Landlord-Tenant Governing Documents

A landlord’s business is governed by state, local, and federal law. State statues regulate many aspects of the landlord-tenant relationship including housing discrimination, habitability, tenant rights, rent rules, security deposit rules, required landlord disclosures, landlord access to rental property, termination for violation of lease, termination for nonpayment of rent, unconditional quit terminations, rent withholding and repair and deduct remedies, prohibition of landlord retaliation, consequences of self-help evictions, handling of abandoned property , domestic violence situations, landlord’s duty to mitigate his losses due to a tenant leaving without fulfilling the lease agreement. Some states or individual cities have rent control laws.

Local city and county ordinances also govern certain aspects of the landlord’s business, such as fair housing protections and health, safety, and building codes standards and inspections. A few cities and counties have rent control regulations. Some cities and counties have enacted regulations and restrictions on certain landlord practices for tenant screenings and rental standards. The physical location of the rental property determines the governing statute/ordinance for legal compliances.

The federal Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination in the sale, rental, or financing of dwellings and in other housing-related activities on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, disability, familial status or national origin. The federal Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) obligates the landlord to certain regulated practices to ensure FCRA compliance for the protection, privacy, and accuracy of consumer personal information. Federal agencies such as the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) administer tenant housing assistance programs such as the Housing Choice Voucher program.

Governing documents are developed by the landlord for his business. Primary documents such as the lease agreement, rental policies, house rules and regulations, required legal disclosures and checklists protect and support his business operations.

Lease Agreement

A landlord’s lease agreement is a legal contract binding landlord and tenant to mutually agreed upon rental terms and conditions for a specific period of time as witnessed by signatures of all parties named on the lease.

The lease transfers possession, use and enjoyment of the named rental premises from the landlord to the tenant for a specified period of time for the tenant’s payment of a stated amount of rent. The lease furthers sets out in detail the terms and conditions of tenancy, duties and responsibilities of landlord and tenant, and remedies for lease default.

A good lease provides risk prevention practices against known rental risks and the potential of unknown risks. Failing to provide adequate detail of rental policies and practices within the lease or allowing the lease to fall silent on rental issues, can prohibit or restrict the landlord in exercising his rights to enforce lease terms and conditions.

When a rental issue arises during the tenancy, resolution of the issue looks first to statutory law followed by review of the contract language in the lease agreement. “What does the lease say” is often the most important protection that a landlord can provide for his business. Consequently in drafting a good lease agreement, care should be taken to ensure the lease is not only legally compliant but also provides all clauses necessary to protect the landlord’s business.

A good lease should be sufficiently detailed to provide instruction to the tenant on rental obligations, duties, rules and regulations during tenancy. What should be included in a lease is the landlord’s business decision, but there are common lease clauses used by many landlords in their leases to protect the business such as:

  • Contract date
  • Identifying information of landlord and tenant
  • Identification of the rental premises
  • Term of tenancy
  • Use of premises
  • Occupancy
  • Security deposit
  • Other fees and deposits
  • Rents
  • Utilities responsibilities
  • Landlord right of access
  • Assignment and subletting
  • Alterations and repairs by tenant
  • Tenant maintenance responsibility
  • Tenant responsibility for damage
  • Renters Insurance
  • Lease defaults
  • Termination of lease
  • Possession
  • Illegal activity
  • Noise and disturbance
  • Tenant extended absence from premises
  • Tenant abandonment of premises
  • Handling tenant abandonment of personal property
  • Pets
  • Required legal disclosures
  • Attorney fees and court costs
  • Other clauses as needed for business legal protections

A landlord’s lease agreement cannot require a tenant to waive his rights under law by agreeing to waive the landlord’s responsibility for the warranty of habitability; agreeing to hold the landlord harmless for breaches of the warranty; or agreeing to hold the landlord harmless for his negligent acts or other actions by the landlord to circumvent landlord-tenant law.

Lease Addendum

A lease addendum is utilized to add an additional document as separate, referenced attachment to the original lease agreement. The lease addendum provides supplemental and additional information that either the original lease was silent on the issue, failed to provide clarity needed on the issue, or required for legal compliances, such as disclosures under state statutes or environmental disclosures by federal and state laws. If a landlord has incorporated required disclosures and notice requirements in the manner specified by law into the original lease agreement, an addendum would not be needed.

An addendum becomes legally binding as part of the original lease agreement only after it has been accepted by all parties. The addendum does not replace the original lease agreement.

Rental Policies

Written rental policies set out protections to ensure the property is maintained to good condition and to regulate community standards of behavior during tenant occupancy.

Rental policies are incorporated into the lease as appropriate clauses to inform and reinforce tenant understanding of his duties and obligations. Once incorporated into the lease and acknowledged by the tenant’s signature on the lease document, the policies have legal standing for enforcement and remedies for default if the tenant fails to perform to his obligations.

House Rules and Regulations

A landlord has the right to set the rules and regulations for his rental property.

These house rules are in addition to the lease agreement’s terms and conditions and may be incorporated into the lease agreement or as more commonly provided, as a separate lease addendum. The signed lease and lease addendum legally bind the tenant to the landlord’s terms and conditions, rules and regulations during the period of the lease term.

House rules and regulations control the use of a rental property, its amenities, buildings, equipment, and common areas for the benefit of the tenants’ safety, security, welfare, convenience, and enjoyment of the rental units; help protect the landlord’s property from damage and misuse; and ensure fair distribution of services and amenities to all tenants. Rules must be reasonably related to the purpose for which they were developed. House rules cannot be used for the purpose of the landlord evading his legal duties and obligations, nor can a landlord use house rules to deny tenant rights. The landlord’s house rules must apply to all tenants in a non-discriminatory manner.

The house rules provide the tenant with the landlord’s expectations of the standard of conduct required for living at the rental property. The tenant has the duty to perform to lease terms and conditions as agreed. Clearly established rules in plain language that a tenant readily understands provides the guidance and structure for compliance – what the tenant is required to do and what the tenant cannot do. The rules help to minimize confusion or misunderstanding of policies for day-to-day living requirements such as housekeeping duties, and health, safety and security rules.

House rules and regulations provide information and instructions to tenants on rental policies covering such matters as:

  • Services and Amenities e.g. pool, fitness center, laundry room, community room use
  • Rent policy including due date, grace period, late fees, payment methods
  • Landlord entry to rental premises
  • Property inspections
  • Quiet hours
  • Noise and disturbance
  • Waste and negligence
  • Guest stays
  • Pets policy
  • Maintenance and repair responsibility
  • Keys and lock-out policy
  • Housekeeping standards
  • Trash and garbage service
  • Vehicle registration
  • Parking regulations
  • Smoking policy
  • Use of Common Areas
  • Move-out procedures
  • Security deposit accounting and return

Move-In / Move-out Property Inspection Checklists

Some state statutes require a move-in checklist to be completed when possession is given to the new tenant. The checklist is a written statement of condition of the rental unit at the time of move-in signed by the landlord and the tenant(s).

Failure of the landlord to follow good inspection move-in procedures can have important implications regarding the landlord’s right to withhold any part of the security deposit when the tenant moves out.

The documented move-in inspection report is the basis for the move-out inspection. The move-out inspection cannot be more restrictive than was the move-in inspection. Some states have special rules and requirement for move-out inspections and use of checklists. In a few states the tenant must be provided a pre-move-out inspection. The landlord will note property defects that the tenant needs to correct if the tenant wants to maximize his deposit refund.

Legally Required Landlord Disclosures

Federal, state, and local laws require landlords to make certain disclosures to tenants at or before lease signing and tenant move-in. Mandatory disclosures provide information to the tenant to help protect the tenant’s legal rights and provide health and safety measures under environmental protections and housing code standards. As examples, there are federal disclosure requirements for identifying and controlling lead-based paint hazards and local ordinances regulating essential services and housing code requirements.

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