Welcome to the Landlord Rights section of FindLaw's Real Estate Center. State and federal laws protect tenants from discrimination, invasion of privacy, theft of security deposits, and other protections. However, the landlord still owns the building and typically pays the mortgage with the proceeds from monthly rent payments. Since landlords also have quite a bit at stake when entering into rental agreements, most states work to protect their investments. This section provides legal information and tips on legal issues related to renting out your residential property to a tenant, including lease agreements; evictions; property repairs; return of security deposits; and more.
Terminating a Lease
No matter how careful you are when screening prospective tenants, you mostly likely will have to evict a tenant at some point. While you can't evict a tenant just because you don't care for that person, you certainly can terminate a lease for cause. While landlord-tenant laws vary by state, they generally give landlords the freedom to evict a tenant for the following reasons:
- Tenant fails to pay rent or is habitually late with rent (absent a credible reason).
- Tenant violates one or more lease provisions, such as owning a pet when the lease clearly states "no pets."
- Tenant has violated the law, whether it's a pattern of disturbing the peace, or engaging in illegal drug activity.
How to Legally Evict a Tenant
It's not often as easy as tacking an "evicted" notice to the door when attempting to remove a tenant, depending on what actions you already have taken (if any). If no clear cause has been established, the court may not approve the eviction. If a tenant evicted without cause is part of a protected class (disability, religion, race, etc.), you may open yourself up to a discrimination lawsuit.
First of all, most states require landlords to give the tenant advance notice that they will be evicted if the offending behavior does not change. These are called either "cure and quit" or "pay rent or quit" notices and they give tenants a chance to correct their behavior. Landlords also may give a "vacate or quit" notice, which does not give tenants an opportunity to correct course but rather serves as a warning that they will be evicted within a specified period of time if they fail to move out on their own. Also, some states mandate that such notices be presented directly to the tenant (often by taping it to the door) or sent through certified mail; so make sure you understand your state's laws.
Unless the tenant voluntarily leaves the property, the landlord may need to file an eviction petition in the local court. After court approval, the tenant typically is given ample time to move out before forced removal is considered.
Federal Fair Housing Laws
An important part of defending your rights as a landlord is to respect the rights of tenants, since you will have much less leverage when you need it if you are out of compliance with the law. For example, evicting a problem tenant can be tricky if you violated the tenant's rights in any way. Make sure you also check for any state laws regulating access to housing (for instance, some states protect the rights of LGBT tenants and homebuyers). Federal fair housing laws include the following:
- Federal Fair Housing Act - Prohibits discrimination in housing on the basis of race, color, national origin, religion, sex, familial status, and disability.
- Title VI of the Civil Rights Act - Prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, or national origin in programs receiving federal funding.
- Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act - Prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in programs provided by public entities (enforced by HUD when it involves housing).
- Age Discrimination Act - Prohibits discrimination on the basis of age (protecting those 40 and older) in programs receiving federal funding.
Click on a link below to learn more about the rights and responsibilities of landlords.