Landlords need to follow the law – it’s a non-negotiable. If you fail to do so, you’ll end up in court and worse, find your rental’s reputation ruined. In this post, we’ll go over seven legal matters you need to avoid, as well as what you can do to avoid them.
1. Asking Discriminatory Questions
One of the mistakes you can make is asking discriminatory questions. Though it is critical to ask questions to be sure about an applicant’s trustworthiness, your inquiries should be chosen as carefully as possible. Even if you did not intend to discriminate, if your tenant feels that they were, they can take you to court.
As a violation of the Fair Housing Act (FHA), it involves digging into matters in a way that seems to discriminate against an individual. For instance, if you were to ask a disabled tenant about their disabilities (in a way that hints that you’re hesitant to rent due to their disability), this may be considered discrimination. You may also be held liable for discrimination if you ask about a tenant’s religion.
2. Failure to Disclose Information
As a landlord, it’s your duty to inform your tenants if the property that they rented out is potentially harmful to their health, or poses a risk to their safety. In other words, you should disclose to your tenants what they’ve gotten themselves into.
If, for instance, the property is near the residence of a sexual offender, it’s extremely important that you tell your tenants this. You do not need to disclose the person’s name, but you do need to tell your tenants that they’re in the neighborhood. In the same way, if anyone has passed away in your rental property (say, another tenant), you should tell your tenants.
A property management company can point you in the right direction when it comes to disclosures. They’ll make sure that you tell your tenants what they need to know.
3. Banning Families From Renting
While you are allowed to limit the number of tenants in your rental, it would be unlawful to ban whole families. It’s not uncommon for tenants to want to put up a “no families” sign on their rental, as children can cause wear and tear. However, this is discrimination and so you can’t do it. If a family wants to rent your property, you can’t turn them down for the fact that they have children.
If you’re worried about wear and tear, you can collect a security deposit. With a security deposit, you can deduct the costs to repair the property, should your tenant’s children cause any damage during their tenancy. For state-specific laws on security deposits, it would be wise to consult a South Florida property management firm.
4. Failing to Provide a Habitable Home
One of your main duties as a landlord is to maintain your home’s habitability. This can be translated as providing your tenant with a safe property. It’s worth mentioning that habitability laws vary by region, but in general, it requires that your rental property be safe and comfortable at all times.
Under the implied warranty of habitability, if you fail to respond to repairs, conduct routine inspections, and so on, your tenants can take you to court. Therefore, the moment that a tenant informs you about unsafe conditions (such as mold), be sure to act on the matter immediately. If a tenant is harmed in any way, they can file a lawsuit and chances are, they will win.
A property management company can conduct regular inspections of your rental. That way, you can ensure your property is in tip-top shape, in order to continue providing your tenants with a habitable home.
5. Disrespect a Tenant’s Privacy
You own the home, however, that doesn’t mean you can enter it whenever you want. The moment your tenant moves in, they have the right to privacy – therefore, you can no longer enter the rental without advance notice. Laws vary by state, but in general, you should tell your tenant about your intentions to enter the unit 24 hours before. You can only enter the property once your tenant says so.
Of course, in the event of an emergency, you can enter the property without your tenant’s go signal. This applies to situations such as a fire, natural disaster, domestic violence, and more.
It would help to use a tenant portal where you can communicate with your tenant on entry-related matters. With a tenant portal, you’ll be able to document when exactly you informed your tenant – that way, in case they file a wrongful claim against you, you’ll be able to prove you were in the right.
6. Not Returning the Security Deposit
The basic rule about security deposits is that they should be returned to your tenant. It shouldn’t be confused with the last month’s rent, which is a separate sum that you can collect at the start of the tenancy. Security deposits can only be used to cover the costs of repairs (if any), but the balance should be returned after the tenant moves out.
In addition, your tenant can sue you if you fail to provide them with a list of the deductions. Therefore, it would be beneficial to partner with a property management firm with its own team of bookkeepers.
7. Throwing Away Abandoned Property
If your tenant moves out but leaves their items at your rental property, you can’t do whatever you want with them – instead, they should be treated as abandoned property. Once a tenant’s items are considered abandoned property, you need to contact your tenant and try to get them to claim their items.
It’s only when the tenant can’t be contacted or refuses to cooperate that you can dispose of their stuff. You can sell their stuff, throw it away, or furnish your rental property with their stuff.
Get Legal Advice From the Experts
There are so many legal landmines in property management. That’s why it would be best to partner with an expert property management company such as Luxury Property Care. With us by your side, you’ll have a helping hand guide you through the law so that you don’t end up in legal trouble.