As a landlord, you have very real rights and responsibilities toward your tenants, and tenants have the right to enforce these obligations. While you expect them to pay rent each month, they also expect some things from you, including a safe and maintained property.
This guide will outline the legal obligations of a landlord as well as the things landlords are not responsible for.
Legal Obligations of Landlords
- Do not unlawfully discriminate under the Federal Fair Housing Act. This means not discriminating against tenants or prospective tenants on the basis of race, color, religion, nationality, sex or disability.
- Adhere to local, state and federal housing codes. This generally means keeping a clean, safe and maintained environment. It also includes regulations regarding smoke detectors, carbon monoxide detectors, and handrails and banisters, among many other obligations. The property must be habitable and clean before the tenant moves in.
- Adhere to local, state and federal health codes. This means providing an insect- and rodent-free environment and maintaining working plumbing, among other obligations. A landlord must also provide adequate waste-removal containers.
- At the very least, purchase basic landlord property insurance to cover the property. Encourage the tenant to purchase renters’ insurance since their possessions are not covered by landlord insurance. Also consider water, fire, flood and natural disaster coverage, depending on the likelihood of these disasters in your region.
- Properly store tenants’ security deposits. At the end of the lease, the landlord must conduct a move-out inspection. The landlord may then keep all or part of a deposit to pay for actual damages, unpaid rent or rent lost due to a tenant moving out without adequate notice. The landlord then must return the security deposit with an itemized list of damages for any portion of the deposit kept.
- The landlord must provide written notice of lease termination and can only terminate the lease under certain conditions. (See section below, “Put it in Writing.”)
- Leases include an implied covenant of quiet enjoyment, which means the landlord may not interfere with the tenant’s possessory rights to the lease and may not forcibly enter the property without required notice.
- A landlord must make and/or pay for repairs needed on the property due to normal wear and tear, including maintaining appliances and facilities supplied to the tenant. Respond to requests promptly.
- Provide heating, plumbing and electricity on the property. Do not turn off a tenant’s water, electricity or gas. The lease should also specify who is responsible for paying for utilities.
- Provide written notice to tenants if ownership of the property is transferred to a new landlord.
What Landlords Are Not Responsible For
- A landlord is not required to make repairs if the damages were caused by the tenant, a tenant’s guest or a tenant’s pet.
- A landlord is not required to make repairs if the condition is caused by the tenant’s lack of fulfilling their own responsibilities as laid out in the lease agreement.
- The tenant is responsible for disposing of their personal waste and keeping the property clean.
Put It in Writing
Avoid potential problems by addressing these issues in a Rental Agreement and clearly listing the responsibilities of the landlord and the tenant. A written agreement will protect both the tenant and the landlord and ensure that issues will be remedied more easily when and if they arise.
A basic lease agreement should include:
- Amount of monthly rent (plus any fees)
- Rent due date and grace period (if any)
- Length of lease
- Amount of security deposit and conditions for return of the deposit
- Responsibilities of paying for utilities, repairs and cleaning
- Pet policies and a list of any pets that will live on the premises
- Late payment procedures and penalties
The landlord or tenant must give written notice to terminate the agreement and the tenancy. The landlord may terminate the lease under certain conditions:
- Failure to pay rent
- Property damage by the tenant
- At the end of a written lease
- When a tenant violates a policy or condition of a lease