We have all heard of tenant rights – those laws to protect tenants from discrimination, theft of security deposits, and invasion of privacy. The landlord, however, still owns the real estate property and usually pays the mortgage with the proceeds from the tenant’s monthly rent payments. Landlords have a lot at stake when they enter into rental agreements with tenants – and so as a landlord, you must be aware of your legal rights. Knowing the federal and state laws related to landlord rights will allow you to protect your investment property and feel at easy when drawing up agreements with your tenants.
Federal landlord rights help protect American homeowners looking to rent out their house. Landlord rights make it clear what your legal obligations and rights are as a landlord, whether it be when drawing up a contract, terminating a lease, or legally evicting a tenant. Let’s go through some of these protective rights.
Choosing and Housing a Tenant
Landlord rights are directly related to tenant rights and obligations when considering the period when you’re housing a tenant. Tenants must respect your rights as their landlord, and in return you must respect your tenant’s rights. The landlord respects tenant rights such as the right of peaceful possession (free of interference), while your coinciding rights include the right to protect your property through reasonable inspection and to make repairs. According to federal law, you cannot select or refuse a potential tenant based on race, origin, ethnicity, religion, sex, age, marital status, or disability. State laws further detail what information landlords may consult when considering a landlord, so it’s important to know your state’s specific landlord rights with regards to screening potential tenants. In Ontario, for example, landlords may consider a potential tenant’s income information, credit checks, rental history, guarantees, and other business practices described in the Ontario Human Rights Code regulations.
Related: 8 Things That Make a Good Tenant
Terminating a Lease
Regardless of how careful you are when screening and reviewing prospective tenants, you will most likely come across one that you will have to evict at some point. Of course, you can’t evict a tenant simply because you don’t care for that person or you don’t like his/her personality, but you can certainly terminate a lease for a lawful reason. Landlord-tenant laws vary by state, but generally they give landlords the right to evict a tenant for the following reasons: 1) The tenant fails to pay rent or is consistently late with rent every month; 2) The tenant violates one or more lease provisions (for example, owning a pet when the lease clearly states “no pets”); 3) The tenant has violated the law, such as disturbing the peace or engaging in illegal drug activity.
Legally Evicting a Tenant
Evicting a tenant is never as easy as tacking an “evicted” notice to the door and having the tenant promptly move out. There must be a clear cause for eviction established for the court to approve the eviction. If your tenant is evicted without a cause or is part of a protected class (religion, race, disability, etc.), then you may set yourself up for a discrimination lawsuit. Most states require landlords to give appropriate advance notice to tenants only if the offending behavior doesn’t change. These are called “cure and quit” or “pay rent or quit” notices – they give tenants the chance to correct the offending behavior before being forced to evict.
Landlord rights include the right to serve your tenants a “vacate or quit” notice in some circumstances, which does not give tenants the opportunity to correct their behavior but rather lets them know that they will be evicted within a specified period of time if they fail to move out on their own before that. Depending on the state, such notices might need to be presented directly to your tenant – either by tacking them to the door or sending them through the mail – so make sure you research your state’s specific laws. If the tenant fails to move out, you as a landlord may have to file an eviction petition in your local court. After court approval, the tenant is given enough time to move out before forced removal is considered.
Specific landlord rights in regards to eviction differ from state to state. In Oregon, for instance, if the rent is more than 7 days overdue, you may give the tenant a written notice stating your intent to evict him/her if the rent is not paid within 72 hours. If the tenant ignores your notice, you would file an eviction complaint in court and the tenant will be served with a summon and complaint. If you win the case in an Oregon court but the tenant still doesn’t move out, you must pay the police to come to the property to remove the tenant, and you will be responsible for temporarily storing any of the tenant’s belongings. Trouble tenants like this can consistently abuse your landlord rights, reminding us that properly (and appropriately) screening the potential tenant at the beginning is extremely important.
US Federal Fair Housing Laws
Knowing your landlord rights is not about denying your tenant’s rights in return – the two should always go together. You will have much less leverage in your landlord rights if you have already acted without complying with the law. Drawing upon the example in the section above, evicting a problematic tenant can be hard if you violated the tenant’s rights before in any way. Landlord rights and laws change depending on the state, so make sure that you check your specific state laws – especially those regulating access to housing. However, there are a few federal laws that you should be aware of:
- The Federal Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination in housing on the basis of color, national origin, race, religion, familial status, sex, and disability.
- Title VI of the Civil Rights Act prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, or national origin in programs receiving federal funding (for example federal housing).
- Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in programs provided by public entities (enforced by HUD when it comes to housing).
- The Age Discrimination Act prohibits discrimination on the basis of age in programs receiving federal funding (protecting those 40 and older).
As a potential real estate investor, it is of the utmost importance for you to understand the laws and procedures that serve your interests as a landlord. Landlord rights are aimed at protecting you just as tenant laws are aimed at protecting tenants. The key to having a good rental investment is understanding what laws are there to protect you.
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