The basics of landlord-tenant law
As a landlord, it’s important to know some basics about landlord tenant law. This is part of common law that spells out the rights for both landlords and their tenants. Modern day interpretations of old English law on the subject include a great deal of basic contract law amongst the rights of either party. In the U.S., a large amount of these rights are included in the Uniform Residential Landlord and Tenant Act. However, states also can have their own set of laws, as long as they don’t go against any included in the federal guidelines. These states tenant rights laws are important to landlords, and you should become familiar with the ones pertaining to your individual state where you own rental property.
According to the Uniform Residential Landlord and Tenant Act, the federal guidelines for landlord tenant laws, the landlord is required to deliver possession of the property over to the tenant at the start of a lease. There is also an implied covenant of “quiet enjoyment” that the landlord is also delivering to the tenant. This means that a landlord cannot impede on the tenant’s right to possess the property. Basically, unless it’s an emergency, the landlord must be given access by the tenant – he can’t simply come in unannounced. A landlord must also provide a safe environment for his tenant….one with no health hazards, for example. This is known as the implied warranty of habitability. (You know – like providing clean, running water.)
Most leases are explicit about the duties of the landlord. If, for example, the landlord does not perform a particular duty, the tenant can legally withhold their rent. Within the landlord tenant act, this is an example of a dependent covenant. And the breach by the landlord of these duties can be used as a defense by a tenant if the landlord attempts to sue for unpaid rent. Besides keeping the property safe and free of health hazards, there is also the covenant to repair. In this instance, the landlord is required to make all repairs to any part of the premises that becomes damaged while the tenant lives there. This assumes the damage was not caused directly or indirectly by the tenant. In addition, when a tenant is moving from the property, in order to get their security deposit returned to them, they must leave the property in the same condition (minus reasonable wear and tear) as when they first moved in.
As for the duties of the tenant, chief among them is their paying their rent in a timely manner. But they also have other requirements as well. They have a requirement to maintain the property in a safe manner too. And unless specifically mentioned in the lease, they cannot sublet the property, nor can they leave it vacant for appreciable periods of time without the landlord’s consent.
The eviction process…or not
As a landlord, you also have a number of ways you can reclaim possession or claim unpaid rent for a non-paying tenant who remains in the property. You could use the common law remedy known as forfeiture, which can be achieved if the tenant has left the premises for good. A landlord can also utilize “self-help” remedies. These include forcibly entering the property and removing the tenant. Most self-help remedies are greatly limited by state laws about forcible entry however. On top of this, it’s simply a messy business, and one to be avoided due to risk of physical harm to yourself (and possibly others). And then there’s the good old eviction process. Landlords can recover money damages for unpaid rent. Each state regulates the exact ways and methods of collecting unpaid rent, as well as the amount owed. For example, the eviction process in Florida will be very different than it is in New York. It is because of this that it’s usually best to obtain the services of a local attorney to help in the eviction process of renters.
photos courtesy of mnfamilylawblog.com, news-gazette.com, trashitman.com, nj.com