American Landlord-Tenant Laws
Landlord-tenant law governs the rental of both commercial and residential properties. It is composed largely of state statutory and common law. A number of states have based their statutory law on either the Uniform Residential Landlord And Tenant Act or the Model Residential Landlord-Tenant Code. Federal statutory law may be a factor in times of national/regional emergencies and in preventing forms of discrimination.
This business relationship between a landlord and a tenant is based solely by contract and property law. The tenant has an interest in the land for any given period. The length of the tenancy may be short term or for an indefinite period of time, such as renewable / cancellable on a month to month basis, terminable at any time by either party, or at sufferance if the agreement has been terminated and the tenant refuses to leave. If the tenancy is held for years, they have the right to possess the land, to restrict others (including the landlord) from entering upon it, and to sublease or assign the property. The landlord-tenant lease agreement may eliminate or limit these rights. This lease, though not historically or strictly a contract, may be subject to concepts embodied in contract law.
A landlord-tenant relationship is established by duties described in statutory law, common law, or the individual lease. Standard to all leases, is the implied covenant of quiet enjoyment. This ensures the tenant that they will not be disturbed by someone with a superior legal title to the land including the landlord, unless given ample notice. A breach of the covenant of quiet enjoyment may be actual or constructive. A constructive eviction occurs when the landlord causes the premises to become uninhabitable. Housing codes were established to ensure that residential rental units were habitable at the time of rental and during the tenancy. Depending on the state, housing code violations may lead to administrative action or to the tenant being allowed to withhold rent. A breach of a covenant within the lease may constitute constructive eviction, allowing again, the tenant to withhold rent, repair the problem and deduct the cost from the rent, or recover damages.
There is an assumption that the tenant has a duty to pay rent. In commercial leases rent is commonly calculated in part or whole as a percentage of the tenants sales. Summary eviction statutes commonly allow a landlord to quickly evict a tenant who breaches statutorily specified lease provisions. Landlords are restricted from evicting tenants in retaliation of action the tenant took in regards to enforcing a provision of the lease or applicable law. Federal law prohibits discrimination in housing and the rental market.
Compliance with Federal and State Laws
If you sublease a rental unit, you are considered a landlord. As a landlord, you have state and federal disclosure requirements that must be followed. Check with your state and county housing authority for these required disclosures. Also, keep in mind that some states might consider a lease to be a sale for the purposes of disclosure. Thus, you would need to disclose the same items on a lease that you would on a sale.
Summary of Residential Landlord-Tenant Laws
Information on Leases that you may not have known
Some lease provisions under the landlord-tenant law are prohibited or will not be enforced by the Court. Unconscionable provisions may be held unenforceable in court. Unconscionable provisions are as follows:
- those in which a tenant agrees to waive rights granted to tenants under relevant law
- agrees to pay landlord’s attorney fees beyond what is allowed by law
- agrees to the limit the liability of or hold harmless the landlord for landlord’s legal liabilities related to the lease.If a landlord intentionally inserts lease provisions known to him to be unenforceable, the said landlord may be liable for all incurred damages.
Disclosure of Proper Information
Most states require that the tenant be informed of the names and addresses of the landlord(s), if they are different from the property manager of the premises. This information should be provided to the tenant prior to or as part of the lease.
A landlord may request security deposits at the time of the lease signing to ensure partial or total coverage of expenses if tenant leaves behind damage, unpaid rent, or leave the premises in an unclean condition after the termination or expiration of the lease. The amount of the security deposit is normally capped by statute at a maximum amount such as one or two month’s rent. Procedures concerning security deposits vary widely from state to state, with a sizable minority of states requiring placement in a separate, interest bearing bank account with interest being periodically paid out to tenants. A Tenant and landlord are usually required to inspect and document the condition of the premises prior to the lease (Click to download a free checklist), and to revisit and re-document the conditions after the lease, regardless of whether the lease was terminated due to breach or simply expired. A Landlord may retain a portion of the security deposit sufficient to repair damages, besides reasonable wear and tear, clean and account for unpaid rent.
** PLEASE NOTE ** The remainder must be mailed to the tenant with documentation of the deductions. A Tenant must provide his forwarding address, and there is a limit on the obligation of the landlord to retain the security deposit when unable to reach the tenant by mail. Suit may be brought by the tenant for failure of the landlord to fulfill the statutory obligations, but damages are normally capped.
Landlord Duties & Responsibilities
A Landlord is obligated to supply possession of the premises as agreed in the lease. The premises must meet minimum standards of habitability including compliance with applicable building codes. These codes include:
- running water
- working plumbing
- heating and cooling
- pest control
A Landlord is obligated to keep the premises in repair, to the same standard as existed when the tenant initially leased the premises. Damages caused by the tenant, however, will be repaired only at tenant’s expense.
Tenant Duties & Responsibilities
Apart from fulfilling all details of the lease agreement (many of which incorporate statutory duties of tenants), the tenant is obliged with the following:
- To keep the premises in as clean and safe condition as possible
- To comply with any applicable health and safety codes like proper disposal of garbage
- To keep the facilities and appliances in the premises in a reasonable manner
- Must not damage the premises, nor cause a nuisance to neighboring tenants
- Must not permit or participate in criminal activity on the premises
- To inform landlord of any dangerous conditions that develop, of any damage caused to the premises by whatever sourceTermination of Non-payment of Rent
A Landlord must typically serve a written notice on the tenant, specifying the amount of rent owed and demanding payment in a period of time usually from three to fourteen days, or face termination of the lease. If tenant pays before the deadline, then the lease is not terminated. Some state statutes remove the protection of the notice period if tenant is frequently late with payment a certain number of times per year. If this is the first time a Notice to Pay or Quit may be given. To view this notice, Click here.
Abandonment of Premises
Abandonment is typically defined as tenant absence from the premises for an extended period of time when rent has not been paid. A Landlord is allowed to repossess the premises and store tenant’s belongings if they feel the premises has been abandoned. A Tenant may recover the same before the expiration of a certain time period, but must reimburse landlord for the cost of storing the said property.
Landlord Access to the Premises
A Landlord has the right to enter the premises at a reasonable time to inspect, maintain, and show the premises. Except in the case of emergency, a landlord must gain permission from the tenant in order to enter. The Tenant may not unreasonably deny permission. A Notice to Enter must be given approximately 24 hours prior to entry. For a Notice to Enter, Click here.