Landlords and tenants are bound by contractual obligations, but they are also bound by certain laws. One of these is the Landlord Tenant Law.
What Is the Landlord Tenant Law?
Many people go into the rental property business because they think it is a good way to earn some money on the side. But, renting out a property takes a lot more work than it seems. Before becoming a landlord, it is important to understand the different laws that will apply to you.
The Landlord-Tenant Law is a common law that governs the renting out of properties, may they be commercial or residential in nature. It also consists of several state statutes. Many states used the Uniform Residential Landlord and Tenant Act (URLTA), created by the National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws, as a basis for enacting their Landlord Tenant laws.
Landlord Tenant Laws Explained
As a landlord, it is part of your responsibility to know the many Landlord Tenant rights under the law. Some of the most important ones include the right to quiet enjoyment, the right to reasonable privacy, the right to a habitable home, and the right to housing free from discrimination.
All lease agreements are subject to the implied covenant of quiet enjoyment. According to this, tenants have a right to the peaceful enjoyment of their home without disturbance from the landlord. This includes construction or renovation efforts where the dust, noise, and debris effectively force a tenant out of the rental property.
Tenants also have a right to a certain level of privacy within their leased dwelling. This means landlords can’t just barge into the unit unexpectedly and without notice. It also means landlords can’t install video surveillance cameras that interfere with a tenant’s privacy. Security cameras in common areas are permitted, but not within individual tenants’ homes.
Implied Warranty of Habitability
In most states, there is an implied warranty of habitability. This means landlords have an obligation to maintain livable conditions for the tenant. Usually, that involves complying with housing codes and ensuring the property is free from any safety hazards.
If a landlord violates this warranty, courts will normally allow landlords to remedy the situation. Out of three possible ways, the tenant can:
- Withhold rent until the landlord makes repairs;
- Withhold rent and use the money for repairs; or,
- Sue the landlord for damages.
Under the federal Fair Housing Act, housing providers (including landlords) are prohibited from discriminating against tenants based on their race, color, national origin, sex, religion, familial status, or disability. According to this federal statute, landlords must treat all tenants equally and without bias. If a landlord refuses to rent to a tenant because of their race or religion, for instance, courts may find them in violation of the Fair Housing Act.
It is important to note that many states have their own versions of Fair Housing laws, too. Some of them even offer protection to extended protected classes. For example, in California, housing providers can’t discriminate based on sexual orientation and source of income.
If a tenant (or potential tenant) decides to pursue legal action, they would have the burden of proof. They must prove the following events transpired:
- Plaintiff (tenant) is a member of a protected class, which the landlord was aware of or suspected
- Plaintiff was qualified to rent the property and applied for it
- Defendant (landlord) denied the plaintiff’s application
- The property stayed unoccupied following the rejection
State Laws Governing Security Deposits
Asking for a security deposit is standard protocol for most landlords. But, there are certain state laws that limit the amount of security deposit a landlord can require. For example, in California, the cap is two months’ rent for unfurnished properties and three months’ rent for furnished properties. In other states, like Alabama, no such cap exists.
Additionally, many states stipulate exactly when a landlord must return the security deposit to a tenant after moving out. In most states, landlords have about 30 days to do so. They can either return the security deposit in full or deduct any repair costs or unpaid rent. If the latter applies, several states require landlords to send the tenant an itemized list of damages and repairs, including their cost.
On the Subject of Evictions
When a tenant violates the terms of their lease, landlords can usually use it as a cause for eviction. However, a landlord can’t evict a tenant as a way of retaliating against them (otherwise known as a retaliatory or illegal eviction). Some of the most common causes for eviction include:
- Nonpayment of rent
- Damage to the property
- Illegal acts
To evict a tenant, landlords must typically send the tenant a written notice and then take the matter to court. This will require the landlord to file a lawsuit with their local courthouse. At the court hearing, the landlord must present evidence that supports their eviction claim.
After receiving a court order, tenants must move out. Sometimes, though, tenants will refuse to leave. In that case, landlords should seek help from local authorities to escort the tenant and their belongings off the premises. While some areas still allow self-help methods, most no longer do.
Abandonment of the Rental Property
Sometimes, a tenant will abandon the rental property, causing landlords a flurry of problems. Abandonment takes place when a tenant:
- Vacates the rental property without reason;
- Does not intend to return to the rental property; and,
- Stops paying rent.
Fortunately, there are options for landlords whose tenants have abandoned the leased property. The first is to simply terminate the lease. The second is to sue the tenant for all of the unpaid rent. And, the third is to sue the tenant for lost rent and find a new tenant to minimize damages.
Lease Agreements: What Is Legal and What Is Not?
Every landlord and tenant relationship must be outlined within a written record known as the lease agreement. This agreement serves as a form of protection for both landlords and tenants.
But, what should a lease agreement even include? At the very least, an agreement should consist of the following:
- Names and signatures of the parties to the lease
- Leased property’s address and description
- Rent details, including how much is due each month and when
- Security deposit amount
- Tenant’s responsibilities (including maintenance responsibilities)
- Landlord’s responsibilities to the tenant
- Other policies such as pet policies, sub-leasing policies, guest policies, etc.
Keep in mind that not everything landlords put on a lease is legal. While state and local laws can vary, lease agreements should generally not include:
- Discriminatory terms
- Tenants waiving their right to sue their landlord
- Tenants waiving their right to get their security deposit back (less any cost of cleaning and repairs)
Navigating the Landlord and Tenancy Act
Clearly, becoming a landlord comes with a multitude of responsibilities, including the responsibility to remain legally compliant. Understanding these laws, though, is often challenging. As such, landlords can benefit from hiring a Landlord Tenant Law attorney or a property manager.
Property management companies help landlords stay on the right side of the law. Start your search for the best property management company today with the help of Rental Choice’s online directory.
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