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Landlord Rights

For many real estate investors, obtaining month-to-month rental income is an attractive option. But as a landlord, you have quite a bit at stake when entering into a rental agreement for your rental unit. States have laws in place to help you protect your investment. Landlords have rights, and it's important that you understand what they are.

This self-help section provides legal information and tips on legal issues related to renting out your real estate to a tenant. We cover a range of rental property issues, including:

  • Lease agreements
  • The eviction process
  • Property repairs
  • Return of security deposits

Terminating a Lease

No matter how careful you are when you conduct tenant screening, you may have to evict a tenant at some point. While you can't evict a tenant just because you don't like them, you certainly can terminate a lease for cause.

Landlord-tenant laws vary by state, but they generally give landlords the legal right to evict a tenant for the following common reasons:

  • Nonpayment of rent or renter is habitually late with rent (absent a credible reason)
  • Renter violates one or more material lease terms, such as owning a pet when the lease clearly states "no pets"
  • Renter has violated the law, whether it's a pattern of disturbing the peace or engaging in illegal drug activity

Since state laws vary, it's best to seek the legal advice of a real estate attorney before terminating a lease.

How To Legally Evict a Tenant

When attempting to remove a tenant, it's not as easy as sliding an "evicted" notice under the door. A court may not approve the eviction if no clear cause to end the tenancy has been established. If a tenant evicted without cause is part of a protected class, you may open yourself up to a housing discrimination lawsuit. Examples of protected classes include:

  • Disability
  • Race
  • Sex and gender
  • Religion
  • National origin

Give Advance Notice Before You Evict a Tenant

Most states require landlords to give tenants advance notice that they will be evicted if an offending behavior does not change. These are called either "notice to cure" or "pay rent or quit." They give tenants a chance to correct their behavior within a specified number of days. For instance, a three-day notice might give a warning that eviction proceedings will begin if rent is not paid within three days. A longer 30-day notice may be required to end a one-year lease if the tenant is not at fault.

Landlords may also give an eviction notice ("vacate" or “quit"), which does not give tenants an opportunity to correct course. Rather, it serves as a warning that they will be evicted within a specified period of time if they fail to move out on their own. Sometimes, an eviction case is necessary because of something much more serious than unpaid rent. For instance, suppose a tenant is manufacturing drugs in violation of the law and the terms of the lease. Here, an unconditional quit notice may be appropriate under eviction laws.

Some states require that certain notices be presented directly to the tenant. Written notices may need to be served in the following ways:

  • In-person
  • Taped to the front door
  • Sent through certified mail
  • All of the above

Unless the tenant voluntarily leaves the property, the landlord may need to file an eviction petition. This is also known as an unlawful detainer action. Courts that handle eviction lawsuits are not necessarily small claims courts. So, be sure you're bringing your eviction proceedings before the correct court.

You will need to file a lawsuit and pay for court costs to obtain a court hearing. Most types of eviction cases receive priority court dates to minimize losses for property owners. In court, the homeowner or their property management company will need to testify and provide a valid reason to evict the tenant. After a court order, the renter is given a reasonable amount of time to move out before forced removal is considered. If the renter does not vacate in a timely fashion, local law enforcement may execute a court order to remove them forcibly.

Federal Fair Housing Laws

An important part of defending your rights as a landlord is respecting tenants' rights. It might sound counterintuitive, but if a tenant commits a lease violation, you don't get a free pass at illegal activity. You will have much less leverage when you need it if you are out of compliance with the law. Evicting a problem tenant can be tricky if you have violated the tenant's rights in any way. Make sure you check for any local laws regulating access to housing. For instance, some states afford protection from eviction for active-duty service members. Others expand safeguards against discrimination for protected classes, including members of the LGBTQIA+ community.

Federal fair housing laws include the following:

Click on a link below to learn more about the rights and responsibilities of landlords.

Learn About Landlord Rights

You Don’t Have To Solve This on Your Own – Get a Lawyer’s Help

Meeting with a lawyer can help you understand your options and how to best protect your rights. Visit our attorney directory to find a lawyer near you who can help.

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