Let’s face it, being a real estate or rental property owner is like trying to navigate a minefield. At every point, you must double-check federal and state laws to ensure you don’t cross boundaries on your own property. The various housing laws that exist always protect the interest of the tenants over that of the landlords.
So, it may seem that landlords have few, if any, rights. However, specific landlord-tenant laws protect a landlord’s rights. This article discusses some of these rights and how they protect your interests as a property rental owner.
First, there is one important question to discuss: How did landlord-tenant laws shift in favor of tenants, rather than the landlord, who invested a lot of money in a house or apartment?
Reasons for Revising Housing Laws
Changes to housing law legislation resulted from a growing awareness of the welfare of tenants. Unfortunately, this was primarily due to the unfair treatment of tenants in the past. The term slumlord came to mean a landlord who tried to maximize profit but failed to upkeep the property. As a result, the government set out to protect tenant interests by enacting rent control laws to defend them from oppressive landlords.
Also, in modern times, tenants are mobile, often moving from city to city, region to region, to suit their needs. As a result, past tenancy agreement laws might not be relevant or practical nowadays. For example, tenants used to repair and upgrade rented apartments. This was usually because they stayed in those locations longer than they do now.
The implied warranty clause means that rental units must be “fit for purpose.” This means that the property is up to standard and fit for human habitation. Landlords must ensure heating, hot water, waste disposal, and plumbing work. Of course, once the tenant moves in, they are responsible for caring for the place. However, the landlords still have responsibilities to ensure essential maintenance and repairs are carried out.
So, any damage caused by the tenant is their responsibility. Either the tenant repairs the damage, it gets taken from their security deposit, or it becomes a lease violation.
What Are My Rights as a Landlord?
Landlords have rights, even though they sometimes seem like the bare minimum. Let’s briefly discuss some of those rights.
1. The right to tell a tenant how clean to keep the house
A landlord has the right to ensure a certain level of cleanliness in the rental unit. It’s within a landlord’s right to require that tenants remove garbage regularly, clean pet mess, and prevent unhygienic conditions from attracting pests and vermin. This is why it’s a good idea to have a cleanliness clause in the rental agreement.
Of course, it’s not within a landlord’s jurisdiction to say how often to vacuum the carpets or clean the bathtub. However, you have a right to tell a tenant to keep the house clean.
2. Landlord rights when a tenant destroys property
As a landlord, you have the right to inspect the property if you suspect a tenant is trashing the place. Of course, you must give proper notice in line with state laws. During a thorough inspection, you can document the evidence and take pictures. You can then decide on the best action to take.
Destroying property is a lease agreement violation. Therefore you have the right to start an eviction action. This involves serving the delinquent tenant with a “cure or quit” notice in writing. If the tenant hasn’t repaired the damage after a reasonable amount of time, you can file for eviction. After the tenant vacates the property, you have the right to withhold part of all of the security deposit to pay for repairs.
3. The right to screen tenants
The landlord reserves the right to screen potential tenants before signing lease agreements with them. While screening, the landlord confirms the character of the prospective tenant. Then, they decide whether they will sign the rental agreement.
However, it is not permissible to base a decision on any discriminatory criteria. So, it is vital to check what the Fair Housing Act says about discriminating against any tenant seeking accommodation.
A landlord has the right to assess potential tenants based on the following criteria:
- A physical interview or meeting to assess the prospective tenant’s suitability.
- Check their identity.
- Check their credit score and history.
- Get references from previous landlords and employers.
- Verify whether they have a criminal record. However, state laws may prohibit this check.
4. Right to collect rent and security deposits.
The landlord has the right to set the rental price and security deposits. However, state laws may limit the amount of security deposit you can charge.
The tenant must pay the security deposit and a month’s rent in advance upon signing the rental agreement. The rent, in this case, refers to all the fees stated in the lease agreement. These fees include utility bills (if stated), taxes on the property, and fees for keeping a pet.
Landlords have the right to request a security deposit in line with state laws. This money is a kind of insurance against damage or unpaid rent. The landlord can use the security deposit to pay for costs to repair damage caused by a tenant.
However, at the end of the lease agreement, a landlord generally must return the security deposit to the tenant.
5. Right to evict tenants for lease violations
Tenants have obligations to the landlord while using their property. They include:
- Obligation to pay rent: In this context, rent refers to all forms of payment stipulated in the lease agreement. Therefore, the tenant must pay these fees as they are required. Non-payment of rent is a lease violation.
- Not altering the property’s structure: The tenant can only modify the property if the lease agreement allows for this. For instance, they might repaint walls and install shelves only if the lease allows it. However, it is not acceptable to increase a room’s size by removing walls or making structural alterations. Also, a tenant must not cause damage to the property.
- Illegal activities: A tenant must not use the property for unlawful activity.
Violation of any of these rules or failure to comply with them gives landlords the right to serve an eviction notice to “cure or quit.”
For example, suppose a tenant fails to pay rent. In that case, the landlord has the right to start an eviction process. This would involve proving to a judge that the tenant is in violation of the lease agreement. Then, if the tenant fails to make the rent payment in full in the specified time, they can be evicted.
6. Right to access the property
Landlords can access their property even after renting it out. The main clause in this is that they must give prior notice to the tenants before coming. Most states in the U.S. demand a 24-hour notice, while some ask even higher. If the landlord violates this clause, the tenants can sue them for privacy invasion.
However, in emergency cases, the landlord can come in without a notice to secure his property from losses.
7. Right to make a “moving-out” inspection
The landlords have the right to inspect the property whenever the tenant notifies them of their desire to leave the property. Once they receive the notice, they can inspect the property for any damage that is more than just regular “wear and tear.”
Regular “wear and tear” is superficial damage to the property due to day-to-day living. However, it doesn’t include severe damage to the property, fixtures, or fittings. For example, there is a difference between surface scratches on a baseboard and a large hole in drywall.
Landlord-tenant laws in the U.S. indeed tend to favor tenants. However, it’s vital to remember that landlords have specific rights to collect rent on time, make regular inspections, and evict a tenant for a lease violation.
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