Relationships between landlords and tenants, rules, rights, and obligations to rental agreements all follow certain landlord-tenant laws. These are determined by state laws, which means that lease agreements differ depending on the state you are in. Although both federal and state laws seek to protect the tenant, property owners also take certain risks when entering a contract. For instance, most landlords use rent payments to pay their mortgage, so many states also work to protect owners’ investments.
In the following paragraphs, you will find legal information regarding residential renting, eviction, lease agreements, return of security deposits, repairs of the property, and other relevant issues.
When Can a Landlord Terminate a Lease?
Regardless of all the precautions an owner may take before renting their property, at some point, they will most likely need to evict a tenant. What are their rights in such a case, and when is it legal to terminate a lease?
A landlord must have legal grounds for the eviction of their tenants. Even though the laws depend on the state, typically an owner has the right to do so for any of the following reasons:
- The tenant has not paid rent, or they are continuously late with the payments (without presenting a valid reason).
- The tenant had not complied with a lease provision (for example, they had smoked when the agreement explicitly prohibited smoking).
- The tenant has broken the law (for instance, they have been disturbing the peace habitually, or they have been using illegal drugs).
How to File an Eviction in a Legal Manner
Terminating a rental agreement is often not as easy as sticking an “evicted” note on the tenant’s door. As a landlord, you will need to have established a legal reason for the eviction before taking any further steps. Failing to do so might result in a lawsuit against you. For instance, if the tenant you are attempting to evict is a member of a protected group (racial or religious minority), you might get accused of discrimination.
For starters, most housing laws require the property owner to notify the tenant in advance about possible eviction. They are supposed to have the opportunity to change their problematic behavior. These advance notices are typically called “pay rent or quit” or “cure and quit,” and issuing them is usually the landlord’s first step.
Another option an owner might have (depending on the laws) is issuing a stricter notice, called “vacate or quit.” This type of warning does not call for a change in behavior but allows the tenant to leave the property before the scheduled date. Several states demand that such final notices have to be delivered directly to the tenant. As the owner, you need to make certain that all state laws have been followed during the eviction process.
There are times when the tenant might refuse to move out as advised. In such a situation, the landlord needs to file a petition in the court. If the court approves the request, it will typically allow a long enough period to the tenant to leave the property. In case they refuse to move out, the court considers a forced removal.
Federal Housing Laws
Landlords need to learn and respect the rights of their tenants if they wish to defend their own rights successfully. If, as the lessor, you violate lessee’s legal rights, it can prove challenging to evict them. Prospective landlords need to read their state’s laws which govern access to housing (for example, several states protect the rights of LGBT renters). Do not hesitate to seek legal advice to make sure the eviction is entirely legal. Otherwise, you could find yourself on the receiving end of a lawsuit.
Serving as a way to prevent discrimination against certain classes, there are various federal laws in place. As a rental property owner, you should be aware of the following acts:
|Civil Rights Act forbids discrimination based on race, national origin, and color.|
|Americans with Disabilities Act forbids discrimination based on disability (HUD enforces it).|
|Federal Fair Housing Act forbids discrimination based on national origin, race, sex, religion, disability, and familial status.|
|Age Discrimination Act forbids discrimination based on age (protecting the rights of people aged 40 or older).|
Overview of Landlords’ Rights and Responsibilities to Their Tenants
As the rental unit’s owner, you have both rights and obligations to your renters. Although housing laws usually depend on the state, specific rules tend to apply universally.
- The rental property needs to be fit for human habitation.
- The tenant is entitled to the private use of your property. However, you may inspect the unit as long as you announce your visit in advance.
- As an owner, you can limit the number of tenants, but you may not restrict the number of their visitors.
- You need to maintain habitable conditions at your property and fix anything your tenants have not broken.
- You cannot terminate the rental agreement if you sell the property to a third party. However, you can offer the unit to your tenant first if they want to purchase it.
- Even if the renter violates the agreement, you may not evict them illegally. Instead, refer to your lawyer before starting the eviction process to avoid any unneeded lawsuits.