Landlord Tenant Law: An Overview

Landlord-tenant law is an area of real estate law that deals with the relationship between property owners and renters. Tenants typically have less power and fewer resources than landlords. Some states have specific laws protecting tenant rights. Federal laws may also apply in disputes involving housing discrimination based on a tenant’s familial status or national origin.

If you have questions, talk to an experienced landlord-tenant attorney in your area about your legal rights.

Landlord Rights vs. Tenant Rights

To protect landlords, the law provides specific remedies if tenants breach their leases. Property owners may require security deposits as part of the lease terms in the rental agreement. Owners may also assess late fees if occupants fail to pay monthly rent on time. They can also evict tenants and terminate the tenancy within a reasonable time.

Landlords can require that tenants sign written leases, provide references, and allow credit checks before occupying a rental unit. Once both parties sign the lease agreement and the tenants move in, landlords can only enter and inspect the rental property after giving the tenant reasonable notice. However, exceptions for an emergency or other housing code exceptions may exist.

Tenants also have certain rights when they rent residential real estate. This includes:

  • The right to make repairs
  • The right to receive advance notice if the landlord intends to enter the premises
  • Rights against discrimination in housing (Fair Housing Act)
  • The right to receive notice to quit before an eviction

Local rent control laws can strengthen tenants’ rights against unreasonable rent increases.

Common Areas of Landlord-Tenant Litigation

Common disputes that can lead to landlord-tenant litigation. Some common legal issues involve:

  • Nonpayment of rent
  • Health code violations (e.g., mold or lead paint)
  • Habitability issues such as inadequate hot water
  • Other critical issues involving utilities and safety

A dispute may also arise because a tenant violated a lease term forbidding keeping pets on the property. In other instances, a landlord who fails to make needed repairs can invite a legal dispute. A dispute can also involve tenants who fail to keep the property clean. Generally, lease violations can lead to eviction processes.

Evictions and Unlawful Detainers

The biggest area of landlord-tenant law involves evictions and unlawful detainer actions. The process for eviction varies by state law. The process also depends on whether the rental premises are commercial, residential, or single-family homes. Eviction steps generally follow a similar pattern:

  • The property owner or manager provides written notice to the tenant notifying them of an alleged lease violation. Proper notice may provide a number of days to fix the violation. Alternatively, an outright eviction notice can involve a more serious issue that cannot be remedied.
  • The property owner drafts and files a complaint with the court containing legal information concerning the dispute.
  • The court issues a summons for the tenant to appear in court.
  • Landlord-tenant disputes come before a judge or jury.
  • If the property owner is successful, the court enters a judgment (court order) in favor of eviction.
  • If the tenant refuses to vacate, the local sheriff’s department enforces the eviction. The sheriff can physically remove the tenant and their personal property from the rental premises.

What Happens in Court?

Before the court date, the parties can attempt to settle the matter independently or through mediation or written agreement. They can proceed to a hearing if they can’t reach an agreement. Both parties may hire an attorney and present evidence to the court.

If the court grants the eviction, the judge will give the tenant a limited number of days to vacate the dwelling unit. If the court denies the eviction, the tenant will not have to vacate the property. However, the tenant may still need to remedy a potential violation, such as unpaid rent.

How an Experienced Landlord Tenant Law Attorney Can Help

Because landlord-tenant law goes to the essence of life and shelter over one’s head, this area of the law can quickly become complex and stressful for all parties involved. A qualified landlord-tenant lawyer can provide legal advice, address your situation, explain housing law, and represent you in court. Contact a landlord-tenant lawyer for legal advice about your situation.

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