Landlord Rights & Responsibilities

Instructor: Ian Lord

Ian is a real estate investor, MBA, former health professions educator, and Air Force veteran.

In this lesson, we will explore a landlord's legal rights and responsibilities in regard to their rental properties and tenants. We will discuss warranty of habitability, disclosure issues and lease inclusions.

An Overview of the Landlord-Tenant Relationship

Allen owns a number of rental units across the United States which include both residential and commercial properties. He has been managing these property for many years. While some obligations vary between states, Allen has found that there are laws and principles which commonly apply to landlords, rental properties and tenants throughout the U.S. Allen is teaching his son Brad about his work. It's Allen's goal that Brad take over the family property management business when he reaches retirement. Allen begins Brad's training with an overview of landlord rights and responsibilities.

Warranty of Habitability

Most importantly, landlords must maintain rental properties in accordance with local building codes and maintain essential services to tenants related to plumbing, heating, and electricity. This is known as the warranty of habitability and is generally detailed in a lease contract. If it is not specifically mentioned in a lease, the warranty of habitability is implied, which means that tenants are legally entitled to a safe, secure place to live or work even if this is not directly expressed in a contract.

The definition of 'habitable' is subject to interpretation by local courts. Some local laws even allow tenants to withhold rent payment if properties aren't in habitable condition.

Disclosures

Landlords must provide important information to tenants about certain conditions affecting the rental properties they lease.

Residential buildings built before 1978 may contain lead paint, which can cause a variety of health problems if paint chips or dust is ingested. The federal government requires landlords to disclose this fact to tenants and provide them with the pamphlet 'Protect Your Family From Lead in the Home.' This publication is available from the Environmental Protection Agency and is offered in multiple languages.

A landlord must also inform a tenant if the rental property and its lease have been sold to a new owner.

Other disclosures may be required by local law. Some jurisdictions require landlords to inform tenants about local flood zones or the location of smoke alarms on the rental premises. Some require landlords to notify tenants of nearby sex offenders or the rights of domestic violence victims. In general if a landlord is in any doubt about his liability from not disclosing information to tenants, it is best to go ahead and give the disclosures and make tenants fully aware of these issues before they sign leases or move into rental units.

Landlord Rights

Landlord rights exist primarily to protect real estate investments. A landlord has the right to:

  • Access a rental property to inspect, repair and maintain the premises
  • Collect rent on time in exchange for a tenant's use of his property (and to gradually increase the rent amount over time)
  • Collect a security deposit when a tenant signs a new lease
  • Carefully screen and select each tenant without engaging in any form of housing discrimination
  • Restrict a tenant from subletting a rental unit, or sub-leasing a rental unit to an additional tenant
  • Have a tenant legally evicted if he damages rental property or violates the lease terms

However, Allen emphasizes in his overview that evictions must abide by legally established processes. Brad should never engage in constructive eviction tactics. Constructive eviction refers to a do-it-yourself eviction in which a landlord interferes with the habitability or enjoyment of rental property to encourage a tenant to leave. In particular, a landlord may not have gas, water, or electric services shut off while a tenant is leasing the property.

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