Landlords can take many steps to maintain positive relationships with tenants and reduce the chances of disputes. The first step a landlord should take is to comply with all federal, state, and local laws and rules regarding housing. Further, you can take a number of steps that go beyond mere compliance to create smooth relationships with your tenants.

To become a successful landlord, you must become familiar with the law and be prepared to handle problems you may face.

Before Tenancy Begins

  • Make Sure You Have Adequate Insurance: Your insurance plan should obviously include coverage for disasters such as earthquakes, fires, and floods. It should also cover property crimes such as vandalism. You should also obtain liability insurance in case your tenants bring a claim for personal injury against you.
  • Choosing a Tenant Wisely: You should conduct a thorough background check on prospective tenants. Review their credit histories, references, and backgrounds. Make sure you choose tenants based on permitted criteria (i.e., don’t discriminate), but also be sure to choose tenants who are likely to pay rent on time and keep the rental unit in good condition.
  • Make Sure Everything Is In Writing: When you select a tenant, make sure everything pertaining to the rental agreement is in writing. You should write down the tenant’s name, the agreed rent, the length of the rental, and any other relevant information. You should document any repairs or complaints the tenant makes.
  • Be Fair and Consistent In Dealing with Security Deposits: As a landlord, security deposits are only allowed to be used for certain things and in certain manners. Be fair and consistent when dealing with security deposits. Make sure to return security deposits promptly.

After Tenants Move-In

  • Keep the Rental Property in Good Condition: Make sure to check up on the rental property and make any necessary repairs. When you find a problem or receive a complaint, act quickly and make the necessary repairs. If you want the tenants to do their own repairs, specify that in the lease.
  • Make Sure That Premises Are Habitable For Residence: In residential leases, there is an implied warranty of habitability in which the landlord has the duty to make the premises habitable and suitable for human residence. In other words, there must be hot water running, sanitary conditions, and any other housing code requirements. In the event of a breach of this duty, a tenant may be able to terminate the lease and not pay rent or repair the defect themselves and deduct it from future rent.
  • Respect Your Tenants’ Right to Privacy: Your tenants have a right to privacy, just like every other individual. Be sure to give notice whenever you need to enter a tenant’s rental unit. When you can give your tenant more time and accommodate their schedule, everything will run smoothly. Twenty-four hours are usually sufficient.
  • Take Steps to Prevent Crime: As a landlord, you can be liable for the criminal acts of strangers and the criminal acts of your tenants. Take any necessary steps to prevent your tenants from becoming victims of criminal acts by strangers. Watch out for any suspicious behavior on their part. Crime prevention costs are lower than crime-related costs.
  • Inform Tenants of Any Lead In the Building: If your building contains any lead, in the form of lead-based paint or in any other form, be sure to let all tenants know of this and inform them of steps they can take to protect themselves. Be sure to mention any additional toxins or hazards.

Landlord Rights

  • Enforce Your Rights: One of the most difficult parts about being a landlord is knowing when to assert your rights. It is possible for a landlord to waive certain rights if the landlord does not constantly enforce them. Allowing a tenant to be late on rent or to fall behind in payment and then make up the amount in the future can be interpreted as a waiver of the right to demand strict enforcement of rent payment.
  • Guard Against Tenancy Alteration: Although landlords have the duty to keep the property livable, tenants have the duty to refrain from changing the property without the express permission of the landlord. After notifying the tenant in advance, landlords should conduct periodic inspections of the property. Be sure to inspect the property, not the tenant. While checking the electricity and water is recommended, inspecting the tenant’s clothing is not.

What Should I Include in a Lease?

Rent or lease agreements are contracts between a landlord and a tenant that define the terms of the relationship. A lease should contain the following terms:

  • Rent: How much is the rent paid per month, the date of the month the rent is due, and the late penalty if the rent is not paid within a certain number of days of the due date. In non-rent controlled jurisdictions, landlords usually have the right to make residential rent increases without limitation.
  • Duration: How term or length of time the rental agreement will be in force. Although rental agreements are generally month-to-month, leases are usually for six months to a year or more.
  • Occupancy: The rental or lease agreement should identify the maximum allowable number of occupants (renters) permitted in the unit.
  • Terms of Use: The agreement should state restrictions of uses that are allowed, such as whether pets (dogs, cats, etc.) are allowed in the building. Noise and illegal activities are also restrictions that should be noted. In addition, a lease or rental agreement may prohibit certain furnishings or accessories, such as a waterbed or barbecue.
  • Utilities: The agreement should state explicitly which utilities the tenant must pay for. Water and garbage collection are usually included in apartment rentals, but electricity, gas, and telephone are usually the tenants’ responsibility.
  • Security Deposit: If a security deposit is required, the lease or rental agreement should specifically state the amount. The agreement should also state how the deposit can be used or if interest is to be paid on it. Lastly, the document needs to be clear as to how the security deposit refund will be rendered. Most jurisdictions have laws that restrict landlords from deducting damages that are deemed normal rental unit wear and tear.
  • Landlord Entry: The lease or rental agreement should lay out the procedure for the landlord to gain entry to the unit. Normally, landlords must give notice to tenants before entering the unit. A tenant’s right to privacy varies from state to state.
  • Move-in Inspection: Both the landlord and tenant should determine the condition of a rental unit at the time the tenants take possession and make a note of (or photograph) any pre-existing conditions.
  • Move-Out Inspection: A move-out inspection assesses the condition of the rental unit when tenants vacate a property. In general, this information is compared to the move-in information and is used to determine whether the security deposit will be refunded or reduced.
  • Disabled Tenants: Tenants with disabilities are entitled to reasonable accommodations for their disabilities. However, landlords are not required to substantially impair their ability to do business in making those accommodations.

Do I Need a Lawyer?

Landlord-tenant law is under constant change, and the above tips are just a few of the steps you can take to make your life as a landlord easier. An experienced landlord-tenant lawyer will know the law in your area and can answer questions you may have about how to deal with situations you face.