This article has been submitted by ezLandlordForms.com
Renters today know their legal rights more than ever before, and even when they don’t, easy access to online information regarding tenant rights is everywhere. With that said, it’s important for landlords to know if and when their behaviors constitute a violation of these rights. How well do you know the rights of the tenants to whom you rent? Engaging in practices that violate the rights of your tenants is a sure way to get yourself invited to the landlord-tenant party held daily in a courthouse near you.
Landlord-tenant laws are specific to each state and local jurisdiction, however there are some basic rights held by all tenants. Familiarizing yourself with ten of the most common tenant rights is a great place to begin.
Tenants everywhere in the US and Canada were given the right to not be discriminated against when the U.S. Fair Housing laws and Canadian Human Rights Act were passed more than 40 years ago. The original laws protected citizens from being discriminated against based on their race, color, religion, sex or national origin, but many more classifications have been added both to the Federal laws as well as to individual state and province laws since that time. Landlords throughout the U.S. and Canada must know who is protected under these laws and make it a practice to treat everyone fairly to avoid any potential violations.
Similarly, every tenant is afforded the right to a habitable and safe environment which essentially means the rental home should be in decent, livable conditions with a sound structure, running water, heat and electricity. Though most landlords get this, some so-called ‘slumlords’ fail miserably at this one in particular and pay a hefty price for doing so.
Landlords often find themselves struggling with the tenant’s right to the return of the security deposit when there is no major damage caused by them. Often clarification is needed regarding what is normal wear and tear and what is considered ‘damage’ caused by the tenants. To be clear, landlords should consider the amount of time a tenant has been in the home as well as what kinds of items require repairs and the extent to which they are in disrepair. For example, upon lease expiration of a 3 year term, landlord finds that the carpet in the home is worn flat and appears dirty. This would be considered normal wear and tear for a three year lease period. If given the same scenario, landlord was to find that the carpet had holes or was badly stained in areas; this would be considered damage for which the landlord could charge. Another example of normal wear and tear would be bi-fold closet doors off their hinges versus completely broken closet doors with missing hinges or missing doors altogether. This latter scenario would definitely be considered damage.
One of the areas where landlords find themselves having the most difficulty is with the tenant’s right to be provided notice before entry. This is usually the case with new landlords who have a hard time seeing the home as anything other than their own which they believe gives them the right to enter anytime for any reason. Tenants have the right in all cases to what is sometimes referred to as ‘quiet enjoyment’. This means, among other things, that landlords cannot just show up whenever they’d like. In most cases, landlords are required to provide tenants with at least a 24 hour notice. This should be addressed in the lease agreement and strictly adhered to. Of course, in the case of an emergency, that right no longer applies.
A number of states accommodate tenant’s right to a limited amount charged for Security deposits. It may be enticing for landlords to want to charge an astronomical amount to a tenant he/she views as a major risk, however doing so will likely land you before a judge or magistrate in a local courtroom. It’s a better idea to simply charge the maximum allowed and ensure you have an airtight lease or just forego renting to the prospect altogether. Other states and provinces have no stated limit, but landlords must familiarize themselves with whether or not their cities and counties have imposed limits before deciding what to charge. Most states and provinces with limits prescribe an amount equal to 1-2 months’ rent maximum.
A tenant’s right to a landlord’s assistance in mitigating the loss of rental income is seen by many landlords as one of the most egregious and unfair laws on the books. When a landlord loses rental income as a result of tenants’ early lease termination, the landlord is required to make every effort to find a new renter to replace the income. No landlord in this circumstance is allowed to hold the existing tenant fully responsible for remainder of lease term without making every attempt to mitigate the loss in their own behalf. Of course, the tenant is required to do the same and can be held responsible for months not covered by a new tenant. Landlords who are unaware of this tenant right may find themselves with near career-ending fines if a judge should award treble damages.
The right to have repairs made in a timely fashion is another area where some landlords may fall short. Even with the best of intentions, ‘timely’ can mean different things to landlords and tenants. When a repair isn’t made as promptly as a tenant wishes, landlords can find themselves at odds with a tenant. This can easily be avoided in most cases by defining in the lease when repairs should be expected (i.e. 24 – 72 hours for non-emergency repairs). Open communication with the tenant about what to expect beyond what is found in the lease can help in these situations as well. Landlords should be clear at all times that they are doing their best to accommodate tenants concerns and requests and every effort should be made to do so.
Landlords may not be aware of tenant’s right to non-payment of attorney fees associated with eviction. In fact, in many states, it is illegal to charge such fees to tenants. Litigation is expensive, but in most cases should simply be considered the cost of doing business. Thus the reason it is so important to secure good tenants in the first place.
Tenants everywhere have the right to have their property returned to them even when they are considered to have ‘abandoned’ the property. Again, another area where landlords can fall short based solely on instinct and ignorance of the law. Landlords cannot afford to let the desire to be rid of a bad tenant once and for all get the best of them by moving all of tenant’s belongings out on the street or including them in a Saturday morning garage sale. Each state and province has specific laws on how tenant’s belongings are to be handled upon lease termination or abandonment. Landlords should be careful to follow these laws to the letter or suffer the consequences.
Most landlords know that all tenants have the right to be free from retaliation once things have gone south between the two parties, but what you might not know is what exactly constitutes retaliation. In most cases, things like refusing repairs, shutting off utilities or outright evicting a tenant after a dispute or official reporting by a tenant is considered a retaliatory act and will not bode well in court should your tenant pursue legal action against you for it.
This list of the ten most common rights landlords tend to overlook or are unaware of is in no way exhaustive. Landlords are encouraged to read and re-read the Landlord-Tenant handbooks provided by every state and province for more specific rights pertaining to your own state and local areas. Knowing your tenants rights as well as they do will likely keep you in good standing with them and generally makes for a much better working relationship.
Edwina Davis is a regular contributor to ezLandlordForms.com and co-owner of a property management company based out of Maryland.