Landlord-tenant law is a crucial legal framework that governs landlords’ and tenants’ rights and obligations in rental agreements. For residential landlords, compliance with these laws is essential for effective rental property management, while tenants benefit from protections ensuring their right to a safe and peaceful living environment.
Whether you’re a renter, a property owner looking to lease your property, or a real estate investor purchasing your first rental property, familiarizing yourself with these laws can empower you to navigate the rental process confidently.
Landlord-tenant law at the federal level
A landlord and tenant’s legal relationship is built on a contract and property law foundation. Regarding federal issues affecting tenants, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) oversees regulations that address discrimination and other landlord-tenant matters. Some of the most significant federal laws include:
- Fair Housing Act: Prohibits discrimination in housing based on race, color, national origin, religion, sex, familial status, or disability.
- Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA): Requires landlords to make reasonable accommodations for tenants with disabilities, ensuring they have equal access to housing and related facilities.
- Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA): Regulates how landlords can obtain and use tenant credit reports and background checks during the application process.
- Federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA): Sets guidelines for how debt collectors, including landlords, can collect debts from tenants.
- Lead-Based Paint Disclosure Act: Requires landlords of residential properties built before 1978 to disclose the presence of lead-based paint and hazards to tenants and potential renters.
- Protecting Tenants at Foreclosure Act (PTFA): Provides certain protections to tenants when the property they are renting is foreclosed upon.
Landlord-tenant law at the state level
Landlord-tenant laws vary significantly statewide and at local levels, focusing on practical matters and impacting landlord’s rights and tenant rights.
Discrimination and the Fair Housing Act
At the state level, many states have additional fair housing laws that may include different protected classes.
Lease document laws
Lease document laws refer to the regulations and requirements governing the creation, content, and execution of rental agreements between landlords and tenants. These laws aim to protect both parties’ civil rights and interests and ensure that written lease agreements are fair, transparent, and legally valid. Key aspects include:
- Essential elements: Written agreements must contain crucial features, such as the names and contact information of both parties, the rental property’s address, the lease term, rent amount, payment schedule, security deposit details, and rules regarding pets and subletting.
- Late fees and penalties: Some states regulate the amount of late fees landlords can charge for rent due to prevent excessive charges.
- Renewal and termination: Lease agreements may specify the lease termination or renewal process, including the notice period required by both parties.
- Implied warranty of habitability: Lease documents should include an implied habitability warranty stating that the rental unit meets primary living conditions and complies with health and safety standards.
- Changes to the lease: Landlords may be required to provide a reasonable advance notice if they intend to change the lease terms during the tenancy, such as any rent increases.
- Fee recovery: In some cases of landlord-tenant disputes, prevailing parties may be entitled to recover their attorney’s fees, which can serve as a strong incentive for fair resolution and adherence to the law.
Required disclosures and notices
Required disclosures and notices in landlord-tenant laws are specific information and notifications that landlords are legally obligated to provide to their tenants. Some standard disclosures and notices include:
- Move-in and move-out inspection: Some states require landlords to conduct move-in and move-out inspections with the tenant to document the property’s condition. This helps to avoid tenant-landlord disputes over the security deposit deductions for damages that existed before the tenant’s occupancy.
- Mold disclosure: Certain states require landlords to disclose information about mold hazards and provide mold prevention and remediation guidelines.
- Bedbug disclosure: Some municipalities mandate landlords to inform tenants about the property’s history of bedbug infestations and measures taken to address the issue.
- Smoke and carbon monoxide detectors: Landlords may be obligated to provide information about the presence and maintenance of smoke and carbon monoxide detectors in the rental unit.
- Notice of sex offenders: Some states may require landlords to disclose information about registered sex offenders residing near the rental property.
- Nearby military ordinance: In certain areas with military installations or training grounds, landlords may be required to inform tenants of nearby military activities, such as the noise from aircraft, artillery firing, or other military exercises.
Safe living environment
Providing a safe and habitable living environment is a crucial responsibility for landlords, ensuring tenants have a secure place to call home.
- Landlords must maintain the rental unit safe and habitable, free from serious deficiencies and pests.
- The rental unit should have functional appliances, fixtures, plumbing, and heating and provide essential services like hot water.
- Landlords may be required to provide specific safety measures, such as fire and carbon monoxide detectors, fire extinguishers, deadbolt locks, window locks, and front door peepholes.
- Landlords must ensure the dwelling unit meets local building, health, and safety codes.
- Landlords should address environmental hazards like asbestos and lead paint dust.
- Landlords are generally responsible for controlling pest infestations, even if they occur after tenants move in.
- Tenants also have responsibilities to maintain a safe and clean living space, ensuring that their actions do not endanger others or cause damage to the property.
- In some states, mobile home residents have specific protections under landlord-tenant laws, ensuring fair treatment and proper mobile home park maintenance.
Repairs and maintenance
Repairs and maintenance are crucial aspects of the landlord-tenant relationship, and both parties have specific roles and responsibilities.
- Provide a habitable and safe living space
- Address repair requests promptly and efficiently
- Conduct regular property inspections
- Maintain exteriors, such as structural repairs and roofing, as well as common areas
- Report any repair issues
- Minor maintenance and normal wear and tear issues, such as changing light bulbs, keeping the unit clean, and replacing air filters
- Preventative measures to avoid damage
It is essential for both parties to maintain written documentation of repair requests and responses for legal purposes and to avoid misunderstandings. Landlords can access the rental property to perform repairs and maintenance. However, they must provide a notice notice to the tenants in many areas.
A security deposit is money collected from a new tenant at the beginning of the lease to protect the landlord against potential damages or unpaid rent during the tenancy. State laws regulate how security deposits should be managed, and landlords must adhere to these regulations:
- The maximum amount landlords can charge for a security deposit varies widely from state to state, with some states imposing a limit equal to one month’s rent and others having no restrictions.
- The deposit must be held separately from the landlord’s personal funds. In some jurisdictions, landlords may be required to place it in an interest-bearing account.
- When the tenancy ends, landlords must return the security deposit within a specific period, typically 15 to 60 days.
- Some cities and states have implemented rent control laws to regulate how much landlords can charge for a rental property month-to-month.
Right to privacy
Landlord-tenant laws safeguard a tenant’s right to quiet enjoyment, ensuring they can live without disturbance. Once a tenant possesses a property, the landlord must not interfere with this right. The landlord is responsible for providing reasonable notice, typically a 1-2 day notice, except in emergencies, before entering the rental unit.
Tenant privacy also extends to communication and correspondence. Landlords should not intrude on the tenant’s communications or attempt to intercept mail or messages meant for the tenant. This includes respecting the confidentiality of personal data and ensuring that sensitive information, such as their Social Security number and financial information, is securely stored and protected from unauthorized access.
Dealing with abandoned property is a significant concern for landlords, as it involves handling belongings left behind by a tenant after they have moved out with no notice or communication.
- Determining abandonment: Before taking action, landlords must establish whether the personal property is genuinely abandoned. State laws might dictate when the property must be unoccupied before it’s considered abandoned and the steps required to handle abandoned belongings.
- Sending notice: The landlord must send a formal notice by certified mail to the tenant informing them of the abandoned belongings and providing a deadline to claim them in some areas.
- Disposal: If the tenant fails to claim their belongings within a reasonable time, landlords must follow the state laws on proper disposal. In some areas, this may involve selling the items at a public auction and using the proceeds to cover storage costs or outstanding rent.
9. Known criminal activity
Laws about known criminal activities impose specific obligations on landlords when they become aware of illegal activity near their rental property. These include:
- Reporting requirements: Landlords may be legally obligated to report known criminal activities to law enforcement authorities. These activities can range from drug-related offenses to violent crimes.
- Resolving nuisance behavior: In some jurisdictions, landlords may be held accountable for addressing nuisance behavior caused by their tenants, such as excessive noise, disturbances, or illegal activities. If the landlord fails to address the recurring issues, they could face penalties or legal consequences.
- Cooperation with law enforcement: Landlords should cooperate with law enforcement authorities and provide any necessary assistance during criminal investigations involving their rental property.
An eviction is the legal process through which a landlord seeks to remove a tenant from the rental property. While eviction is an unfortunate and often challenging process for both parties, landlords must follow the law to protect their rights and ensure a fair and legal outcome.
- Valid reasons: Landlords may evict tenants for valid reasons such as non-payment of rent, lease violations, property damage, or illegal activities on the premises. The specific grounds for eviction will depend on state and local housing authorities’ guidelines.
- Notice requirements: Before initiating the eviction process, landlords must provide proper written notice to the tenant. Notice times vary by area.
- Court proceedings: If the tenant fails to comply with the eviction notice and vacates the property, the landlord may need to take legal action by filing an eviction lawsuit.
- Tenant’s right to defend: During the eviction lawsuit, the tenant has the right to respond to the eviction claim, raise defenses, and dispute the landlord’s allegations. In some jurisdictions, landlord-tenant laws may include provisions that protect tenants from eviction due to domestic violence incidents.
- Writ of possession: If the court rules in favor of the landlord, they will issue a writ of possession, granting the landlord the legal right to regain control of the property. Local law enforcement typically executes the court order, and the tenant must vacate the premises within a specified timeframe.
- Self-help eviction: Self-help eviction, such as changing locks, removing the tenant’s belongings, or shutting off utilities, is illegal in most jurisdictions. It’s always best to seek legal advice before taking any action.
Arrived helps investors build a rental property portfolio while handling the ins and outs of local, state, and federal laws for every property in the Arrived portfolio. You can invest $100 to $15,000 per property.
The opinions expressed in this article are for general informational purposes only and are not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual or on any specific security or investment product. The views reflected in the commentary are subject to change at any time without notice. View Arrived’s disclaimers.