If you are about to become a landlord for the first time (or maybe you’ve been one for a while and need a small refresher) these are the common things that you need to know in order to the best (and most profitable!) local landlord.
The Basics of Landlord–Tenant Laws
Landlord–tenant laws vary by state. However, the basics of each state law tend to be very similar, if not exactly the same. So, we will cover the general principal of the interactions and responsibilities here.
As a landlord, you have a legal right to charge each of your tenants a security deposit. However, you must remember that the deposit doesn’t actually belong to you. Rather, a tenant’s security deposit is just a form of back up.
You have it just in case the tenant forgets to pay rent, doesn’t give proper notice to vacate the property, causes major damage to the home, or otherwise violates the terms of their lease agreement. All this to say, don’t spend it because if your tenant follows all the rules, then you have to give it back.
You must also always follow state and local laws regarding security deposits. Sometimes there is an arbitrary maximum number for a security deposit. Sometimes there is a formula you can follow based on the rental unit’s monthly rent. You must always follow these laws and make them very clear to your tenant.
Disclosure of Owner
The next important landlord responsibility is the disclosure agreement. The agreement must be in writing and needs to be given to the tenant for review before they actually move in or sign anything. If you change it all during the time they live in your rental property, you have to tell them (in writing!)
This disclosure must contain the names and addresses of the people who manage the building, collect rent, make repairs, address complaints, and issue notices.
This way, the tenant knows who to contact about certain things. If you have a designated maintenance man, then he can make sure everything is in working order and you can avoid getting late night phone calls from tenants about leaky air conditioners. If you have an accounts manager, the disclosure can let tenants know how to pay rent directly to him.
Delivering Possession of the Unit
Next, as a landlord you need to have the property ready on time. It must be vacant of previous tenants and ready for the new inhabitants on the agreed-upon move-in date. If the home isn’t ready when you said it would be, then technically, the tenant could take legal action against you. They could argue that the landlord failed to uphold their portion of the lease agreement.
However, if you are dealing with an old tenant who just won’t move out (i.e. a squatter, etc.) don’t worry! There are legal steps you can take towards evictions of tenants who have violated their lease agreement – or maybe who don’t have one at all.
This one is a given, but it’s still a common state law, so we’re still going to cover it for you. As a landlord, it is your responsibility to maintain your properties. You can choose to take care of this yourself or to hire managers, but either way, it has to be done.
You need to make sure all of your units are safe and follow all relevant building codes. This could include making sure you have things like carbon monoxide directors on site. You also need to make sure that all appliances are in working order and that things like the plumbing, electricity, and heat are in tiptop shape.
When you sign your name to a lease agreement, you become liable for it. This means that you have to follow all of the rules and agreements that it contains. You can only be released from this liability if you sell the units. And even then, you have to let your tenants know (in writing!) that they have a new landlord.
There is one small catch, however. Remember how the security deposit isn’t technically yours? If you sell your property, there are few things you can do.
The first is to just give the tenant their deposit back and let the new landlord collect a new one. The second would be to transfer the deposit to the new landlord and let the tenant know (in writing) where their deposit went.
What are a landlord’s responsibilities toward their tenant?
Now that you know all about the general laws, here are a few other things that all landlords must provide for their tenants.
Safe, Quiet, and Clean Environment
All of your rental units must be safe and well-maintained.
All of the exterior doors should lock, and no one but you and the tenant should have a key. If you are coming by the unit, you must give a notice of intended entry for the appropriate amount of time. This is usually at least a minimum of 24 hours, more if you plan to enter more than just the common areas.
If any repairs need to be completed, you should not leave the workmen alone in the space, as this can easily lead to claim of robbery. If you manage multiple units on the same property, you need to ensure that all the tenants can feel comfortable with each other. Be sure to run a full background check on each new person who moves in, or at the very least, check their references.
Renter’s Insurance Advice
Before tenants move in, be sure to let them know that you strongly suggest renter’s insurance. This way, should anything happen to their belongings, such as theft, water damage, smoke damage, etc. they will be able to file a claim for compensation.
Response to Repairs Requests
Unless specifically outlined in their renter’s agreement, tenants are not responsible for any repairs needed on the property. If a light goes out, an appliance breaks, or a door starts sticking, it’s your job to get it handled – and get it handled fast.
That doesn’t mean that you need to rush over at three o’clock in the morning to change a light bulb. However, it does mean that you (or your designated property manager) should take care of it within 48 hours.
For bigger jobs, like a busted air conditioning, you should at least put in an appointment request with the repairman within 24 hours.