Landlord Tenant Disputes
Welcome to FindLaw's Real Estate Center's Landlord -Tenant Disputes section. Disputes between landlords and tenants range from upkeep and repair issues to nonpayment of rent and potential eviction.
The terms of the lease of any rental agreement form the basis of any landlord-tenant relationship. Landlords and Tenants should understand their obligations and responsibilities through a lease agreement.
State, local and federal law often gives more protections, such as the "implied warranty of habitability."
This article will explore common landlord-tenant disputes.
The Lease Agreement
The starting place for resolving a landlord-tenant dispute is the lease agreement. Do not rely on an oral agreement whether you are the landlord or the tenant. Memories are fallible, so make sure always to use a written agreement. The parties should turn to the lease to support their positions in a dispute.
Remember, lease agreements are a contract between two or more parties and are legally binding. This means you agree to follow all the terms when signing a lease. If the dispute goes to court, the court will rely on the agreement in deciding the case.
Common Landlord-Tenant Disputes
A few areas for common landlord-tenant disputes include the following:
- Housing discrimination
- Termination of tenancy
- Security deposits
Housing Discrimination exists when a landlord, or real estate agent, refuses to rent to, show or process an application based on an arbitrary characteristic such as race or gender. At the federal level, the Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination in the sale, rental, or financing of housing based on the following:
- National Origin
Housing discrimination against a person with a disability, for example, includes refusing reasonable modifications for a disabled person's accessibility.
Termination of Tenancy
Eviction is one type of termination of tenancy, which involves removing the tenant from the rental unit.
Common disputes leading to eviction include the following:
- Nonpayment of rent
- Property destruction
- Criminal activity on the rental property
Landlords must follow local laws and ordinances when evicting a tenant. Landlords are not entitled to self-help. They must follow due process in eviction proceedings. Self-help includes changing the locks or removing the tenant's personal property from the rental unit.
The first step in the eviction proceeding is giving the tenant written notice explaining the breach that needs correcting. If the tenant does not respond in a reasonable amount of time, the landlord may pursue formal court eviction proceedings.
If the landlord wins the eviction case, the tenant will have a few days to vacate the rental unit. A court may impose attorney's fees on the losing side, so it is vital to understand and follow your lease agreement.
An alternative to an eviction is an unlawful detainer. An unlawful detainer follows the same steps as an eviction and is often applied to a hold-over tenant after a foreclosure on the property. The landlord files a petition with the court, the tenant must respond, and a jury trial follows in many cases. It's a quick way to resolve an eviction dispute.
Security deposits are another common source of landlord-tenant disputes. Before move-in, tenants often pay a security deposit as security for nonpayment of rent or property damage. In most states, the landlord must return the deposit within 30 days after move-out. The landlord must give the former tenant an itemized list of deductions when returning the security deposit, and the tenant must also provide the landlord with a good forwarding address on where to send the security deposit.
Landlords or their property management company are responsible for maintenance and necessary repairs in a rental unit and the common areas. Under the "implied warranty of habitability," they must follow local housing codes and make essential repairs.
Your lease agreement should include specific language outlining the landlord's maintenance obligations. In most cases, the landlord will include a number to call for maintenance repairs. Tenants should give the landlord a reasonable time to make the repairs.
If a landlord refuses to repair, the tenant can pay for the repair and deduct the cost from the rent, but refer to your lease agreement to see if there are special rules concerning rent abatement. In some leases, rent abatement may not be allowed. But if allowed, the tenant places their rent money into an escrow account in case their landlord sues for nonpayment of rent. The tenant can then demonstrate to the court that money was set aside for the repairs.
The best way to resolve landlord-tenant disputes is to avoid them altogether. Disagreements or misunderstandings are best handled outside of court. For instance, tenants should study their lease agreement and understand their rights and responsibilities. If a problem arises, talk to the other party immediately. Keep hard copies of notes and correspondence related to the issues.
Small Claims Court
Small claims court should be the last resort for resolving disputes. Many small claims courts can handle cases below a specific amount of money. For instance, matters commonly resolved in small claims court include disputes over unpaid rent or security deposits.
Landlord-tenant law is complex. A qualified, local landlord-tenant lawyer can help you understand landlord-tenant acts and other legal issues related to landlord-tenant law. Speak to a landlord-tenant lawyer today for sound legal advice.
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