Managing a rental property can create numerous legal issues. One of the most important aspects of supervising a rental unit is the prevention of problems before they occur. Knowledge of the basic duties a landlord owes to tenants is one of the first steps in warding off legal issues. The following landlord tips provide an overview of the common legal issues faced by landlords.
A landlord may not reject a prospective tenant for reasons that are discriminatory. The Federal Fair Housing Acts prohibits a landlord from denying an applicant because of race or color, national origin, familial status, disability, or sex. A landlord may base a decision on the following factors: credit history, employment history, and income. If a landlord decides to reject an applicant because of information in a credit report, the Fair Credit Reporting Act requires the landlord to provide the applicant with the name and address of the credit reporting agency. A landlord should keep written documentation of the reason a prospective tenant was rejected and the screening process used should be applied consistently with each applicant.
One of the most important landlord tips is to enter into a written rental agreement with the tenant. Typical residential lease agreements specify important rental terms that will guide the landlord/tenant relationship. The most important provisions include the following: the names of the tenants, the length of the tenancy, the amount of the security deposit, the party responsible for specific repairs, whether pets may live in the rental unit, and the amount of rent. A lease agreement should specify when rent is due, what form of payment is acceptable, whether a grace period applies, and whether late fees and returned check fees apply.
A landlord should inspect a rental property for dangerous conditions. When a tenant sustains injuries on the property, the landowner may bear legal responsibility. The law allows a person injured on a property to recover compensation when the landlord behaved recklessly or with intent, was unreasonably careless, violated health and safety regulations, failed to make certain repairs, or the premises was inhabitable.
A landlord should also be aware of criminal activity on and around the rental property. In many states, a landlord is responsible for providing the surrounding neighborhood with protection against illegal activity engaged in by tenants. At the same time, the landlord must protect tenants from each other and from criminals that enter the property. A landlord should make note of reports of criminal activity on the premises and should provide security features like deadbolts, security lighting, and locks on windows.
Every state has different guidelines on when it is permissible for a landlord to enter a rental unit, but most laws are based on the tenant's right of privacy. Therefore, a landlord may only enter a rental unit for a few specific purposes. Most states will permit a landlord to enter a unit to make repairs, inspect the property, show the property to prospective tenants, or in the case of an emergency. In all instances, except during an emergency, a landlord must provide a verbal or written notice of the intent to enter the premises 24 hours before the entry. An emergency, such as a gas or water leak, overrides the requirement of notice.
It is a landlord's duty to repair and maintain a rental property in a way that is fit for occupancy. The law refers to this as an "implied warranty of habitability." Most states require rental units to provide tenants with heating, plumbing, electricity, and gas. The failure to provide these basic features is a violation of the law. When a tenant makes a request for repairs to a necessary fixture in the unit and the landlord fails to make the repair, the tenant has a several options. Most states will allow a tenant to withhold rent, make the repair and deduct the cost from the rent, move out, inform state or local building inspectors, or pay the rent and sue the landlord for the difference of the rent and the real rental value of the property. If an injury occurs because of the failure to make a repair, the tenant may sue the landlord for compensation.