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In the United States, citizens have what’s known as the Right to Quiet Enjoyment. Simply put, quiet enjoyment is the right of a person to have unimpaired access to their own property.
However, when a landlord rents their property to a tenant, the tenant and landlord enter into what’s called a covenant of quiet enjoyment, relieving the landlord of certain rights to the property they own.
The covenant of quiet enjoyment is a legal protection that cares for landlords, tenants, and the property itself. To remain conflict-free, landlords must be aware of what they can and cannot do while a tenant occupies their property.
Below, we’ll review six things a landlord cannot do and steps you can take to avoid violations of the law. Knowing, and abiding by, the restrictions imposed by the covenant of quiet enjoyment is a proven way to keep tenants happy and your properties profitable.
In short, tenants have the right to be left alone. While the letter of the law varies from state to state, a landlord cannot enter a tenant’s home on a whim. Generally, a landlord can only enter the property for specific circumstances, with sufficient notice in writing, and with the tenant’s permission.
A landlord is responsible for providing safe and habitable living quarters. This means that you cannot refuse to make reasonable repairs on the property as requested by the tenant. In fact, if you do refuse or drag your feet on repairs, a tenant may be legally allowed to withhold rent until the issue is resolved.
Some common repairs include:
Landlords should expect maintenance expenditures as a regular part of the property management process. To avoid issues later on, landlords should conduct regular inspections to discover issues before a tenant complains or an easy fix turns into a costly renovation.
As a landlord, you’re subject to fair housing laws. These laws work against discrimination when accessing your property. The United States does not allow landlords to refuse to rent to tenants based on certain factors or to discriminate against current tenants on their property. The Fair Housing Act prohibits discriminatory practices that make housing unavailable to persons because of:
A landlord does have the right to screen tenants and deny their application based on things like past evictions, bad credit, or the results of a criminal background check. However, a landlord cannot discriminate based on any of the factors listed above without risking legal action.
While you may hold the property title, renting a home relieves the property owner of the use of their space. Once a tenant makes a property their home, the landlord no longer has legal access to spaces like the spare bedroom or garden shed. To avoid this situation, ensure all your personal belongings are off the property before your tenants sign a lease.
The covenant of quiet enjoyment also states that you cannot text or call tenants at all hours, impose new rules randomly, or ask tenants invasive or unnecessary questions during their application process or occupancy.
When tenants start engaging in frustrating behavior, a landlord may wish to update the lease to put a stop to this behavior. Unfortunately, it’s not that easy. Landlords must be sure to update paperwork by enacting a lease addendum or waiting until the tenant is ready to renew their lease.
Even when legally evicting a tenant, including when a court has ordered your tenant to leave the property, you’re not allowed to do anything to move the tenant along yourself. You cannot legally remove a tenant. That’s a job for the sheriff. You also cannot shut off utilities or change the locks—it’s illegal and violates squatter’s rights.
Of course, there will be disputes that crop up from time to time. A landlord’s best course of action is to handle all conflicts respectfully and professionally. Over the past few years, people have spent more time inside their homes. Unsurprisingly, neighborhood disagreements are on the rise. Luckily, there’s also been an uptick in collaborative ways to solve issues by releasing the “us vs. them” mentality and focusing on what’s best for everyone.
While, hopefully, you’ll never need it, every landlord needs to understand the basics of handling an eviction. Be aware that eviction laws and processes differ between states and counties.
However, there are three general types of “eviction with cause” that you should be familiar with:
There are a variety of reasons a landlord may choose to begin the eviction process with a tenant. The most common, of course, is unpaid rent.
Other common situations that commonly lead to eviction are drug dealing or other illegal activity, hoarding or excessive damage to the property, or the tenant being incarcerated and unable to care for the property.
In all evictions, landlords must deliver a written termination notice to tenants that documents the reason/s for their eviction. If a tenant does not respond, pay rent, or change their behavior, then the landlord is free to take their case to the legal system.
Evictions are tricky and generally unpleasant for everyone. That’s why many landlords prefer to put the entire process in the hands of a property management company. A qualified property manager will help you stay compliant with legal guidelines and, hopefully, avoid the need to evict tenants in the first place.
Besides helping with the rare sticky eviction situation, many landlords turn to a property management company for the other benefits they provide.
One of the most visible ways property managers save landlords money is through their ability to attain well-priced work with contractors. Plus, they can offer contractors work for multiple properties, so they can usually negotiate lower rates than the typical landlord can.
Of course, property management companies aren’t lawyers, but their experience with legal issues can come in handy. In fact, through years of industry expertise, they’ll thoroughly understand local laws and can offer you initial advice, avoiding common pitfalls and the legal fees that accompany them.
Long gone are the days when people were willing to write a check and drop it off in someone’s mailbox. Landlords now need to be operating online to stay relevant.
Property management companies have the technology already in place to make it easy for tenants, landlords, and board members to pay dues, file maintenance work orders, and submit requests online.
In addition to negotiating more affordable work, most property management companies also have access to higher-quality contractors. They’ve already done the leg work of vetting contractors and building relationships. They have more connections and access to better workers that ultimately provide more cost-effective, higher quality, and longer-lasting results.
Every business benefits from human resources, even landlords who manage their real estate investments. Partnering with a property management firm gives landlords the advantage of additional expertise in human resources to follow best practices and stay as profitable as possible.
Real estate investment can be a rewarding and lucrative way to grow your assets, but becoming a landlord is no easy task. You have to consistently stay compliant with all laws, regulations, and rules related to your property and tenants. With the help of a professional property manager, you can confidently build a legally compliant business that provides quality housing for residents.