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9 Basic Landlord-Tenant Laws You Should Never Forget

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Scott Gibson
Scott Gibson Published : March 11, 2021

Landlord-tenant laws outline the legal rights and responsibilities of landlords and tenants. To run a successful rental business, landlords must understand federal and state laws regarding renting residential properties. Landlord-tenant law affect security deposits, lease agreements, living conditions, and evictions. Rental property owners who don’t forget about these laws build a reputation as respected and trusted landlords.

Laws regarding rental properties help protect your investment property if you’re a property owner. For tenants, rental laws ensure that they can live peacefully and have their rights protected.

In this article, you’ll learn about the essential landlord-tenant laws to remember. Adhering to these will protect your rental business and your reputation as a landlord.

Landlord-Tenant Laws and Federal Laws

Federal laws such as the Fair Housing Act and the Fair Credit Reporting Act protect renters’ rights. For landlords, federal housing laws prohibit you from acting unfairly towards tenants. Also, you must protect the information you receive if you perform credit checks. Federal regulations on housing apply to every state in the country.

The Fair Housing Act makes it against the law to discriminate against anyone. This means you can’t refuse housing to someone based on their sex, race, color, religion, family status, national origin, or disability. The law also prohibits landlords from marketing rental properties to specific groups of people.

The Fair Credit Reporting Act regulates how you handle information from a potential tenant’s credit history report. According to the Federal Trade Commission, you must get permission before running a credit check. Suppose you deny the application based on the tenant screening process. In that case, you must inform the applicant as to the reason based on the credit report.

Landlord-Tenant Laws and State Laws

State laws generally affect most landlord-tenant rights and responsibilities. Each state has regulations regarding security deposits, lease agreements, right to privacy, and handling evictions. These laws can change from time to time. So, as a responsible landlord, it’s vital to keep up to date on landlord-tenant laws in your local area.

Landlord-Tenant Laws Protect Renters’ Rights

To run a profitable and respected landlord business, you should remember that most landlord-tenant laws primarily protect tenants’ rights. In many cases, it may seem that renters have more rights than property owners. As a property manager, it’s always crucial to respect the tenant’s rights.
Here are a few of the renters’ rights that state laws typically protect:

  • Quiet enjoyment: Every tenant has a right to peace and quiet. Therefore, landlords can’t unduly disturb tenants. If you need to enter the property, you must give adequate notice.
  • Habitable property: Laws require landlords to provide tenants with comfortable accommodation. This means that there should be heating, hot water, adequate plumbing, and electricity. Also, landlords have to ensure that the rental unit is well-maintained and free from pests.
  • Security deposits: Many states have laws governing the use of security deposits. Tenants have the right to receive their security deposit back within a certain period after the end of the lease. The exception is if tenants have lease term violations. In that case, landlords can use all or part of the security deposit to cover expenses.

9 Important Landlord-Tenant Laws to Remember

Landlord-tenant laws are the basis of a successful relationship between rental property owners and residents. Landlords expect tenants to fulfill their responsibilities—paying rent on time, keeping the unit clean, and not misusing the property. Tenants expect that they can live in a comfortable environment without being unduly disturbed.

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Let’s look in more detail at the most critical landlord-tenant laws to remember.

1. Federal laws regarding discrimination

Federal housing laws require all landlords to treat all applicants equally. When deciding on applications to approve, the law prohibits you from basing decisions on anything discriminatory. It's crucial to base your decisions on legal, legitimate business reasons.

Here are a few examples of federal landlord-tenant law violations:

  • Asking a couple if they are married or if they plan to have children.
  • Not installing grab bars for a disabled person.
  • Advertising properties for specific groups of people.

2. Laws on lease agreements

Landlords must follow state rules on lease agreements. The lease should contain all security deposit details, the terms of tenancy, rental price, late fees, maintenance policies, and appropriate clauses. For example, many landlords require renters insurance to protect their personal property. You should also mention if you allow pets in the unit, require a pet deposit, and charge pet rent.

You should also remember that the lease agreements can’t require more than what local laws require. For example, if landlord-tenant law in the state says that the grace period for late rent is five days, then the lease contract can’t specify a shorter time.

Top tip: Use a rent collection app to encourage timely rent payments, accept maintenance service requests, and communicate with tenants.

3. Security deposit rules

All states allow landlords to collect security deposits upon signing the rental lease. Security deposits give you some peace of mind. They help protect your property investment if a tenant damages the property, doesn’t pay utilities, or leaves without paying rent.

Local laws may specify that you hold security deposit funds in a separate bank account that accrues interest. Also, state laws may set limits on how much money you collect for security deposits.

At the end of the lease, tenants should receive their security deposit back, including any interest. However, you can use some or all the security deposit to cover extra expenses. For example, say you need to make repairs that aren’t “wear and tear.” In that case, you need to send an itemized list of your costs and the remainder of the deposit.

4. Landlord-tenant laws relating to safe living conditions

As the property owner, you have the responsibility to keep the rental unit in an inhabitable condition. You have to ensure that all appliances are in good working order. Also, there shouldn’t be issues with heating, cooling, electricity, or plumbing. Additionally, you are responsible for keeping the property free from pest infestations.

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It’s important to remember that landlord-tenant laws require tenants to inform you about property maintenance issues. 

5. Rental housing laws concerning making repairs

One of the requirements for landlords is always to keep rental properties in a good state of repair. Usually, tenants are responsible for any property damage they have caused—which is a reason to require renters insurance. However, you are responsible for timely repairs if the heating breaks down, the stove stops working, or there are blocked drains. 

Failure to keep up with repairs could give you the reputation of a “slumlord.” Also, tenants can withhold monthly rent payments until you make the repairs. 

6. Laws regarding “Covenant of Quiet Enjoyment”

Landlord-tenant laws protect a tenant’s right to privacy. When a tenant signs the lease agreement and takes possession of the property, they can live there undisturbed. State laws usually require that you give tenants between 24- and 48-hours’ notice if you need to enter the property. And you need to arrange the inspection at a reasonable time and for a legitimate reason.

It’s important to remember that tenants also need to adhere to the Covenant of Quiet Enjoyment. If you receive continuous noise complaints about a tenant, you may have a legal basis to evict them. This may be necessary because you, ultimately, are responsible for what happens on your property.

7. Landlord-tenant laws about evicting tenants

Evictions are a last resort to remove delinquent tenants from rental properties. Before starting an eviction process, it’s vital to read up on current state landlord-tenant laws. Generally, you can evict a bad tenant for non-payment of rent or severe lease violations. 

Before beginning eviction proceedings, you need to follow the eviction guidelines. This may mean sending written warnings and serving an eviction notice. You will need documented evidence of violations and warnings to evict a tenant successfully. Here are a few things to remember to avoid common eviction mistakes:

  • Accepting partial payments may prevent you from evicting a tenant for not paying rent.
  • Self-help evictions are illegal, and you can’t remove an unruly tenant without a court order.
  • Keep documented evidence of all correspondence—including phone calls—to strengthen your case.

8. Laws about criminal activity

You must report any criminal activity in your rental properties to the relevant authorities. Illegal activity such as drug dealing is also a clear lease violation and gives you a reason for eviction. As a landlord, you have some responsibility for what happens on your property. So, you should take swift action if you find out about anything illegal happening there.

9. Landlord-tenant laws about ending lease agreements

State laws also regulate landlord and tenant responsibilities at the end of a lease. When a lease expires, there are three options:

  • The tenant may decide to move out.
  • The tenant continues to pay rent, and the lease becomes a month-to-month tenancy.
  • The tenant signs a new lease.

Tenants and landlords can’t end a rental agreement before it expires—apart from exceptional circumstances. 

If the tenant is on a month-to-month contract, then you need to give at least 30 days’ notice to end the lease. 

Landlords may want to negotiate a new lease to include any rent increase, 

Landlord-Tenant Laws — In Conclusion

As a landlord, it’s your responsibility to adhere strictly to landlord-tenant laws. You should ensure that information about security deposits, clauses, and rental terms is clearly stated in the lease agreement. You then must keep up with property maintenance requests so that tenants can live inhabitable accommodation. If tenants violate the rental contract, it’s vital to take the appropriate legal steps to resolve the issues. 

Topics: security deposit, tenant rights, landlord tenant law, rental lease, Covenant of Quiet Enjoyment