As a landlord, you have quite a bit at stake when entering into a rental agreement. States have laws in place to help you protect your investment. Landlords have rights — it's important you understand what they are.
This section provides legal information and tips on legal issues related to renting out your real estate to a tenant, including lease agreements, evictions, property repairs, return of security deposits, and more.
Terminating a Lease
No matter how careful you are when screening prospective tenants, you most likely will have to evict a tenant at some point. While you can't evict a tenant just because you don't like that person, 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 reasons:
- Nonpayment of rent or renter is habitually late with rent (absent a credible reason)
- The renter violates one or more lease terms, such as owning a pet when the lease clearly states "no pets"
- The renter has violated the law, whether it's a pattern of disturbing the peace or engaging in illegal drug activity
Since laws vary by state, it's best to seek the legal advice of a real estate attorney before terminating a lease.
How to Legally Evict a Tenant
It's not as easy as sliding an "evicted" notice under the door when attempting to remove a tenant. If no clear cause has been established, the court may not approve the eviction. If a tenant evicted without cause is part of a protected class (disability, religion, race, etc.), you may open yourself up to a housing discrimination lawsuit.
Give Advance Notice Before You Evict a Tenant
First of all, most states require landlords to give tenants advance notice that they will be evicted if the offending behavior does not change. These are called either "cure and quit" or "pay rent or quit" notices. They give tenants a chance to correct their behavior.
Landlords may also give an eviction notice ("vacate or quit"), which does not give tenants an opportunity to correct course but rather serves as a warning that they will be evicted within a specified period of time if they fail to move out on their own. Also, some states require that such notices be presented directly to the tenant (often by taping it to the door) or sent through certified mail, or both. So, make sure you understand your state laws.
Unless the tenant voluntarily leaves the property, the landlord may need to file an eviction petition in small claims court. After the court order, the renter is typically given ample time to move out before forced removal is considered.
Federal Fair Housing Laws
An important part of defending your rights as a landlord is to respect the tenant's rights since you will have much less leverage when you need it if you are out of compliance with the law. For example, evicting a problem tenant can be tricky if you violated the tenant's rights in any way. Make sure you also check for any local laws regulating access to housing (for instance, some states protect the rights of LGBTQIA+ tenants and homebuyers).
Federal fair housing laws include the following:
- Federal Fair Housing Act: Prohibits discrimination in housing on the basis of race, color, national origin, religion, sex, familial status, and disability
- Title VI of the Civil Rights Act: Prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, or national origin in programs receiving federal funding
- Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act: Prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in programs provided by public entities (enforced by HUD when it involves housing)
- Age Discrimination Act: Prohibits discrimination on the basis of age (protecting those 40 and older) in programs receiving federal funding
Click on a link below to learn more about the rights and responsibilities of landlords.
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