Four ways to Help Safely Navigate Landlord-Tenant Laws
Landlord-tenant laws rule the world of rentals. Do you know how much time you have to provide a written accounting of how you spent any deposit money you keep? How about the laws governing when you can enter the premises? What is the limit your state allows you to charge for late fees?
These sorts of things, among MANY others, are controlled by the landlord-tenant laws in your state. These are precisely the things that can get you into big trouble and can cost you hundreds or even thousands of dollars. Ignorance of the law is no excuse.
Properly prepare yourself as a landlord by learning all the laws including: city, county, state, and federal laws that govern where your property is located. Unfortunately, not everything is covered in the laws. Here are 4 guidelines to help you manage your property with less hassle.
Get Yourself a Rock-Solid Lease
Things not dictated by the laws include policies like: smoking in the property, who pays the utilities, pets (not to be confused with service or emotional support animals), and cleaning policies.
Smokers are not a protected class. Discriminating against them solely because they smoke will get you into trouble but, you can put into your lease that no smoking is allowed in or around the property. If you do not put this into the lease, you have no recourse when your tenant lights up.
Does the rent include utilities? If not, the lease is where that important information should go, not only who is responsible for the utilities, but also whose name is on the utility bill.
Pet owners are also not a protected class. You do not have to allow pets of any kind in your property. However, service animals (animals specially trained to perform a job) and emotional support animals (animals who provide emotional support for conditions like PTSD) are NOT pets, and you cannot use the animal as a reason to not rent to the tenant.
You have the right to expect the property be turned back over to you in the same condition in which you rented it, and you may charge a reasonable cleaning fee to ensure this happens.
Knowing what IS covered under the landlord-tenant laws of your state will help you craft a lease to cover those policies that are not.
What’s the Harm?
Evictions are one of the most difficult things a landlord will face. Tenant screening can go a long way to help you avoid an eviction, but even good tenants can have a change in circumstances that leads to an eviction.
Many tenants are well versed in the landlord-tenant laws, and you don’t want to find yourself tied up in a legal battle. You might be thinking, “So they call my bluff? What’s the harm?” If you don’t follow the proper steps to an eviction, your case can be dropped, causing you to start all the way back at square one.
If you keep a tenant’s security deposit or even just fail to properly account for the money you held back for damages and the tenant takes you to court, a judge can determine that you didn’t follow the laws and can award treble damages — up to three times the amount you withheld, even if you had a legal right to withhold it.
When in Doubt, Lawyer Up
The best person to write up your lease is a local real estate attorney. Find someone in your town to craft a lease, or review the one you already have. Any special clauses should be given special scrutiny. When choosing an attorney, make sure they will be able to defend you in court if necessary for evictions, tenant lawsuits for withheld security deposits, etc.
Sit Down and Explain It – Thoroughly
There isn’t any way to absolutely guarantee that a tenant will comply with the lease. Tenant screening can take you far, but it isn’t a sure bet. Just as ignorance of the law won’t get YOU out of compliance.
The best way to make your expectations crystal clear is by sitting down with your new tenant when you turn over the keys to the property and going over the lease with them. Explain in as much detail as necessary how you expect they will treat your property and the penalties if they choose to break the rules.
As the owner of the property, you set the tone of the relationship. From the very beginning, make sure your tenant knows that you mean business. Learn your local laws, get a great lease, and stick to it.
Ideas by Mindy Jensen