Whether or not you’re a small- or big-time landlord, the reality is that there are some things you must know to be successful at your craft. For example, one important factor to consider is that all landlords must be fully aware of laws and regulations that apply to rental properties and tenants.
That’s because, when it comes to renting a property, things can get confusing. There are a number of federal laws that help protect tenants’ rights, and it can sometimes seem that tenants have more rights than landlords. Plus, it’s up to landlords to ensure that they always act according to federal regulations—which means that you have to know what to do, and what not to do, to avoid any issues with the tenant.
And, it’s also smart to remember that rules can change from state to state. Let’s suppose you want to increase rent, evict a tenant, or advertise a vacant rental unit. In that case, it’s always a good idea to check what the latest relevant landlord-tenant laws say. After all, failing to follow state and federal landlord laws and regulations could result in a costly lawsuit if a tenant is given a legal reason to sue.
Not sure which landlord and tenant laws and regulations are crucial to know? This article provides a brief overview of some of the important laws and regulations that rental property owners and landlords must remember. Here’s what you should know.
Landlord-tenant laws regarding discrimination
Landlord-tenant laws prohibit a landlord from denying housing to someone based on any discriminatory factors. That’s because the Fair Housing Act applies to every state across the country., and it keeps landlords from discriminating against tenants due to national origin, race, color, religion, sex, familial status, or disability.
For example, you can’t ask prospective tenants any specific questions about their personal lives. It’s also against the law to set restrictive standards for members of certain groups of people. And, if a current renter’s circumstances change, you can’t terminate the rental agreement for discriminatory reasons, either.
Ignoring the Fair Housing Act is one of the ways a tenant can get their landlord in trouble.
Credit reporting under the Fair Credit Reporting Act
Under the Fair Credit Reporting Act, a landlord must get an applicant’s permission to run a credit report. Typically, the rental application should obtain consent from the tenant to run a background screening check. You must then provide the prospective tenant with information about the credit reporting agency.
Now let’s suppose you decide to deny the application based on the information contained in the credit report. In that case, you must inform the tenant of this—and you must explain what factors were included in your decision to reject their application.
Laws about drafting a rental agreement
The tenancy agreement is a legal document between you and your tenant. The rental agreement should state the lease term, rent amount, late fees, and security deposit amount. It should also include any clauses regarding pets, maintenance, and property inspections.
it’s also smart to remember that the rental agreement can’t contain clauses that contradict state or federal laws. For example, some states have rent control measures or will limit charges for late fees and security deposits. So, you need to know what exactly your state allows before drafting a rental agreement to ensure you’re aligned with the legal parameters in your state.
Now, can a landlord break a lease legally? Yes, but only if the tenant is guilty of a lease violation. But even in those cases, you have to go through the eviction courts to legally get the tenant out of the rental property.
What about a “tenancy at will”? It doesn’t matter whether or not there is a signed lease—or whether the tenant lives there on a month-to-month basis. Either way, you are still required to follow the law governing verbal rental agreements. Even a squatter has rights, and you can’t carry out a self-help eviction to remove them from your property.
Related: 10 things to include in a lease agreement.
Laws regarding a tenant’s privacy rights and quiet enjoyment
The tenant’s legal right to quiet enjoyment also protects their privacy. In essence, this landlord-tenant law lets the renter live in the property as if it was their own.
So how does “quiet enjoyment” affect your responsibilities? For starters, you can’t enter the property at will. You must typically give proper notice to carry out a property inspection or enter the property for other reasons.
However, the warranty of quiet enjoyment also means that your tenant can’t unnecessarily disturb the peace of the neighbors. A tenant cannot refuse to allow you to enter the property after you give them the appropriate notification, either.
Rental inspection property laws: Your tenant has rights
While you are the property owner and are the one who has invested tens or hundreds of thousands into the rental unit, you must still adhere to the laws on property inspections. However, no rules define “how often is too often” when it comes to property inspections.
That said, there are a few guidelines for determining how to avoid violating rental inspection laws. For starters, you should never make impromptu visits to the property. Even a friendly stopover—something like, “I was just passing by and wanted to see how you are”—could be taken the wrong way. And, when you ask to do an inspection of the home, you should always ensure that you specify a reasonable time frame in a written inspection notice.
You should also ensure that the rental agreement stipulates how you plan to deal with property inspections. An annual or bi-annual property inspection is typically reasonable for most properties.
Laws that regulate security deposits
State laws typically regulate security deposits. As such, there may be limits on how much you can collect for a security deposit on your rental property, as well as how to hold the deposit and when you should return it.
For example, many states stipulate that a landlord holds the deposit in a separate, interest-bearing account. As such, the deposit must be returned in full, along with interest, at the end of the lease—provided that there are no rent or lease violations to contend debt with, of course.
Related: Top tips on how to collect security deposits.
Rental property laws regarding safety, repairs, and maintenance
By law, landlords must provide habitable housing to all tenants—even if the tenant is guilty of lease violations. As such, it’s vital to ensure that your tenants always have access to hot and cold water, trash removal, heating and cooling, and all necessary utilities. You are also responsible for keeping the unit free from pests and vermin.
Remember, though, that tenants also have responsibilities to care for the rental property. This means that you can dictate how clean a tenant must keep the unit. They can’t allow garbage to build up or willfully damage the property, either. They must also promptly inform you if there are any maintenance issues that need to be dealt with.
Laws regarding evictions
Landlords can terminate the lease early if a tenant violates the rental agreement in certain ways. However, you must follow eviction laws to legally remove a tenant from the unit.
Let’s suppose a tenant who doesn’t pay their rent, causes damage to the property, or seriously violates a lease clause. In that case, you must serve the appropriate notice to the tenant. Typical notices are “pay or quit,” “cure or quit,” or unconditional quit notice. For a legal eviction process to be successful, it is vital to both follow the law and record all correspondence you have with the tenant.
It is also extremely important to understand that a self-help eviction is illegal. You can’t change the locks, remove the tenant’s personal belongings, or shut off utilities to force them out—even if they’re violating the lease agreement. You must also have a court order in hand before forcibly removing a tenant.
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Final thoughts on landlord and tenant laws
As a responsible landlord, you should be aware of any changes that are made to the landlord-tenant laws—along with how to handle them. And, getting legal advice prior to leasing out your unit or making other decisions related to your landlord-tenant agreement is smart if you want to avoid potential problems with tenants. Landlord-tenant laws are in place to ensure the safety of tenants and protect your investment—and they can be extremely helpful to protect your property if followed correctly. If ignored, though, these laws can land you in hot water—so be sure to know what you’re legally allowed to do before taking the plunge into landlording.