As a landlord, laws dictate how you conduct relationships with your tenants.
These laws list both your legal rights and responsibilities in a landlord-tenant relationship. For example, all landlords have the right to terminate a tenancy for specific reasons, but before doing so, the landlord must usually provide some amount of advanced notice.
You might already know some or all your rights as a landlord. However, if you aren’t also aware of the rules and regulations for landlords, you could find yourself facing a lawsuit.
It’s best to know the rules, limits, and guidelines for your behavior before entering any agreement with a tenant.
To help you get there, here are some of your top legal rights and responsibilities as a landlord.
Right of Entry
All landlords have the right to enter their properties. You own them, after all, even if the rental agreement you signed gives your tenants possession for the time being.
Your right of entry comes with a few rules. In most states, you cannot enter a unit any time you want. Instead, you must give the legally required amount of advanced notice, or at least reasonable notice. Reasonable notice is usually around 24-48 hours before you plan to enter.
Additionally, you cannot enter your tenants’ units for any reason. Most states allow entry for repairs and maintenance, inspections, showings, and similar circumstances. You are also permitted to enter in an emergency (usually without prior notice), if you have good reason to believe the tenant has abandoned the property, or if you think the tenant is deceased.
Right to Hold a Security Deposit
Landlords also have the right to collect and hold a security deposit. You can use these funds at the termination of the tenancy to cover costs for which the tenant is responsible.
For instance, landlords are usually permitted to withhold funds from the security deposit for unpaid rent, outstanding fees, or property damage caused by the tenant, their guest, or their pet(s).
In some states, landlords are also required to provide an itemized list of deductions along with the remainder of the security deposit.
Right to File an Eviction Lawsuit
Landlords also have the right to file for eviction and terminate the tenancy.
There are three reasons you may legally file for eviction: nonpayment of rent, a lease violation, or illegal activity on the premises.
If the tenant does not pay rent (and you’ve waited any mandatory grace periods), most states require you to issue a written “pay-or-quit” notice. This notice informs the tenant of their rent debt and gives them a set number of days (usually around 3-14) to either make the payment, move out, or face eviction.
Notices for other lease violations don’t always give the tenant the opportunity to reconcile the complaint, but you may provide it as the landlord.
Finally, an “unconditional notice to quit” is for when a tenant has engaged in criminal activity on the premises. This notice provides no time to correct the breach and is generally very short (e.g., 5 days).
Warranty of Habitability
You are obligated to keep your units, at the very least, livable. This implied warranty of habitability includes:
- Keeping units in reasonable repair (e.g., no holes in the roof or excessive mold)
- Providing drinkable water
- Allowing access to electricity and hot water
- Providing heat during cold weather
- Maintaining functioning plumbing
- Supplying working locks on doors and windows
- Complying with local health, building, and safety codes
Repairs and Maintenance
Repairs and maintenance are also your domain as the landlord. Whether it’s a simple fix you can complete yourself or something more extensive that a contactor should handle, you are responsible for making repairs within a reasonable amount of time.
Common rental repairs include running toilets, clogged drains or garbage disposals, pipe leaks, mold growth, and household pests like flies or wasps.
Required Lease Disclosures
You are also responsible for making certain disclosures in your lease agreements.
For example, federal law requires you to include a disclosure and pamphlet about the hazards of lead-based paint for properties built before 1978. Common state mandated disclosures include landlord/agent identification, security deposit receipts, mold or radon contamination, and move-in/move-out checklists.
Fair Housing Laws
All landlords must comply with fair housing laws. Federal law outlines seven federal fair housing act protected classes: race, color, national origin, religion, gender, familial status, and disability. It’s illegal to discriminate against prospective tenants or treat your current ones differently based on any of these classes or others (age, military status, or sexual orientation) if protected by state law.
Disability rental rights allow renters with disabilities to request that you make reasonable modifications to your property, policies, or typical procedures.
Common accommodations include:
- Installing wheelchair ramps or shower bars
- Modifying your “no pets” policy to allow service dogs and emotional support animals (ESAs)
- Allowing a tenant to submit maintenance tickets by different means than you would normally accept
Knowing your legal rights and responsibilities is the minimum you should strive to obtain in a rental business. By listening to and respecting your tenants, you can keep meet their needs and hold them accountable at the same time.
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