What Are My Rights as a Landlord?
As a landlord, you have many responsibilities that can feel overwhelming at times. You must ensure you continue to pay the mortgage for your rental property, perform maintenance tasks, and make crucial repairs to the home as needed. Being a landlord can require you to figure out a budget, screen tenants, and ensure your renters are treating the property well.
In addition to these obligations, you also have certain rights. It’s important to understand not only what your tenants expect of you but also what you have the right to expect from your tenants. If you don’t exercise your rights and adhere to your obligations as a landlord, it can lead to property disputes and even lawsuits being filed against you. Not being clear about your tenants’ responsibilities can lead to other negative consequences, such as property negligence or financial disputes.
What Are Landlord Rights?
Tenants have the right to be treated fairly but landlords also have rights at the federal, state, and local levels. As a landlord, it’s important to understand your rights so you know how to handle complicated situations, such as the tenant screening and eviction processes. The specific rights you have as a landlord ensure that your tenant cannot pursue legal action against you in certain situations, as long as you abide by the law.
General Landlord Rights
The rights you have as a landlord may vary, depending on your location. However, there are several general landlord rights that are frequently upheld in many states. Before you attempt to exercise any of these rights, review your local laws to ensure your state adheres to these general guidelines.
Choosing The Tenant
As a landlord, you should have the right to screen and choose your tenants using a process that works for you. By creating your own screening process and tenant qualifications, you ensure you’re choosing renters that you feel comfortable with.
However, you must be able to justify your tenant screening process. You cannot choose tenants based on discriminatory or personal factors, such as race or gender. Your screening process cannot be retaliatory, unreasonable, or illegal.
Setting Tenancy Terms
Since you’re the owner of the property, you should have the right to set the tenancy terms as you see fit. However, keep your renter’s rights and rent control restrictions in mind when setting these terms.
You’re typically allowed to decide if you want to allow pets in the home. You can also determine the length of the lease, whether smoking is allowed, and whether you’ll permit your tenant to sublease the property during their rental term.
Your landlord rights allow you to set the terms for collecting rent. As long as your area isn’t rent-controlled, you should be legally allowed to set the monthly amount you want to collect from your tenants.
You may also decide to allow your tenants to live on your property in exchange for services instead of money, such as property management or maintenance. The services or rent you collect must be outlined in your rental contract and you must follow the laws for increasing rent or changing the lease terms.
If your tenants don’t follow the terms outlined in your lease agreement, you may exercise your landlord’s right to evict them. This allows you to find new tenants who will pay rent or abide by other lease agreement terms, such as maintaining the property.
There are strict eviction laws that require you to document the rent payments that were missed or lease terms that were violated, offer eviction warnings to the tenant, and provide your renter with a certain amount of time to vacate the property. To ensure you don’t break the law when evicting a tenant, you may need to seek legal help to assist with the eviction process.
Landlord Obligations to Their Tenants
While you do have rights as a landlord, you also have obligations to your tenants. You must abide by these obligations according to your state and local laws so you adhere to the rental contract you agreed upon with your renters. The obligations you must abide by may vary depending on the agreement you made, but often includes:
- Providing a habitable property: Your property must be maintained to an acceptable standard of living for tenants and must be completely habitable.
- Following the lease agreement: You must keep all promises you made in the lease agreement. This may include providing air filters for the air conditioning unit or repairing a broken toilet before the tenant moves in.
- Abiding by Fair Housing Laws: There are several anti-discriminatory laws enforced at the federal, state, and local levels. Landlords must be aware of these laws and ensure they’re abiding by them throughout the rental process.
- Respecting the tenants’ privacy: Once your tenant lives on the property, you no longer have free access to it. You must provide your renters with notice if you’re planning to visit the property, unless it’s an emergency.
Landlord Legal Responsibilities
As a landlord, you may need to screen applicants, pull your tenants’ credit report, or collect a security deposit. It’s important to understand your responsibilities when dealing with these legal matters to ensure you’re abiding by all federal, state, and local laws.
Consult with local legal resources to ensure you’re following the proper regulations. There is also federal legislation, detailed below, that outlines your legal responsibilities as a landlord.
The Fair Housing Act
The Fair Housing Act protects tenants from discriminatory screenings. As a landlord, you have the right to screen tenants before agreeing to lease your property to them. However, your screening practices must be justified.
You cannot discriminate against applicants based on religion, race, gender, family characteristics, or disability status. Your rental advertising also cannot allude to any discriminatory methods, such as “Seeking female tenants under 35 years old.”
The Fair Credit Reporting Act
When you order credit reports to screen potential tenants, you must adhere to the Fair Credit Reporting Act. Since the credit reports you obtain contain sensitive personal information, you must obtain written consent from the applicants before ordering the report.
If you also obtain background checks as part of your screening process, you must obtain written consent before performing the check. You cannot legally share any information provided on the credit report or background check with anyone else.
Adverse Action to Denied Applicants
To fulfill your legal obligations as a landlord, you must also provide a generic form to applicants you deny. If the reason for denial is related to their background check or credit report, provide information on the consumer reporting agency you used so the applicant can contact them if they need to dispute an error.
As a landlord, you have rights that protect you and your property. When you draw up a lease, you can decide what happens if the tenant breaks the lease or how much you want to charge in rent each month. However, your renters also have rights and there are federal, state, and local laws you must abide by when renting your property.