Landlord Rights and Responsibilities

To successfully manage rental property, a landlord must understand the rights, responsibilities, and remedies of landlord and tenant as set out in state landlord-tenant statutes, local ordinances, and federal laws. From due diligence research the landlord creates his rental policies and develops his lease agreement and rental practices in accordance with sound business principles and legal compliances. Due diligence is needed to protect his business interests and to comply with his legal obligations to provide fit and habitable rental housing. The resultant lease agreement is a legal contract that binds landlords and tenants to the stated lease terms and conditions. The policies and practices are the risk management tools for his property operations.

Landlord-Tenant laws protect landlords and tenants by governing and regulating real estate rental transactions. All states have landlord-tenant laws, although there are variances among the states. Most states’ laws are similar, sharing general principles of contract law, property law, and consumer protection statutes. A number of states have based their statutory law for landlord-tenant matters on the Uniform Residential Landlord and Tenant Act (URLTA).

The underlying purposes and policies of URLTA are to simplify, clarify, and make uniform the law with respect to residential rental housing in those states choosing to enact URLTA. The Act governs the rental of dwelling units and the rights and obligations of landlords and tenants including the maintenance and improvement of the quality of rental housing.

General provisions of the URLTA regulate (1) the terms and conditions of the rental agreement, (2) landlord obligations for security deposits, prepaid rent disclosure, possession, and maintenance, and (3) tenant obligations for use, occupation and maintenance of the dwelling unit. The Act also regulates landlord and tenant remedies for noncompliance of obligations and breaches of the lease.

URLTA Duties for Landlords

It is the landlord’s duty to:

  • Comply with the requirements of applicable building and housing codes materially affecting health and safety;
  • Make all repairs and do whatever is necessary to put and keep the premises in a fit and habitable condition;
  • Keep all common areas of the premises in a clean and safe condition;
  • Maintain in good and safe working order and condition all electrical, plumbing, sanitary, heating, ventilating, air-conditioning, and other facilities and appliances, including elevators, supplied or required to be supplied by landlord;
  • Provide and maintain appropriate receptacles and conveniences for the removal of ashes, garbage, rubbish, and other waste incidental to the occupancy of the dwelling unit and arrange for their removal; and
  • Supply running water and reasonable amounts of hot water at all times and reasonable heat between October 1 and May 1 except where the building that includes the dwelling unit is not required by law to be equipped for that purpose, or the dwelling unit is so constructed that heat or hot water is generated by an installation within the exclusive control of the tenant and supplied by a direct public utility connection.

URLTA Duties for Tenants

It is the tenant’s duty to:

  • Comply with all obligations primarily imposed upon tenants by applicable provisions of building and housing codes materially affecting health and safety;
  • Keep that part of the premises that tenant occupies and uses as clean and safe as the condition of the premises permit;
  • Dispose from his dwelling unit all ashes, garbage, rubbish, and other waste in a clean and safe manner;
  • Keep all plumbing fixtures in the dwelling unit or used by the tenant as clear as their condition permits;
  • Use in a reasonable manner all electrical, plumbing, sanitary, heating, ventilating, air-conditioning, and other facilities and appliances including elevators in the premises;
  • Not deliberately or negligently destroy, deface, damage, impair, or remove any part of the premises or knowingly permit any person to do so; and
  • Conduct himself and require other persons on the premises with his consent to conduct themselves in a manner that will not disturb his neighbors’ peaceful enjoyment of the premises.

A landlord must research the landlord-tenant statues of the state and local city/county ordinances governing the rental property to determine legal rights, responsibilities, obligations and restrictions that are applicable to his property.

While state and local laws provide certain rights to landlords, how those rights are exercised can be a matter of regulation or restriction by state and local laws or as detailed in the lease agreement. In general, landlords have the right to:

  • Select the tenant of their choice. Landlords may set their own tenant screening criteria as long as the criteria is based upon sound business reasons, Fair Housing compliances, and implemented in a non-discriminatory manner. A landlord may not use qualification criteria as a means to discriminate or retaliate against a prospect, applicant, or tenant in any rental matter.
  • Set the terms and conditions for tenancy. Unless the property is rent controlled, a landlord may set the terms and conditions for tenancy in accordance with his business policies as long as such policies are legal, non-discriminatory, and do not waive tenant rights as provided by appropriate statute, ordinance, or code. Terms and conditions of the lease agreement can include length of lease term, rents, deposits, repairs and maintenance, remedies for lease violations, pets, parking, and landlord rules and regulations.
  • Collect or receive something of value from a tenant in exchange for providing fit and habitable housing. Most commonly rent in the form of money payments according to an agreed upon payment schedule is received by the landlord in exchange for fit and sanitary housing. However as allowed or applicable by statute or lease terms, services provided by a tenant could be exchanged for housing; e.g., tenant provides service as the property manager.
  • Enforce lease terms and conditions for lease defaults including tenant rent default, illegal activity, and rules and regulations violations. Remedies include warnings, notices, and legal actions to cure or quit the property which may result in termination of tenancy and eviction.
  • Return rental property to private use by landlord or landlord’s family. A landlord is not required to keep his property as a rental property if his personal circumstances change. However there may be state statutes addressing the issue that require the landlord to take certain steps in the notification and termination of a tenancy to return the property to the landlord.
  • Sell the rental propertyLandlords have the right to sell their rental properties. Rental properties with current tenants can be sold subject to transfer of tenants’ leases to the buyer.

Landlords have the right to:

  • Offer and advertise vacant units for rent.
  • Pre-screen rental prospects.
  • Screen applicants to the landlord’s written rental qualification criteria.
  • Select a qualified applicant for tenancy using fair housing compliant practices.
  • Collect first month’s rent, security deposit, and other deposits and fees at move-in.
  • Restrict a tenant from subletting a rental unit, or sub-leasing a rental unit to an additional tenant.
  • Access rental property in a true emergency.
  • Access rental property to make necessary or agreed upon repairs, alterations, or improvements, supply necessary services, or show the unit to prospective buyers, after serving tenants with proper notice for landlord entry per statute and lease agreement.
  • Deduct unpaid rent or property damage from tenant security deposit.
  • Take correction action such as warnings and cure or quit notice for noise and disturbance violations.
  • Take corrective action including termination of tenancy and/or filing a lawsuit for eviction for reasons such as:
  • Non-payment of rent.
  • Material lease default.
  • Property damage by tenant.
  • Tenant refuses landlord access to property for necessary repairs and maintenance despite service of legal notification.

Landlord rights and responsibilities impose landlord duties and obligations. In some states and in certain circumstances, some responsibilities can be transferred to tenants. However most landlord responsibilities cannot be delegated to others and remain the landlord’s duty. A landlord will need to research state and local laws to determine landlord legal responsibilities and remedies for landlord failure to perform required duties. Generally a landlord has the duty to:

  • Maintain a safe and habitable premise. The implied warranty of habitability is a legal doctrine in most states that requires landlords to offer and maintain leased premises in a safe and sanitary condition fit for human habitation for the duration of the lease.
  • Abide by the agreements made in the lease or rental agreement. The lease agreement is a legal contract binding landlord and tenant to the agreed upon terms and conditions. A landlord must honor promises made to a tenant in oral agreements for tenancy.
  • Comply with requirements of federal Fair Housing Act, state and local Fair Housing Laws, and the Fair Credit Reporting Act.
  • Fair housing laws prohibit discrimination in all aspects of the landlord’s rental housing policies and practices including the landlord’s advertising policy and practices. The federal Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination due to race, color, national origin, religion, sex, familial status or disability. State and local city and county fair housing laws may provide broader anti-discrimination coverage to additional protected classes. Fair housing compliance should always be to those fair housing laws providing the greatest protections against discrimination.
    • The Fair Credit Reporting Act regulates how a landlord may obtain and use a consumer report for tenant screening purposes. A landlord must have permissible purpose, receive an applicant’s permission to obtain a consumer report, provide information on the credit reporting agency used, and inform the applicant if information contained on the consumer report was the basis for denial or adverse action.
  • Make required disclosures to rental applicants and tenants. Federal, state, and local laws may require landlord to provide certain disclosures to prospects, applicants, and tenants on rental matters, environmental issues, and consumer privacy and security issues.
  • Honor the tenant’s right to quiet enjoyment of the rental property. The covenant of quiet provides the tenant with the right to exclude others from the premises, the right to peace and quiet, the right to a clean and habitable environment, and the right to basic services. The tenant’s right to privacy requires landlord notification to the tenant to request entry to the rental property for stated purposes detailed by statute and lease agreement. A landlord cannot enter the tenant’s unit without tenant permission unless in the event of a true emergency.
  • Take only appropriate actions in situations regarding tenant matters. A landlord cannot retaliate against tenants for tenant actions such as complaints to regulatory agencies for repair issues or unsafe living conditions. Retaliation could include denial of essential services or misuse of the legal eviction process in efforts to intimidate or cause harm to tenants.
  • Handle all rental housing related matters in good faith and fair dealing. While such practice is a best business practice, in some states statutes explicitly require good faith and fair dealing by landlords in all real estate rental housing matters.
  • Manage the tenant’s Security Deposit account according to state landlord-tenant laws regarding the collection, handling, and return of security deposit funds.

By understanding his rights and responsibilities a landlord can more effectively manage his rental property, ensure legal compliance of applicable regulations and requirements, and protect against financial loss, and liability.

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