If you’re renting out a single-family home, multi-family property, and so on, you’re probably aware of the laws that apply to your tenants. If you aren’t, it isn’t too late to understand federal, state, and local legislation that governs your investment property. Understanding your tenant’s rights can help you become a better landlord, as well as protect you from the long and expensive process of litigation.
What are the two types of landlord-tenant laws?
There are two types of laws that apply to the landlord-tenant relationship: federal laws and state laws. Federal laws supersede state laws. They affect all landlords, renters, and property management companies across the United States. One common example of federal law is the Fair Housing Act, which protects persons in protected classes (e.g. race, color, religion, etc.) from discrimination.
State laws, on the other hand, apply only to rental properties in a particular state. However, they cannot be contrary to federal laws. In other words, they cannot change the current federal laws but only build upon them. For instance, while state laws can dictate the amount of security deposit a landlord can collect from a tenant, they cannot include a condition where such a law applies only to selected renters. If this were the case, this would be a violation of the Fair Housing Act.
Why should landlords be familiar with landlord-tenant laws?
Landlords need to be familiar with both federal and state laws. Landlords that do not understand the law will find themselves in front of the court. Tenants can sue their landlords for seemingly minor issues, such as failing to repair the furnace within a certain amount of time. Remember, whether or not you were aware of the law does not matter. Ignorance of the law is not a valid reason for violating it.
What tenant laws should landlords be aware of?
Don’t ruin your relationship with your tenants and your reputation in the rental industry. To avoid violating the law, it is crucial to be aware of the laws that apply to your tenants.
#1 Your tenant’s rights to fair housing
According to the Fair Housing Act, landlords cannot deny a potential tenant’s application due to their race, color, national origin, sex, religion, age, family status, or disability. It is important to note that discrimination does not apply only to the application process. You can violate the Fair Housing Act during the advertising stage. For instance, saying that a single-family home is “ideal for families” can be considered discriminatory, as it creates the assumption that tenants that do not have children cannot rent it out.
Under the Fair Housing Act, you need to make reasonable accommodations in case your potential tenant has a physical disability. This can include providing wheelchair access or widening doors. In addition, under the Fair Credit Reporting Act, if you decide to reject an application due to the applicant’s credit score, you need to disclose this to them.
#2 Your tenant’s rights to their security deposit
The security deposit isn’t a small amount. In some states, landlords can collect a security deposit that is one month’s worth of rent. Hence, it’s understandable that tenants want to be assured that their landlord will actually return it.
Fortunately, tenants are protected by state statutes. In general, landlords can charge any amount as long as it is reasonable. Some states, however, have specific laws that limit how much landlords can collect as a security deposit. For instance, in New York, the Housing Stability and Tenant Protection Act states that landlords can collect not more than one month’s worth of rent.
Since the purpose of the security deposit is to pay for repairs, you do not have to return all of it. However, you must provide your tenant with a detailed list of deductions. Failure to produce this list can get you in trouble, so you should consider hiring a property management company. They can ensure that your deductions are properly documented and that the remaining deposit is promptly returned to the tenant.
#3 Your tenant’s rights to a habitable home
Landlords are responsible for ensuring that the rental property is in proper condition. This means that the home must be habitable, with access to utilities such as water and electricity. The home should also be safe, free from dangerous features such as a damaged staircase, as well as pests and rodents. In case the property needs repairs, it is up to the landlord to conduct repairs as well as pay for them. This, however, does not include cosmetic annoyances such as peeling paint.
In case of mold, the landlord should address this immediately. In some states, landlords are given only seven days to get rid of the mold growth. If the landlord fails to maintain a mold-free home, the tenant can sue them, especially if they consequently experienced the effects of mold exposure.
It’s important to note that not all repairs are the responsibility of the landlord. If it can be proven that the damage was caused by the tenant, then they should cover the entire cost of repairs. That’s why you should always document the condition of the property prior to tenant move-in. A South Florida property management company can conduct an inspection for you.
#4 Your tenant’s rights to a proper eviction
You can’t evict your tenants out whenever you want to. Laws on evictions vary by state, but in general, landlords can evict tenants once they violate the terms of the lease, such as not paying the rent, having non-tenants live in the house, and so on. Landlords cannot evict a tenant due to discrimination or for any other reason stated in federal law.
To start the eviction process, you should serve your tenant with an eviction notice. This provides your tenant with an opportunity to pay their unpaid rent (should they wish to stay) or to prepare to move out. Alternatively, you could serve your tenant with an eviction warning to give them time to undo what they’ve done. If the tenant does not do anything, then you can proceed with the formal eviction.
Landlord-tenant laws can change, so you should stay up-to-date and consult your legal counsel to ensure that you don’t end up in court. As a full-service property management company, Luxury Property Care has an in-house team of attorneys that advises a variety of residential and commercial clients on rental-related matters. With us by your side, you can be certain that your property is properly managed, and that your tenants’ rights are upheld at all times.