If you’re working as a landlord or property manager, you’re likely already familiar with landlord-tenant law. Even if you don’t know these laws by that name, they outline the rights and responsibilities of both parties that must be followed during a tenancy.
Landlords unfamiliar with applicable laws often find themselves in trouble. Financial and legal issues run rampant whenever landlord-tenant laws aren’t followed correctly. Do you know how to evict a tenant in your state legally, for example, or are you putting your business on the line when carrying out an eviction?
Knowing about the system that sets up landlord and tenant rights is essential. Get a complete grasp of these regulations in our comprehensive guide.
A Table Of Contents On Landlord-Tenant Law
Landlord-tenant law is complex. Work through the basic sections to get a handle on what is included in these rules and how they apply to your business as a landlord.
- What Is Landlord-Tenant Law?
- Commonly Defined Landlord-Tenant Rights And Responsibilities
- State-By-State Landlord And Tenant Rights: What’s Going On In Your State?
- FAQs On Tenant-Landlord Law
- Let The Letter Of The Law Guide You
Every state has its own landlord-tenant laws, but in general, what are they?
Landlord-tenant law explains how commercial and residential property rentals are operated. Various laws are necessary to cover all aspects of the landlord-tenant relationship and tenancy expectations. States share many similarities between these laws due to commonly developed codes, but there may be significant differences to note.
The rights and obligations of both landlords and tenants are outlined in tenant-landlord law. The expectation is that these laws outline the basics of how rentals work, what will happen during tenancies, and what is allowed and not allowed within the bounds of the law. Both parties should be familiar with these laws when entering a rental agreement.
Landlords-tenant laws around the country typically cover the same primary categories. Examine the following sections to know what you’re looking for within your state’s laws.
The law often outlines the length and type of tenancies permitted in the state. Most leases will fall into one of the following categories:
- Annual tenancies: fixed period leases agreed upon in advance
- Periodic tenancies: automatically renewed leases until terminated by the landlord
- At-will tenancies: no fixed ending period; ends when requested by one or both parties
- At-sufferance tenancies: tenant stays beyond lease expirations
Each of these tenancy types and the associated notice requirements for handling late rent and eviction notices will be outlined within the law.
There is an implied rule in all lease agreements specifically outlined in most state laws: Tenants have the right to quiet enjoyment of the property they are renting. This means the landlord must allow the tenant to use the rental property completely and as they choose without being disturbed.
Both lease agreements and state landlord-tenant laws cover subleasing and transfers. Subleasing, which is when a tenant leases their use of the property to a third party, may be required or have specific rules that must be followed. Landlords are often allowed to forbid subleasing, but terms may apply.
Eviction laws are of utmost importance when working as a landlord. Look to state-specific landlord-tenant laws to determine how eviction works in your state.
You’ll find exactly how to give notice to a tenant, how much notice must be given, and what you can do to remove the tenant from the property. The rules vary depending on the reason for eviction, so it’s essential to be accurate when choosing what guidelines to follow.
Nearly all states forbid self-help evictions in which a landlord pressures the tenant to leave the property through less desirable methods. Instead, state and local laws will designate how to sue the tenant to regain control of a rental property.
State laws indicate how security deposits work. Specifically, most states’ laws cover the following in regards to deposits:
- How much can be collected as a security deposit
- How the deposit must be held
- Whether the tenant can collect tax earned on the deposit amount
- When the deposit must be returned
- What can be withheld from the security deposit
Landlords are responsible for ensuring that their rental properties remain in habitable condition. This doesn’t mean that landlords have to clean up after their tenants. Rather, it means they must ensure the building structure and primary features comply with all housing and building codes.
State laws will outline what specific measures must be taken in addition to ensuring general habitability.
As mentioned, landlord-tenant law is decided on a state-by-state basis. While a few laws, such as the Fair Housing Act, are handled at the national level, most rules applying to rentals are determined at the state level.
This means you need to be familiar with those specific laws to work legally as a landlord. You might even need to review city or county laws, as these regulations can stack on top of state laws.
It’s easy to assume that tenant-landlord law won’t vary much between states, but there can be some major differences. Even the smallest difference matters, though, so don’t skip familiarizing yourself with your state’s laws.
Let’s look at some differences that can pop up in specific states’ laws.
Florida landlord-tenant law is what is known as “landlord friendly.” This means that most of the rules that make up the landlord-tenant law in Florida make it easier to do business as a landlord. Some states strap lots of regulations on landlords; Florida doesn’t do this.
In particular, Florida’s security deposit and eviction laws are very lenient. Security deposits in most parts of the state can be any amount, and landlords are able to withhold deposits to cover rent. These actions aren’t allowed in all states.
On the flip side, New York is known for its incredibly detailed landlord-tenant laws. New York City also has many additional rules since there is such a large population of renters and landlords in the city.
In New York, rental-related property laws are not written into one specific part of the state’s code. Instead, each law shows up in the associated code section. Most laws fall under Real Property Law, but some aspects of landlord-tenant obligations fall under multiple dwelling laws or general obligation laws. Reviewing multiple sections of New York state law may be necessary to get the full picture.
New York has specific rent control measures, especially in New York City. These rules restrict when and how rent can be increased. Landlords who are planning to work long-term within these constraints must include the parameters of these laws within their plans.
New York landlords must closely review state-specific landlord-tenant laws to ensure they do business legally.
Another state to consider is Virginia, where the landlord-tenant laws are moderately landlord friendly. Landlords here do not need to worry about following strict rent control laws, and they also have good freedom in setting security deposit amounts and rent prices.
That doesn’t mean tenant rights are reduced, though. For example, Virginia is one of the states that provides special protections and tenant rights to domestic abuse survivors. Additionally, renters have many resources to uphold their rights throughout their tenancy.
Here at RentPrep, we are uniquely familiar with the challenges of staying informed about ever-changing laws in the rental industry. We’ve made it part of our mission to constantly learn about these changes and share our knowledge with landlords like you.
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These are two of the most common questions asked by new landlords and tenants.
Landlords are allowed to do anything considered legal within the bounds of the landlord-tenant law in the state, as long as the lease agreement signed by both parties does not specifically prevent it. That may sound complicated, but there are big limitations on a landlord’s actions.
Landlords must allow tenants free and quiet enjoyment of a rented property. This means they cannot disturb the tenant for no reason, visit the property without permission, or otherwise disrespect the tenant’s right to use the space. They also may have limitations on what they can charge for rent or security deposits, but landlords are sometimes allowed to make changes to rent.
To fully understand what a landlord is and is not permitted to do, it’s best to review your state’s landlord-tenant laws.
Most states require landlords to provide a variety of things to their tenants to ensure the property is in habitable condition.
The first requirement in many states is security. The property must be secured with locks and other reasonable security measures. The property should also be properly insulated, heated, and cooled according to the location. Health standards for things like drainage, mold, and other in-home issues must also be met.
Landlords are not the only ones with responsibilities. Tenants also have responsibilities. Not only do they need to pay rent on time and follow the lease agreement terms, but they are also responsible for keeping the property in good condition.
Most landlords choose to clearly outline what they expect of tenants in the lease agreement, to ensure there’s no confusion. In addition to the lease agreement, reviewing state laws to see if there are any additional responsibilities can be helpful.
A tenancy agreement can only be changed if both parties agree. Changes can be made through addendums to the lease, or an entirely new lease agreement can be signed. In most cases, addendums are the most straightforward means of making changes. As long as both parties sign an addendum, it is considered part of the original lease.
The only exception to this rule will be if the lease agreement does not follow the state’s law. In this case, the illegal parts of the deal would be ignored until a new contract is signed, regardless of whether or not both parties agree.
In most states, entering a rented property without the tenant’s permission is illegal. The tenant needs to be given a certain amount of notice and they must agree to the entry. Tenant’s can refuse entry, but the landlord must be given access to do reasonable repairs and inspections as outlined in the lease.
There are some exceptions to be considered as well. In an emergency, such as a fire or a burst pipe, the landlord may be permitted to enter the property regardless of whether or not they have permission. For more details on this, review your state’s laws.
New landlords may feel overwhelmed by the amount of information covered within landlord-tenant law. Rather than think of these laws as restricting or threatening, though, it helps to think of these regulations as a guide for your business.
Landlord-tenant laws in your state outline what you and your tenant are responsible for, and this helps to define the tenancy and rental relationship:
- Clarity on legal late payment, eviction, and notice periods keeps both parties accountable.
- Laws on how security deposits must be handled and returned allow you to set this up clearly with tenants without having to create the rules yourself.
- Tenants who question what is and what is not allowed can easily be shown the applicable laws when sharing your expectations.
As these examples show, the rights and responsibilities of both landlords and tenants are subject to the landlord-tenant law in your state. However, that’s not a negative thing. Landlord-tenant laws ensure a safe, smooth working relationship for everyone involved. Stay up-to-date with your local rules to be a stronger member of the rental industry.