Find the right lawyer now

The Ultimate Guide to Landlord and Tenant Law

Find a Local Real Estate Lawyer near You

The Ultimate Guide to Landlord and Tenant Law

Landlord and tenant laws cover all aspects of renting residential and commercial property. Every state has its own laws that cover many aspects of the landlord and tenant relationship, including details like the lease agreement, security deposits, repairs, and the landlord’s right to access the rental property.

Knowledge of local landlord and tenant laws is crucial for both landlords and tenants since both parties have certain rights that they may be entitled to.

The Ultimate Guide to Being a Landlord

A landlord is the owner of the residential or commercial property that is being rented out. A landlord can be an individual or a corporate entity that owns the real estate. The agreement that includes the terms of the lease is called the lease agreement. The lease agreement is basically a contract that can be enforced in the court of law in case there is any type of issue involving the rental property between the tenant and the landlord.

Top Ten Tips for Being a Landlord

To avoid legal pitfalls as a landlord, you should implement the following tips:

  1. Conduct Background Checks on Tenants: Before renting out your property to a tenant, it is highly recommended to run a background check that includes a credit check, criminal check, and employment history to make sure that the tenant would be responsible in paying any future rent. Since you are the owner of the rental property, it is your right to know who you are renting the property out to.
  2. Get Everything in Writing: Be sure to have all the agreements involving the security deposit and lease agreement in writing and everything is communicated to the tenant before the tenant rents out the property.
  3. Have a Fair Security Deposit System: Make a fair security deposit system when it comes to holding, collecting, and returning security deposits. Do not hold a security deposit for no reason other than late or no rent payments and damage to property.
  4. Make Repairs on the Property: Make sure that the property the tenant is staying in is livable and in good condition during the tenant’s stay. Maintain the property and if the tenant asks you repair any parts of the property, make sure to repair within a reasonable amount of time. This way the tenant cannot hold the rent or deduct the repair costs from future rent payments.
  5. Provide Secure Premises: Prevent any criminal activity throughout the property by providing efficient security measures such as good lighting, secure surroundings, and efficient locks on all doors.
  6. Give Notice before Entering Tenant’s Property: You must notify all your tenants before you enter their premises.
  7. Disclosure All Dangerous Conditions: If you know of a dangerous condition on the property that would not be noticeable by a tenant or a tenant’s guest, give warning or repair the condition. Also reduce any condition on the property that would be considered unhealthy or hazardous.
  8. Obtain Property Insurance: Buy landlord liability property insurance to protect yourself from any liability and lawsuits by the tenants. Landlords often get sued because of discrimination or personal injury on the property
  9. Resolve All Disputes: Try to resolve any issues and disputes between the tenant without the use of the court or lawyers. If there is a dispute raised by the tenant, try to resolve the dispute before it has become a formal dispute in court.
  10. Take Pictures of Your Property: Take pictures of the property before move in so that you’ll have evidence of the property’s condition. This will allow you to be able to fight any disputes that involve property damages.

How the Eviction Process Works for Landlords

A landlord cannot evict a tenant from the property by himself or herself and have to legally terminate the tenancy by either terminating the lease with giving proper notice or filing an eviction lawsuit or an unlawful detainer suit. The landlord can evict the tenant with cause such as a rental agreement violation or without cause by giving property timely notice.

Termination with Cause

Just cause evictions allow the landlords to evict tenants only for a certain reason such as a violation of rental agreement or lease. There are three notices that the landlord can give to terminate the lease and evict the tenant with cause:

  • Failure to Pay Rent: If the tenant fails to pay rent the landlord can either demand rent or evict the tenant. If the tenant has not paid rent, the landlord must give the tenant three to five days notice to pay the rent or move out.
  • Cure Notice: If the tenant has violated a term in the lease agreement, the landlord can give notice by stating that the tenant has the option to cure the defect or move out the premises. The tenant will usually have a certain amount of time to cure the defect and if they fail to do so, they must move out.
  • Unconditional Quit Notice: This type of notice is given when the tenant violates a lease agreement and the landlord terminates the lease with no option to cure. This orders the tenant to vacate the premises with no chance to pay the rent or correct the rental agreement violation.

Termination without Cause

Landlords can also terminate the lease and ask the tenant to vacate or move out of the premises without cause. The landlord must give a proper lease termination notice in this situation. Landlords must usually use a 30-day or a 60-day Notice to Vacate the premises to end a rental agreement that is month to month. Some states do not allow the landlord to terminate the lease without cause.

Removal of the Tenant

If the landlord is successful in an unlawful detainer suit and the court allows them to get a judgment for possession of the property for a rental agreement violation or unpaid rent, the landlord cannot just move the tenant and throw the tenant’s property out. The landlord will be liable for trying to remove the tenants themselves and must use a sheriff to do so.

The Ultimate Guide to Being a Tenant

Tenants who rent out residential or commercial property from a landlord or property owner have certain rights even during the application process. A tenant should be aware that it is illegal for a landlord to refuse your rental application for discriminatory reasons. The federal anti-discrimination law prohibits discrimination on the basis of:

Tenants Right to Have a Habitable Home

All tenants that have leased or rented a residential property have the right to have a habitable home or a home that is livable. This means that the apartment or home that the tenant is staying in must be fit to be lived in. The following conditions make a home or apartment uninhabitable which gives the tenant a right to request the landlord to repair and if the landlord fails to repair the tenant may terminate the lease and move out without being liable for rent or refuse to pay rent until the condition is repaired:

The home has a unsafe condition such as exposed electrical wires, holes in the floor, open ceiling, bad wiring, flood

  • Bug infestation, bed bugs
  • No hot water or heat
  • Tenants Right to Security Deposits

The landlord cannot require a security deposit that exceeds the limit that is set by the state law. A landlord must also treat every tenant equally in security deposit requirements and cannot charge one tenant more than others. In many states, a landlord must return the security deposit to the tenant at the end of the lease term or within a reasonable time usually 30-days after the tenant moves out. The landlord can also only keep or deduct from the security deposit to repair damages beyond mere wear and tear, restore premises to condition before the lease, and unpaid rent.

Tenants Right to Privacy

The tenant has the right to privacy even against the landlord who owns the premises. The landlord cannot enter or come in the tenant’s premises without prior permission or notice unless there is an emergency and entering in the property is necessary to protect the tenant or the property. The landlord must also give advance notice before coming onto the premises when the landlord wants to make any repairs or to show the property to a potential tenant. Every state has their own time period that the landlords must give notice.

Tips for Protection of Tenants Rights

There are several ways that a tenant can protect their rights and reduce their liability:

  1. Take Pictures of Premises: Before moving into the property, take pictures of the property especially in places that already been damages to notify the landlord that the property was already damaged prior to possession.
  2. Save All Receipts Used to Make Repairs: If you made any repairs that were the landlord’s responsibility save any paperwork to show the landlord to be reimbursed for.
  3. Study Your State Laws: Be informed of your state law regarding tenants’ right that involves return of security deposits, breach of rental agreement by landlord, repairs, and notices required by landlord.

What Are Some Examples of Acts That May Constitute a Wrongful Eviction?

Any landlord who illegally and informally evicts a tenant may face legal action. Some of the most common acts by landlords that is considered wrongful evictions:

  • Danger and threat to the tenants health or safety
  • Harassment and discrimination of the tenant
  • Turning off the tenant’s utilities such as water, heat, electricity, and gas
  • Physically removing the tenant, including changing the locks or putting the tenants property on the street
  • Any other action forbidden by state or city statute

Do I Need a Lawyer for My Landlord-Tenant Problem?

Most of the time it will not be necessary to have a lawyer, but if you have a big problem or would like to learn more about what rights you have as a tenant, an experienced real estate lawyer can help. Landlord-tenant law varies greatly from state to state (and is always changing. A lawyer with experience in real-estate law can inform you of your rights and provide advice on how to deal with a landlord.

Photo of page author Kourosh Akhbari

, LegalMatch Legal Writer

Last Modified: 07-03-2018 11:51 PM PDT

Law Library Disclaimer
  • No fee to present your case
  • Choose from lawyers in your area
  • A 100% confidential service
What is LegalMatch?

We've helped more than 4 million clients find the right lawyer – for free. Present your case online in minutes. LegalMatch matches you to pre-screened lawyers in your city or county based on the specifics of your case. Within 24 hours experienced local lawyers review it and evaluate if you have a solid case. If so, attorneys respond with an offer to represent you that includes a full attorney profile with details on their fee structure, background, and ratings by other LegalMatch users so you can decide if they're the right lawyer for you.