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The latest Fair Housing Trends Report reveals that 28,712 fair housing complaints were levied against landlords in 2020. Across the board, fair housing complaints are on the rise, with 17% race-based complaints and 8% familial status complaints at the top of the heap. Beyond Fair Housing, many other rental laws restrict and define a landlord’s role in managing their properties.
This rental law guide, combined with professional legal advice where you’re still unsure, will ensure you stay compliant while protecting yourself and your tenants.
Simply put, landlord-tenant law describes the rights and duties of landlords and their residents.
There are myriad laws that apply to landlords and tenants across the United States, including federal, state, and local rules. Federal laws apply to everyone, such as Fair Housing and Fair Credit, but local laws can vary greatly, depending on where you live. For example, California, Florida, and Texas all specify different regulations surrounding a tenant’s security deposit. In Massachusetts and New York, there are subtle differences in the eviction process.
Landlords should stay informed about evolving state and local laws to protect their property, profitability, and tenants.
Landlords should be aware of the following laws and guidelines in all properties they manage.
The Fair Housing Act prohibits discriminatory practices that make housing unavailable to persons because of race or color, religion, sex, national origin, familial status, or disability. Statistics show that even the best landlords are humans who act upon implicit biases without thinking. Instead of assuming you’re doing the right thing without bias, the best practice is to put safeguards, such as blind applications, in place to protect both yourself from a lawsuit and your potential tenants from discrimination.
A lease agreement protects landlords and tenants alike. As such, it must contain a few essentials to be considered a legal document. Make sure your leases are in writing, as a verbal agreement is binding. It should also contain:
While discrimination is strictly prohibited, tenants might have to disclose certain information to landlords such as income information and any criminal history if asked. Again, this can vary based on location. Landlords must also disclose information about the property, such as any lead-based paint present in properties built before 1978 or the presence of asbestos. Landlord disclosures vary state-to-state so you may need to do some research to ensure you stay compliant.
Tenants want a safe place to call home. Creating a safe environment is a two-way street. Tenants can procure renter’s insurance and lock all doors and windows to protect themselves. At the bare minimum, landlords must maintain the building so it’s safe to inhabit and provide working locks. The savvy landlord understands the importance of safety features and goes above and beyond what’s required by law to attract tenants, with security features like outdoor lighting or camera-monitored communal spaces.
In many states, landlords are responsible for making reasonable repairs on the property during a tenant’s stay. In some cases, tenants can actually legally withhold rent from landlords who refuse or delay making repairs. To avoid this, plan ahead by putting money aside specifically for repairs when they arise. Even if your state allows you to pass along the cost of repairs to tenants, you’ll find that landlords often complete repairs, especially in multifamily buildings.
Security deposit laws vary state-to-state but generally outline how much you can charge, what a security deposit can be used to cover, and where the deposit must be held during a tenant’s occupancy.
Every tenant has a right to privacy that’s ensured by the “Quiet Enjoyment Law” or “The Covenant of Quiet Enjoyment”. These are legal protections that care 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.
A typical lease outlines that the tenant must leave the property in the same condition as they moved in by removing all their belongings upon moving out. However, this isn’t always the case. When tenants leave before their lease is up or leave things behind, a landlord is often left with many unwanted belongings. Laws regarding how long the property must be stored vary from state to state, so landlords must follow state guidelines before donating or dumping anything left behind.
Landlords have a general responsibility to support resident safety on rental property premises. This is accomplished through safety measures and precautions. Get ahead of the issue by carefully screening tenants and including explicit phrases in the lease that guarantee eviction for those found to be involved in illegal activities.
The eviction process is lengthy and frustrating—it shouldn’t be undertaken without planning, sufficient reason, and extreme patience. If you’ve determined that eviction is the next step, you’ll want to document everything and keep extra copies in case of possible litigation.
Staying compliant with the ever-evolving rental laws that apply to landlords can be a massive undertaking, not to mention a headache. Because of this, many landlords choose to work with a property manager to minimize legal frustrations and stay compliant.
Keep in mind that, even when frustrating, all landlord-tenant laws are in place to minimize disputes and make properties easier to manage. In the end, this ensures a safer environment for everyone, landlords and tenants alike.
While property management firms are not legal professionals, they do have the experience and expertise to offer landlords on the topic of rental laws. See if there’s a local property management company that fits your needs—start your search today.