Understanding your rights as an owner (Landlord Tenant Laws)

Posted on February 6, 2019

Like any other market, the real estate market has fallen into inconsistency – especially in the previous years where prices have swung however which way. But the good thing is that, right now it is once again beginning to stabilise, with the help of certain market pressures that ease the fears of all stakeholders. Real estate markets can skew one way or the other, depending on location. Sometimes the market favours tenants and sometimes the market favours landlords. In a perfect market there will be a good balance between the two.

There are laws in place to help achieve a good real estate market balance. It can be found within the Landlord Tenant Law. The law is established in order to protect both parties and not just one. This is essential for a harmonious landlord tenant relationship.

As a tenant, you would want to be able to live peacefully and securely in your rental home without having to worry that your rental home might be infested, ill maintained, or be uninhabitable. As a landlord, you would want your investment property to not be abused, fall into dilapidation, or used for illegal purposes. Both would want to be safe, secure, and get good value for their investment. It is important to know your rights as a landlord or as a tenant in order to have the safety and security that the law affords.

For the sake of fairness, we will take a look at how the law affects both tenant and landlord. Let’s first start with understanding the rights of a landlord or property owner. Here’s what you need to know about your rights as a landlord or owner:

At the Federal level:
At the federal level landlords and property managers are affected by the Fair Housing Act and the Fair Credit Reporting Act.

The Fair Housing Act is a federal law that states that it is unlawful to refuse to sell, rent to, or negotiate with any person because of that person’s inclusion in a protected class. Discrimination due to race, color, national origin, religion, sex, familial status, or disability is prohibited. It extends beyond leasing to include advertising, preventing landlords from marketing their properties to certain groups of people.

The Fair Credit Reporting Act is a federal law created to promote the accuracy, fairness, and privacy of consumer information contained in the files of consumer reporting agencies. It outlines the different procedures in which a landlord may use a tenant’s credit history for screening purposes. Under this act, a landlord has to get an applicant’s permission in order to run a credit report, provide information on the credit reporting agency used, and inform the applicant if information contained on the credit report was the basis for denial or adverse action.

It is best to familiarise yourself with these laws especially if you are a property owner, landlord, or property manager. Ignorance of the law excuses no one.

At the State level:
While laws would differ slightly by state, most laws at the state level are grounded on rules governing practical matters. Matters like a tenant’s rights and responsibilities and a landlords’ rights and responsibilities, lease terms and conditions, lease termination rules, handling of evictions, fees and charges, deposits, and legal handling are included in laws at the state level.

Most property managers are familiar with state landlord-tenant laws. Property owners/landlords should brush up on these laws in order to know their rights and what they are legally entitled to. If you are a landlord, you can brush up on your knowledge of the state laws here.

Your rights as an Owner:
Landlords rights, pertain mainly to the protection of their income investment. For example, the standard requirement of a monthly payment for rent, security deposits, fees (maintenance or association dues), and other items that are detailed in the lease agreement (like utility bills) – are all part of your rights as a property owner.

● You have the right to screen your applicants carefully – A landlord may screen applicants based on credit history, employment history, and income to determine their payment capability and if they will be a good fit. Keep in mind the premises of the Fair Housing Act which prohibits discrimination and requires landlords to provide the applicant with the name and address of the credit reporting agency should they decide to reject an application.

● You have the right to put your agreement in writing – A landlord can and should specify the rental agreement terms in a contract. The contract has to include the names of the tenants, the length of the tenancy, the amount of the security deposit, the party responsible for specific repairs, whether pets may live in the rental unit, and the amount of rent. Other terms that have been agreed upon can be included in this contract (e.g. forms of payments accepted, grace periods, due dates, fees, etc.)

● You have the right to inspect your property regularly – This is to prevent dangerous conditions and illegal activity in the premises. Landlords have to be sure that their property is not being used for any criminal activity and that it remains a safe and secure place for all tenants. Things that need to be repaired should be addressed right away otherwise there could be an oversight of health and safety regulations. Most states permit landlords to enter a rental unit for repairs, inspections, to show a prospective tenant, or in cases of emergency. In all cases, except in an emergency, the landlord has to notify (verbal or written) the tenant of their intent to enter, 24 hours before the visit.

● You have the right to make repairs and improvements as you see fit – It is your property and should you choose to install security cameras, a pool, gates, or anything that you deem will increase your property’s rental value or ensure the security of your property, you can do so.

● You have the right to evict tenants – Landlords have the right to evict tenants, but it must be for cause (such as nonpayment of rent).