Landlord & Tenant

Overview

Landlord-tenant law regulates the rights and responsibilities of landlords and tenants. While state laws primarily govern such relations, federal laws also cover aspects of residential and commercial rentals and leases. For example, the Civil Rights Act of 1866 and the Federal Fair Housing Act prohibit discrimination in housing and the rental market.

Although landlord-tenant laws vary state-to-state, many states have based their laws on either the Uniform Residential Landlord And Tenant Act (URLTA) or the Model Residential Landlord-Tenant Code. Accordingly, most state laws share some general principles of landlord-tenant law. Furthermore, contract law and property law both govern the relationships between landlords and tenants, and these laws are common among states.

Generally, a landlord rents or leases residential or commercial property to a tenant. To avoid any misunderstanding, the parties will usually sign a contract detailing the rental or lease terms, including the duration of the rental or lease as well as the amount of rental or lease payments due. In some situations, a landlord and tenant may not have signed a written lease, but an oral agreement or the actions of the parties will determine the terms of the tenancy.

Time of tenancy

The length of a tenancy may be for a specific time, such as one year; an indefinite period of time, such as a month-to-month lease; or terminable at any time by either party, known as an "at will" tenancy. If a tenant refuses to leave when the specified time has ended, the tenancy is called "at sufferance" and the tenant is still responsible for paying rent to the landlord until the landlord either evicts the tenant or reaches a new tenancy agreement with him.

No notice is required to terminate a lease that has a specific end date, but a lease for an indefinite period of time or at-will tenancy requires proper notice, usually in writing, be given to end the tenancy. When notice must be given may be agreed upon and included in the lease; if it's not, state law may set forth when and how notice must be given by either party. Common law requires that the tenant or landlord must give notice in an amount of time equal to the period of time of the rental. For example, if a tenant has a month-to-month lease, he must give the landlord notice a month before he intends to terminate the agreement.

Landlord responsibilities

Once the parties have reached a rental agreement, the landlord must deliver physical possession of the premises to the tenant. Although landlords own their property, they may not enter the leased premises as they please. Landlords do have the right to inspect the property, but they must give at least 24 hours notice before entering except in cases of emergency.

Under the implied covenant of quiet enjoyment, tenants are entitled to the quiet use and enjoyment of the premises without interference from landlords. Landlords breach this convenant if they wrongfully evict or exclude a tenant from the rental property or when a chronic problem with the premises substantially interferes with a tenant's ability to use the property and the landlord fails to correct the problem after the tenant has notified the landlord of it.

In residential leases, landlords must make the premises suitable for basic human habitation. State laws and municipal housing codes specify the applicable housing standards in each jurisdiction. Depending on the state, housing code violations may allow a tenant to withhold rent, make repairs and deduct the amount paid from the rent, or obtain damages from the landlord. The municipality may also subjet the landlord to administrative action and fines. A tenant may not be evicted or penalized by a landlord for reporting housing code violations to the authorities.

Tenant responsibilities

A tenant must pay rent to the landlord on time, as specified in the lease. If the amount of rent is not specified in the lease, some state laws provide that a reasonable rental value must be paid. Rent for commercial property is often calculated either in whole or in part as a percentage of tenant's sales. If a tenant fails to pay rent, the landlord may evict the tenant using the courts. Eviction requirements differ among states but a landlord must abide by local laws and not engage in self-help, such as forcibly removing the tenant, changing the locks or removing the tenant's possessions.

The tenant also is responsible for keeping the premises in reasonably good repair. What repairs are the tenant's responsibility and which the landlord must make are normally agreed upon in the lease, but when the lease does not specify, the tenant is responsible for maintaining the premises and making ordinary repairs. At the end of the rental period, a tenant must leave the property in the same condition in which it was received, except for reasonable wear and tear. The landlord then must return any security deposit paid by the tenant, less any amount to cover damages caused by the tenant to the premises.