Rental housing laws are designed to protect both parties in the landlord-tenant relationship. Landlords want to protect their property, business and rental funds, and a renter wants to protect his right to quiet enjoyment and peaceful living.
Knowledge of and compliance with federal, state and local regulations is crucial for both landlords and tenants. The major federal laws that affect all landlords and property managers are the Fair Housing Act and the Fair Credit Reporting Act.
States laws regarding rental properties and tenant rights typically concern practical matters. These include things like the rights and responsibilities, legal lease terms, lease termination guidelines, and how evictions must be handled. All housing providers must be aware of and comply with landlord-tenant laws. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) is responsible for regulations covering discrimination and other federal issues affecting your tenants. You can also check with your state real estate board or join a local professional agency for property managers or landlords who should be able to provide guidance on state regulations.
Below is a list of legal categories that affect landlords. Every landlord and property manager should check their state and local laws and speak with an attorney in their state for further guidance and clarification.
- Laws about Security Deposits.State laws dictate items such as:
- How much a landlord can charge for a security deposit
- If a landlord must keep the deposit funds in a separate account
- If the tenant is entitled to receive interest collected from a security deposit
- What security deposit funds can be used for,
- If a tenant is allowed to request a walkthrough prior to vacating,
- If a written account of deductions is required
- When security deposit funds must be returned to the tenant.
Example - Maximum Security Deposit Amount in Alaska
Alaska dictates that landlords may collect the equivalent of 2 months’ rent if the monthly rent is under $2,000 but an unlimited amount if rent is above $2000. (AS 34.03.070)
- Laws about Rent Increases
Landlords may decide to increase their rental prices in order to match market rates, to pay for property maintenance or improvements, to accommodate tax increases, or simply to increase their profits. Landlords are legally allowed to increase their asking rent prices in-between lease terms or under a month-to-month rental agreement, as long as proper notice is given.
Beyond required notices about when a landlord is allowed to increase rent, most states have laws protecting tenants from rent increases as retaliation or discrimination are illegal. For example, a landlord may not raise the rent on tenants of a certain race or familial status. And most states prohibit rent increases in retaliation to a negative experience with a tenant to punish the renter.
Example - Rent Increase Laws in Oregon
Oregon recently introduced a new law that requires landlords to give a 90-day notice to month-to-month tenants before a rent increase will take effect.
- Laws about Notices for Entry
State laws dictate a landlord’s right to access a rental property. In most cases, a landlord is legally allowed to enter the rental property as long as advanced notice is given to the tenant. Advanced notice is usually 24-48hrs, for routine maintenance. Notice may not be required if the tenant requested maintenance or if there is an emergency. Landlords must have a reason for entering a unit, for routine inspections or maintenance. They must respect their tenant’s right to quiet enjoyment.
Example - Notice of Entry Law in Florida
In Florida, the landlord may enter the dwelling unit upon reasonable notice to the tenant and at a reasonable time for the purpose of repair of the premises. “Reasonable notice” for the purpose of repair is notice given at least 12 hours prior to the entry, and reasonable time for the purpose of repair shall be between the hours of 7:30 a.m. and 8:00 p.m. (FL SS 83.53.2)
- Laws about Abandoned Tenant Property
When a tenant vacates a rental unit and leaves property behind, a landlord might be tempted to sell, keep, or throw away the abandoned items; however, there are certain procedures a landlord must follow in order to avoid liability claims or legal proceedings from the tenant.
State laws about abandoned tenant property require a landlord to itemize the items, safely store the property, and notify the tenants. Exceptions these requirements allow landlords to throw away rotting food or garbage and to contact animal control to take care of abandoned pets. Special rules also apply to motor vehicles.
If a landlord fails to notify the tenant of the right to recover abandoned property or refuses to turn over the tenant’s belongings, the tenant has rights to file an action against the landlord.
- Laws about Lease Terminations
A landlord must allow a tenant live on his property throughout the duration of a lease term. Some states will allow an early lease termination if both parties mutually agree to the terms. In a month-to-month tenancy, landlords may usually use a 30-Day, 60-Day or 90-Day Notice to Vacate when the tenant has not done anything wrong.
If a tenant has violated a lease term, and a landlord wants to move forward with an eviction, you must first terminate the lease agreement or tenancy. This usually has to be done in writing, in a specified way or form. Once you have given proper notice, if a tenant does not fix the lease violation or move out, you can then file a lawsuit to evict a tenant.
- Laws about Evictions
A landlord cannot simply file an eviction notice. State and local laws establish detailed requirements for legal eviction procedures. Basically, a legal reason for termination has to be identified and legal notices have to be sent before you can move forward with an eviction.
In order for a landlord to win an eviction case that forces a tenant to be legally removed from a dwelling, the landlord must prove that a tenant did something wrong that justifies ending the tenancy. Additionally, if the pre-eviction procedures were not followed exactly, according to state requirements, the eviction could be ruled in favor of the tenant, costing the landlord extra money.
It is important to avoid harassing or threatening your tenants at all times. If you have an irresponsible, rule-breaking tenant you cannot do the following things in the hopes they will move:
- Change the locks
- Harass or threaten the tenant
- Shut off Utilities
- Hire moving service to remove all tenant belongings.
- Laws about Retaliation
It is illegal in almost every state for a landlord to retaliate against a tenant for exerting their legal right or as a result of a landlord-tenant dispute. Most state laws prohibit a landlord from raising the rent, changing the locks, shutting off utilities, harassing or threatening the tenant. A tenant must prove that this type of behavior was done in retaliation if the issue goes to court.
- Laws about Disclosures
Many states require landlords to inform tenants of important state laws, individual landlord policies, or facts about the rental, either in the lease agreement or in another document—typically before the tenant moves in. Federal law requires landlords to disclose lead-based paint hazards to tenants.
Every state has different requirements, but common disclosures that may need to be part of your lease agreement could include – notice of mold, notice of sex offenders, recent deaths, lead-based paint disclosure, meth contamination or other potential health or safety hazards.
- Laws about Maintenance and Repairs
Tenants have the responsibility of reporting any repairs that need to be done. Landlords’ responsibilities include responding to these reports and completing repairs in a timely manner. A tenant may be within their rights to withhold rent money if a landlord fails to make a repair that affects the health or safety of a tenant, like a broken heating unit in freezing temperatures.
- Laws about Heat and Hot Water
Some states or cities require that property owners provide working heat and hot water appliances to their tenants. However, it may be the case that a lease agreement requires the tenant to pay for gas, fuel, or electricity to run the heating equipment. Cold weather states may also have seasonal requirements for providing working appliances under different conditions.
Example - New York City State Law About Heat/Hot Water
In New York, property owners are required to provide hot water 365 days per year at a constant minimum temperature of 120 degrees Fahrenheit. Between October 1st and May 31st, a period designated as "Heat Season," property owners are also required to provide tenants with heat under the certain conditions.
Landlord-tenant laws change often, so it is always a good idea to re-evaluate your rental business’s policies and seek legal counsel from someone familiar with landlord-tenant laws in your state in order to proactively address these potential issues before it is too late.
This guide is created for information purposes only and should not be considered legal advice.
Kaycee Wegener is an associate of Rentec Direct, providers of property management software. As Rentec Direct’s Content Strategist, Kaycee informs and entertains property managers and landlords who seek industry related tips and trends. To learn more about Kaycee or Rentec Direct, visit www.rentecdirect.com