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Landlord Tenant Law

Whether you are a landlord looking to find the perfect tenant, or a tenant looking for reasonable accommodations and a pleasant landlord, there are several things to consider. Both parties need to know the basics of renting out a place, how to collect or pay security deposits, the basics of fair housing laws, and more. From a landlord's perspective, you may need help working out tax deductions or determining how to evict a non-paying tenant. Tenants, on the other hand, may need help understanding their rights to tenant safety, the return of security deposits, and whether they can sublet. This section provides information and resources for both parties involved in the landlord-tenant relationship.

Lease Agreements

The basic legal parameters of the landlord-tenant relationship are outlined in the lease agreement, which protects the interests of both parties. Most states also recognize lease agreements made orally, but only for periods of one year or less. Provisions found in a typical lease agreement include the following:

  • The names of the two parties involved (tenant and landlord)
  • Address and description of rental unit
  • Amount of rent and date by which it must be paid each month
  • Amount of security deposit
  • Whether pets are allowed'

Some lease provisions are illegal, though. You should check your state's specific laws if in doubt, but generally landlords may not include any of the following terms:

  • Discriminatory exclusion of tenants (gender, religion, race, etc.)
  • Waiver of right to sue landlord
  • Waiver of right to receive a refund of the security deposit (minus repairs and cleaning costs)

A short-term lease agreement is often referred to as "rental agreement," typically for 30-day similarly short-term rentals. Lease agreements are typically for a year or more.

Security Deposits

Most landlords require the payment of a security deposit prior to moving in, which is limited under most state laws. For instance, California law limits deposits to two months rent (or three months if furnished). But Alabama law, in contrast, has no limits. The security deposit is different than paying last month's rent, and must be repaid in full, minus any deductions for repairs or costs associated with cleaning. If you are required to pay a deposit, you should consider signing a statement with the landlord outlining the exact condition of the unit in order to eliminate disputes at the end of the lease term.

Laws in many states also dictate how soon a landlord must return a tenant's deposit after moving out, usually 30 days or so. In addition to cleaning and repairs, the landlord may deduct any unpaid rent from the deposit as well. However, the landlord may not deduct for what may be considered normal wear and tear. Many states require landlords to provide a detailed list of damages and repairs, as well as detailed list of the cost of repairs or cleaning.

Tenant Rights

Tenants have certain rights, including the right to be free from discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, gender, age, familiar status (although this is waived for some retirement communities), and disability. Some states also offer anti-discrimination protections on the basis of LGBT identity and marital status.

And if you have a helper animal, such as a seeing-eye dog, a landlord may not refuse to rent to you solely because of a "no pets" policy. Other rights include the right to a habitable home, the right to a home free of lead poisoning, and a certain level of privacy. For instance, a landlord may not enter your home unannounced.

Landlord Rights

Landlords also have certain rights, mainly related to the protection of their income investment. For example, a landlord may require monthly payment of rent and the payment of other items specified in the lease agreement, such as utility bills. Landlords also have the right to evict tenants, but it must be for cause (such as nonpayment of rent).

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