As a landlord, you want to rent out your properties as soon as possible in nearly all cases. It’s important to remember, though, that as soon as a rental agreement is signed by a tenant, there will be a list of things that a landlord cannot do related to the property.
For example, tenants have a right to quiet enjoyment, which means that landlords can’t interfere with a tenant’s day-to-day activities. And, even if a tenant violates the lease terms, a landlord cannot carry out an illegal eviction by moving a tenant’s personal belongings without permission. In fact, you can’t even change the locks.
If you are a landlord, it is crucial to follow state laws regarding a tenant’s rights—and the “implied warranty of quiet enjoyment.” Unfortunately, from a landlord’s perspective, it usually means the tenant has more rights to the property than the owner. Therefore, understanding what you can and cannot do is vital to running a successful rental business. That includes the 11 things listed below that you should never do if you are a landlord.
11 things a landlord cannot do
1. Discriminate against a tenant
Landlords cannot show any form of discrimination against a tenant—even before signing the lease. What this means is that you can’t refuse to rent to someone based on race, gender, national origin, religion, age, familial status, sexual orientation, or disability. After the lease agreement is signed, the same is true. You can’t harass or terminate a lease based on discrimination.
The Fair Housing Act also makes it clear that a landlord cannot ask certain things during an interview with a prospective tenant. For example, you should never ask the following types of questions:
- Do you plan on having children?
- Have you ever been arrested? (That said, you have the right to find out about convictions during the screening process.)
- Are you sure you will like living in the neighborhood? After all, there aren’t many immigrants living here.
- Do you go to church around here?
2. Enter the property without notice
Despite owning the property, landlords cannot simply enter a rental property anytime they want. Landlords usually have to give notice of at least 24 hours if they’re going to visit the property—and the notice must often be in writing—so as a landlord, you must follow these laws before vising a property. You must also state a valid reason for the visit and arrange the visit at a reasonable time.
In turn, the tenant must approve the visit. However, they cannot deny access to the property when the request is reasonable.
3. Force a tenant to leave the property
Dealing with delinquent tenants can be challenging, but as much as you would like to, you can’t just force a tenant out of the property. To remove a tenant from the property, you must go through the proper channels. This includes serving a “cure or quit” notice to the tenant. If the tenant doesn’t remedy the lease violation, you can start eviction proceedings.
However, you can’t create an environment that would force a tenant out. For example, you can’t start intimidating or threatening a tenant to pay rent if they have missed a payment. You must follow local laws on how to get a tenant to pay late rent instead. Several actions you may take would constitute an illegal, self-help eviction, so be sure to know what the local laws are regarding evictions.
Related: Is eviction always the best choice?
4. Change the locks
Unless you have a court order, you cannot just change the locks to prevent a tenant from entering the property. If you do this, you could be guilty of trespassing in some cases, despite being the property owner.
5. Move a tenant’s personal belongings without permission
You may have reasonable cause to evict a tenant, but you can’t go through or remove a tenant’s personal possessions from your property without legal grounds. What this means is that you can’t just dump their belongings on the street unless you have an eviction order—and in some cases, you may not be able to do that even after getting an eviction order.
Let’s suppose a tenant moves from the rental unit without notice and leaves behind personal items. In that case, you must follow state laws on how to deal with their personal belongings. As such, you may need to contact the former tenant or wait for a specific period of time to pass before trashing their stuff.
6. Switch off utilities
Landlords also can’t just switch off utilities without notice. Doing so may seem like a great idea if you want to force them out of the unit—but it’s not. A judge will likely rule this type of action as an unlawful eviction, and you could face penalties for doing so.
7. Raise the rent arbitrarily—or without following the law
You may be thinking about regularly increasing the rent to force the tenant out of the apartment, but landlords cannot just raise rent arbitrarily. The monthly rent amount is in the rental agreement and typically can’t be changed before the lease runs out.
Plus, rent control laws in your area may restrict the amount in which you can raise the monthly rent. This usually also applies to rent renewals, too.
8. Refuse to make necessary repairs
Landlords have the responsibility to ensure “warranty of habitability.” This means that tenants have the right to safe and sanitary living conditions. As such, you cannot refuse to make necessary repairs that could put a tenant’s health or life in danger.
This includes refusing to do the following:
- Fix broken plumbing, heating, or electrical systems
- Resolve issues with mold, asbestos, or lead-based paint
- Repair toilets or fail to provide proper sanitation
- Remedy any problem that would make the unit unfit for habitation
- Deal with any pest or rodent infestation
- Fail to ensure the rental unit meets current building codes
Related: How to develop a robust maintenance strategy.
9. Use a tenant’s space
Landlords cannot ask or force a tenant to allow them to use the space the tenant pays rent for. For example, if the garage is included in the monthly rental payment, you can’t store tools or other equipment there. Additionally, you can’t have a closet—locked or otherwise—in the rental unit where you keep personal items.
10. Prohibit service animals
Let’s suppose you have a “no pet” clause in the rental agreement but a tenant requires a service animal. In that case, you cannot refuse to rent to or evict the tenant due to the service animal being on the property.
That’s because a tenant’s right to their service animal is protected in the Americans with Disabilities Act. In some cases, you can ask to see appropriate documentation—but otherwise, you must afford tenants with service animals the same rights as other tenants, and you must allow their service animal to be on the property as part of their tenancy.
Related: How to spot genuine emotional support animal documents.
11. Refuse to return a security deposit over wear and tear
While it may be tempting, landlords cannot use the security deposit to cover typical wear and tear to the property. Wear and tear is the expected deterioration of items caused by everyday use, and could include worn or faded carpets, dirty grout in the bathroom, scuff marks on floors, or minor scratches on furniture.
However, you can use the security deposit to pay for property damage that occurs outside of wear and tear as a result of the tenancy. Some reasons to refuse to return part or all of the security deposit may include:
- Chipped or broken countertops
- Unauthorized renovations
- Holes in walls or doors
- Ripped curtains or upholstery
- Burns, stains, or pet stains on carpets
Becoming a landlord is an excellent way to generate regular income from real estate investing. As a landlord, however, it’s vital to remember what you can and cannot do—and know what would violate a tenant’s rights. This means avoiding specific actions that could break the implied “warrant of habitability” or “covenant of quiet enjoyment.” As long as you deal with tenants within the bounds of state laws, you will avoid potentially costly lawsuits.