service;
  6. The tenant is or becomes a victim of “domestic abuse, sexual offenses, [or] stalking” (The law also allows tenants who obtain or seek ” relief from domestic violence or abuse from any court, police agency, or domestic violence program or service” to terminate their lease. Seeking this relief does not appear to be necessary to terminate the lease, but the tenant must be able to “verify” that they are experiencing domestic violence. Verification can come from “an official document, such as a court order, or by a reliable third-party professional, including a law enforcement agency or officer, a domestic violence or domestic abuse  service provider, or health care provider”); or
  7. The tenant dies.  NOTE that the DE renter’s guide states that the landlord will be permitted to keep any security deposit to cover “reasonable expenses incurred in renovating and re-renting the premises” if a lease is terminated under this section.   “

What should I know about eviction in Delaware?

Beginning in April of 2024, DE will offer eviction diversion programs in all courts that will include mandatory mediation and other ADR options. This can’t guarantee that a tenant will avoid eviction, but it will likely delay the process as a whole and make it easier for tenants to reach a resolution with their landlord that does not involve vacating the premises.  I

f the landlord fails to deliver the required summary of DE landlord/tenant law at the start of the tenancy; the tenant can claim ignorance of the law as a defense in eviction proceedings.  Landlords cannot evict tenants for discriminatory reasons or in retaliation for the tenant exercising a protected right (e.g., submitting a complaint about the landlord’s unlawful practices to the proper state government entity). The tenant could argue unlawful intent as a defense in eviction cases.

However, if the tenant is in fact late on rent, it would be difficult to avoid eviction with this argument.  Tenants who are victims of domestic violence cannot be evicted if they are seeking assistance from ” any court, police, medical emergency, domestic violence, or sexual offenses program or service.”

The tenant must be able to verify that they are seeking assistance related to domestic violence in order to avoid eviction under this section. ”

Where can I get help if I’m being evicted in Delaware?

  • http://www.declasi.org/
  • https://www.dvls.org/
  • https://www.lscd.com/

What can I do if my landlord harasses me or discriminates against me in Delaware?

DE’s fair housing law mirrors the federal FHA, with the notable addition of several protected classes, including “sexual orientation” and “gender identity.”

Landlords may not abuse their right of access to harass the tenant and may only enter between 8 am and 9 pm with consent from the tenant (except in emergencies). Tenants may sue landlords that abuse their right of access for any actual damages caused, as well as injunctive relief. Repeated demands for unreasonable entry or actual unreasonable entry “may be treated by the tenant as grounds for termination of the rental agreement.”

SixFifty can help!

Now that you know your rights as a renter in Delaware, what can you do? Take action! SixFifty built HelloLandlord with the University of Arizona and Brigham Young University as a free resource for people who can’t afford legal help. You can use HelloLandlord to:

Tens of thousands of Americans have used HelloLandlord to assert their rights. It only takes 5 minutes to generate a high-quality letter—the kind of letter a lawyer would write. And we offer discount codes so you can send your letter by mail, right from your computer.

SixFifty is building more tools to help renters all the time. For more information, email probono@sixfifty.com.

Sources

https://delcode.delaware.gov/title25/c053/index.html

https://www.newcastlede.gov/273/Tenants-Rental-Code   

https://attorneygeneral.delaware.gov/wp-content/uploads/sites/50/2019/10/LL-T-Code-Summary-Oct-2019.pdf.  

https://courts.delaware.gov/help/landlordtenant/

http://www.declasi.org/poverty-law-program/tenants-rights/

https://delegalhelplink.org/issues/housing/landlordtenant