It’s not easy to be a landlord. If you thought you could simply buy a property, rent it out, and earn rental income, you’re wrong. Bear in mind that there are certain challenges including legal regulations that tell you what you can and can’t do. With that said, renting out a South Florida rental property doesn’t only require property management know-how, but also knowledge of the law.
Tenants have several reasons to sue their landlord. And since the U.S. is the land of lawsuits, it won’t be a surprise if your tenant files a lawsuit against you down the road. Not only will lawsuits cause stress, but they’re also a burden to your bank account. But don’t worry – lawsuits can be avoided.
Below, we’ll go over a few ways to avoid tenant lawsuits.
#1 Screen Your Tenants
Take the time to meticulously screen your tenants. You can’t reject a tenant just because you want to – remember, you’re bound by the Fair Housing Act (FHA) to provide everyone the opportunity to apply for your rental. Under the FHA, you are not allowed to discriminate against a tenant due to their race, religion, gender, national origin, and more. If you’re found to have rejected a tenant’s application due to these factors, you’ll have to defend yourself in front of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).
To make sure you screen your tenants properly, partner with a property management company. They’ll make sure to conduct a background check, criminal record check, and other checks on all applicants, whether or not they’re part of a protected class.
#2 Do Not Use Discriminatory Language
This is where property owners typically make mistakes. When they post their property on listing sites, they tend to use terms that people deem as discriminatory. For instance, some people place, “Families Only” in their listing, and this can be discouraging to singles. An extreme example would be writing, “Christians Only” or “Whites Only” in the listing. Do not do this.
When marketing your rental property, make sure to use impartial terms. As a rule of thumb, focus on the features such as the number of bedrooms, bathrooms, and more. You do not need to spell out who you want to rent it to. By highlighting the right features, you’ll be able to attract the right tenants.
#3 Maintain Accurate Rental Records
In the event that your tenant decides to sue, you need to be able to disprove their claim. To do that, you’ll need to provide the court or the HUD with evidence in the form of rental-related documents, such as rental contracts, receipts, tenant communication, and more. That’s why our property management agents suggest putting everything in writing – even the things that you believe to be irrelevant.
A property management company can help you maintain accurate records of all tenant-related documents. In case a tenant sues you, you’ll be well-equipped with the proof that the HUD requires of you.
#4 Respect Your Tenant’s Privacy
As the property owner, you will have to enter the property multiple times to oversee repairs, inspections, and so on. However, you cannot enter the property even if you own it. It would be unlawful to enter the premises without your tenant’s permission. In general, you need to notify your tenant at least 24 before you enter the unit, but be sure to consult a property management firm to be certain.
There are, however, exceptions to the rule. In case of extreme situations (e.g. burst pipe, fire, etc.), you can enter the premises even without the tenant’s permission. This holds true for situations where the tenant’s life is at risk.
#5 Disclose Every Detail To Your Tenant
Don’t try to hide important details from your tenants. If you fail to disclose information (particularly those that can affect their way of life), they will be able to sue you. For example, if a registered sex offender lives near your rental unit, you need to inform your tenants at the very start. Also, if your property was built before the 1980s, you need to disclose this to your tenants, as the unit probably contains lead-based paint. As a rule of thumb, your tenants need to be aware of everything before they sign the lease agreement.
#6 Not Providing a Habitable Home
It’s your responsibility to maintain a habitable home. Your tenants can sue you if you fail to maintain the unit and if you fail to resolve issues including a malfunctioning HVAC. In some states, you need to address heater-related issues within 24 hours after the tenant files a repair report. Hence, it would be wise to invest in a property management tool or app – that way, your team can keep track of when reports were made, and when they were resolved by third-party vendors.
You should also partner with a property management firm that can facilitate the conduct of repairs and maintenance. Property management services are particularly useful if you’re a long-distance landlord.
#7 Make Sure Your Property is Safe
You can’t protect your tenants at all times, but you can ensure that the home has a reasonable number of safety measures. For starters, make sure that the home’s main door is secure by installing deadbolt locks to make sure that would-be burglars won’t be able to get in. You could also invest in CCTVs, but make sure that they don’t point directly into your rental home or the neighbor’s home.
Important Note: If you install CCTVs, it would be best to invest in a system that can be controlled via a mobile app. That way, you can monitor the activity on your property even if you’re far away. Consider giving your tenant access to the CCTV’s live feed.
The Best Way to Avoid Tenant Lawsuits
There are multiple laws that property owners need to follow. What makes “landlording” more complicated is that the laws are constantly changing, too. With that said, it would be ideal to partner with a property management company. At Luxury Property Care, our managers are experts in all things rental-related. With us by your side, you can ensure that your tenants won’t have any reason to sue.