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le·gal hous·ing

A rental dwelling unit is considered legal when it has been inspected by the Chief Building Inspector or his designee employed by the town, and meets all applicable housing, sanitary, building, electrical and fire codes, rules, and regulations. Upon receipt of the approved Inspection Report, the Chief Building Inspector shall issue a rental registration valid for 15 months from the date of issuance of the temporary rental registration.

House Rental License/Accessory Apartment License

A House Rental License is required of any entity that rents any type of housing unit. Similarly, an Accessory Apartment License is required of any entity that rents a self-contained living area within a single-family home. These licenses are issued to a landlord when the town deems that the house or apartment has met all applicable housing, sanitary, building, electrical and fire codes, rules, and regulations.

  • Sample Accessory Apartment License: Click here 

Please contact your local township to learn more about whether licenses of this nature are required to legally rent out a property. Furthermore, each township's license may look different from the sample above. 

How do I know if a rental unit dwelling is safe and legal?

Safety & Legal Information

  • Check to make sure the property has the appropriate smoke and carbon monoxide detectors and that they are either hard-wired into the electric system of the home or have fresh batteries.
  • Owners of buildings built before 1978 must tell you of any known lead-based hazards and show you relevant records before you rent (Important for small children)
  • Try to check out the neighborhood at different times of the day. There may be safety and/or noise issues that become apparent at different times of the day.
  • Check if the windows and entrances all lock and are working. None should be broken.
  • You cannot be evicted without a full legal process. If you have been illegally evicted or locked out by your landlord, call the police.
  • If you are unsure about your rights as a tenant, consult a lawyer.
  • Generally it’s a bad idea to put money down to “hold the apartment.” There’s a high chance you won’t get it back.
  • Know where Small Claims Court is located and where to file complaints online.
  • Know where Landlord/Tenant Court is located.
  • If you are having problems with your landlord, communicate in writing, either via email or postal service.  If the problems worsen, you should consider contacting a lawyer.
  • Consider getting renter’s insurance. You and your possessions are not covered by the landlord’s insurance.  Renter’s insurance typically cover damage caused by fire, theft, vandalism, utility malfunctions (plumbing and electricity), weather related damage and other hazards. 
  • Never resort to violence or physical confrontation with your landlord or fellow tenants.
  • Once your landlord receives your security deposit, s/he must provide you with a list of any existing damages or certified violations of the Sanitary Housing Code. It is best to hold the list for the entire 15 day period before signing because some potential damages like a leaky roof are not readily noticeable.

More Safety Tips

  • Look for signs the space is likely not legal: is the apartment or bedroom in the basement or next to a boiler?
  • If it is a basement, is there at least 7 feet of head room?
  • Does the dwelling have a working smoke detector inside and outside of each bedroom on each level?
  • Is there a fire escape or stairs to help you get out of higher floors in case of an emergency, or is there a working sprinkler system?
  • Are there two exits from every room in your dwelling?
  • Are exit routes kept clear?
  • Are public halls free from goods and materials, furniture, etc.?
  • Are furnaces, stoves, and stove pipes kept in good repair and located far enough (at least two inches) from combustible walls and ceilings so that they do not create a hazard?
  • Is there a carbon monoxide detector near bedrooms or sleeping areas and on each level? Plug in carbon monoxide detectors are best because they are lower to the ground and carbon monoxide is heavier than oxygen. If you buy these you can also take these with you when you move to your next dwelling!
  • Is the outside door solid wood or strong metal clad with good quality locks?
  • Are there working locks on the windows? Do the windows work?
  • Are there windows within 40 inches of door locks?
  • Are the bushes and shrubs near windows trimmed back?
  • Are the strike plates on each door adequately secured?
  • Do door locks have deadbolts with a minimum one-inch throw?
  • Are the door hinges pinned to prevent removal?
  • Is there a peephole or a side light in the front door?
  • Are all of the outlet covers on and secure?
  • Is there any exposed wiring?
  • Are there any fixtures hanging from the ceiling?
  • Is there at least 80 square feet for one person in a bedroom and an additional 50 square feet for a second perseon?
  • In the bathroom, are all of the tiles in place and fixtures working?
  • Are there any cracks in any of the fixtures (like the toilet,etc.)?
  • Is the paint chipping or flaking from walls, windows, or ceilings?

Adapted from The Gael Guide to Off-Campus Housing.

Other Definitions

ac·ces·so·ry a·part·ment
əkˈses(ə)rē/ əˈpärtmənt/
A dwelling unit which is subordinate to a permitted principal one-family residence use in terms of size, location and appearance and is located within the principal structure. A self-contained living area within a single-family home. It is a separate housekeeping unit, usually with its own kitchen and bathroom, either within or adjacent to an existing one-family house. In some areas, the apartment may be in a structure that is physically separated from the house.


The conveniences offered by a landlord to a tenant, including but not limited to: laundry, kitchen, smoke-free, porch, fireplace, tub/pool, private entrance, dishwasher, microwave, and extra storage.

Any number of persons related by blood, marriage, legal adoption or legal foster relationship, living and cooking together as a single, nonprofit housekeeping unit.

Three or more persons occupying a single dwelling unit and living together as a traditional family or the functional equivalent of a traditional family (number of persons differs from town to town; please verify with the respective town code).

It shall be presumed that three or more persons living in a single nonprofit dwelling who are not related by blood, marriage, legal adoption or legal foster relationship do not constitute the functional equivalent of a traditional family.


A contract whereby the landlord grants the tenant the right to occupy a defined space for a set period at a specific price. Click here for more information.

ren·tal reg·is·tra·tion

A rental registration is issued upon application to the Chief Building Inspector and shall be valid for 15 months from the date of issuance of the temporary rental registration. 

se·cu·ri·ty de·pos·it

A rental tenant will put down a security deposit (usually one month's rent) on an apartment so that the owner of the apartment has security against any potential damages to the apartment. At the end of the lease term, the landlord will take the cost of any damages caused by the tenant out of the security deposit before returning it. Before signing a lease, make sure to run through the renter's checklist to help evaluate the potential residence for possible living accommodations. It is important that you also complete the inventory checklist at the time of your arrival. The inventory checklist will help establish the condition of your apartment.

tem·po·rar·y ren·tal reg·is·tra·tion

Upon a landlord properly filing a complete application with the Building Division, the Chief Building Inspector shall issue a temporary rental registration valid for 90 days. Having a temporary rental registration means that the town either has not inspected the property yet or has not yet approved the Inspection Report.


A general term that refers to such basic services as water, heat, and electricity. This includes, but is not limited to: electricity, water, oil, Internet, and cable.


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