Landlord-tenant law covers landlord and tenant rights and responsibilities regarding a rental property. Most lease agreements outline most of these rights. A landlord's rights include receiving a security deposit, timely rent payments, and tenant upkeep of the rental unit. A tenant's rights include a habitable place to live.
Certain federal laws cover other tenants' rights, including freedom from housing discrimination. Federal law also imposes some responsibilities on landlords, including lead-paint disclosures.
This article explores some basics of landlord-tenant law.
A lease agreement is a primary source that outlines the scope of the landlord-tenant relationship. It also identifies the rights of landlords and tenants. Some states recognize oral agreements, but a written document is the best way to memorialize lease or rental agreements. Rental agreements refer to short-term leases, such as a month-to-month lease. Lease agreements cover leases for at least one year.
A solidly written lease leaves little doubt as to the parties' intent.
Residential lease agreement clauses vary depending on the type of lease involved. A few standard provisions found in both rental agreements and lease agreements include the following:
- Identification of the lessor and lessee
- Address and legal description of the rental unit
- Contact information for the landlord or property manager
- Term of the lease (lease agreement or rental agreement)
- Amount of rent and the date rent is due
- Late fees, if any
- Amount of the tenant's security deposit
- Limitations on occupancy or roommates
- Whether the tenant can sublet the rental unit
Basic Landlord Duties
The lease should also include clauses outlining the landlord's responsibilities to do the following:
- Perform necessary repairs
- Maintain the common areas
- Upkeep the residential property
Landlords should give the tenant an appropriate amount of notice before entering the rental property, usually at least one day.
If there are any disputes during the tenancy period, both parties should consult the written agreement. Since it is a binding contract, the parties must use the agreement as their guide.
Most landlords require a security deposit before the tenant moves in. State laws may limit the amount of a security deposit. For instance, California law limits security deposits to no more than two months' rent (or three months if furnished).
The security deposit differs from last month's rent, and the landlord must repay in full, minus any deductions for reasonable repairs or cleaning. The lease should lay out the landlord's expectations at the end of the lease to avoid disputes. Tenants should consider a walkthrough with video or photographic evidence before move-in and during move-out.
Local and state laws cover the period within which the landlord must return the tenant's security deposit. Landlords can deduct for cleaning, reasonable repairs, or unpaid rent.
The Fair Housing Act protects tenants from housing discrimination, including discrimination based on the following:
- National origin
- Familial status, which may be waived for senior housing
Some state laws and local ordinances ban discrimination based on sexual orientation and marital status.
Other tenant rights include the following:
- The right to privacy in the rental property, which means a landlord may not enter unannounced
- The right to quiet enjoyment
- The right to livable and safe conditions
- The right to a home free of lead poisoning and mold
Landlords have legal rights, often to protect their real estate income investment. For example, a landlord can evict a tenant before the expiration of the term of the lease for cause. Landlords cannot use self-help, such as removing the tenant's personal property from the rental unit.
Nonpayment of rent is one example of a good cause to evict. Landlords must follow the legal process for the property's location.
The landlord should provide written notice of the eviction within a reasonable time. The landlord should notify the tenant if the rental property goes into foreclosure. If the landlord prevails in the eviction action, courts often award attorney fees to the landlord.
Get Help With Your Landlord-Tenant Law Issues
Landlord-tenant relationships are often complex. A qualified real estate attorney can help landlords and tenants understand their rights and obligations of being involved in either a lease agreement or a rental agreement. They can customize a standard lease for the landlord's needs. They can help tenants understand their responsibilities if they sublease the rental property. Speak to a qualified, local real estate attorney today.
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