landlord tenant laws

Landlord Laws

Landlord and tenant law is an essential portion of property law. These laws are a blueprint of landlord-tenant interactions and govern the rental of residential and commercial property. As a property owner, it is good to know your rights, duties, and responsibilities.

Knowledge of laws that protect tenants is also vital in helping you stay afloat in the industry. Compliance with state and local regulations is pivotal for both landlords and tenants.

Landlord Laws You Need to Know

Some of the rights and duties of landlords are:

  1. Possession
  2. Warrant of Habitability
  3. Noninterference with Use

#1 Possession

The landlord should hand over ownership of the property to the tenant at the beginning of the lease. The landlord should ensure the unit is vacant for the tenant to move in on the agreed date in the lease agreement.

This duty is breached if the premise is not vacant on the move-in-date, or if a third party has paramount title to the property. A paramount title means any legal interest in the unit that is not terminable at the landlord’s will or on the move-in date that would deprive the tenant of any use of the premise.

The landlord should deliver possession to the tenant at the inception of the lease.

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#2 Warrant of Habitability

Landlords should ensure their property meets the set health and safety standards to ensure “habitability”. These set standards are referred to as “warrant of habitability”.

Some of the amenities that landlords should provide as stipulated in the warrant of habitability are air conditioning/heating, trash disposal, and appliances.

If a landlord breaches the warranty of habitability the tenant is accorded remedies to urge the landlord to comply, or in some instances, the tenant is allowed to withhold rent or break the lease early. The tenant should always keep their unit in good condition.

Warrant of habitability varies from state to state, and landlords and tenants must read their state’s warrant of habitability before getting into a lease agreement.

#3 Noninterference with use

The landlord has a duty to the tenant not to interfere with the acceptable use of the premises. This right arises from the landlord’s suggested covenant of quiet enjoyment.

If one tenant causes disturbance to other tenants and is reported to the landlord, the landlord should take action against the accused. If the landlord fails to act against the accused, then he will be in breach.

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Tenant Remedies

When a landlord breaches the contract, the options available for the tenant are:

#1 Rent Remedies

Some states allow rent withholding until the landlord remedies a defect. Other states dictate that the tenant should deposit rent into an escrow account and becomes payable to the landlord when they remedy a defect.

Some state statutes allow the tenant to use the rent money to cure a defect. The rent may be reduced or eliminated if the landlord does not remedy certain forms of defects like the breach of the housing code.

#2 Damages

A tenant is allowed to recover money damages if the landlord violates housing or state statutes.  The cost of repair work and relocation cost if the landlord terminates the lease prematurely should also be recoverable from the landlord.

The tenant’s recovery is limited to damages incurred by a tenant who acted to prevent any loss. Tenants should try mitigating losses that would lead to the landlord’s breach.

#3 Retaliatory eviction

A landlord is not allowed to evict a tenant as payback for reporting the violation of health and safety codes. A tenant can use retaliatory eviction as a defense in a case against the landlord.

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Tenant Responsibilities & Tenant Laws

Some of the rights and duties of tenants are:

#1 Responsibility to pay rent

The tenant has is obligated to pay rent to the landlord as stipulated in the lease agreement. Assessments like utilities and taxes may also be included in the rent. The landlord can sue a tenant who abandons a property and fails to pay rent for rent balance as it becomes due.

#2 Obligation to preserve the premises

Leases usually stipulate limited conditions under which repairs will be done. When tenants move out of the premises’ most statutes require that the premises be handed back to the landlord in the same state that it was when they took occupancy minus normal wear and tear.

#3 Alteration and restoration of the rented space

In the absence of a definite clause in the lease, the tenant can physically make changes to the premise to ensure the best permissible use without altering the structure or causing damage to the property. The tenant should restore the property to the condition it initially was save for wear and tear.

#4 Proper use of the property

Tenants have the obligation of using the premise for the purpose for which it has been rented. If a tenant uses the premise for an illegal purpose they will be in breach, and they could be rightfully evicted by the landlord.

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Landlord Remedies

#1 Self-help

Self-help is a landlord remedy that entails peaceful eviction of a holdover tenant’s belongings. This eviction should not cause any harm to the tenant or their property. In states where the holdover tenant eviction process is outlined in the statutes, self-help should not suffice.

#2 Monetary damages

When a tenant breaches any of their duties, the landlord may terminate the lease and seek damages. The landlord can also get monetary damages for unpaid rent as dictated by state statutes.

#3 Eviction

A landlord may start an action through the court to evict a tenant. The lawsuit will require a notice to the tenant, then the court proceedings followed by the ruling. If the landlord prevails, the property is given back to them and potentially allowed to forcefully evict the tenant and any possessions left on the premises.

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Other Landlord-Tenant Laws are:

#1 Eviction Process

Eviction is a legal notice by the landlord to end a lease agreement. The landlord can evict a tenant for failure to pay rent, failure to leave the property after expiry of the lease, and if the tenant damages the property that results to the inconsiderate decrease in value of the property.

If the landlord is terminating the lease, they should inform the tenant with a notice of termination. If the tenant is terminating the tenancy, they should give a notice of intent to vacate.

Every state has statutes stating eviction procedures. These statutes stipulate how much time should be given to a tenant in advance of an eviction which could be anywhere between 3 and 60 days of notice before eviction.

#2 Security Deposits

Every landlord is allowed to charge their tenant a security deposit. The deposit acts as security for the landlord in case the tenant damages the premise, defaults on rent payment, or is in breach of the lease agreement.

The landlord can use all or a portion of the security deposit to cover unpaid rent or utility bills, or damages. These records should be kept in case of a dispute. After all repairs and damages are paid, the deposit is returned to the tenant.

Every state has statutes that dictate the duration within which the deposit has to be paid, from immediately to 60 days.

#3 Rent Increases and Other Fees

If a landlord intends to increase the rent, they should give a notice of rent increase anywhere between 30 and 60 days before effecting the increment.  Some state statutes stipulate that any rent increment provides an opportunity for the tenant to terminate the lease if they do not approve of the increase.

Some local authorities give a cap on the amount and what reasons rent can be raised. Other fees that landlords charge such as late fees and charge to process a returned check are also regulated and capped.

#4 Lease Termination

Most states dictate that the landlord gives an average of 30 days’ notice before lease termination. A tenant is also allowed to end the lease if they have legally defensible reasons to do so.

Some of the reasons are: failure by the landlord to fulfill the warrant of habitability, or if the tenant is ill and needs a premise that is hospitable to their state. These instances require that the tenant gives a 30 days’ notice.

Some statutes dictate any duties and responsibilities of landlords and tenants even beyond lease termination. These statutes may include tenants’ right to sublease the premise if they are not in breach or landlords’ right to re-rent the premise where the lease ends early, and the tenant still pays rent.

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#5 Housing Discrimination

Most states have the fair housing act that protects tenants from discrimination when they need to rent a space. The statutes prohibit discrimination both before and after a lease agreement based on disability, color, race, sex, national origin, or family status.

Some states have statutes that dictate penalties for discriminatory practices that may entail sanctions and monetary fines.

Overall, knowledge of your duties and responsibilities in the landlord-tenant relationship will protect you from possible monetary loss. Check your state and local landlord-tenant laws to know other obligations that may apply in your area.

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