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Landlord Tenant Law: An Overview

Landlord-tenant law is a part of real estate law that specifically deals with the relationship between property owners and the renters of property. While laws vary from state to state, there are some general legal principles that most states follow. Since tenants typically have less power and fewer resources than landlords, some states have specific laws protecting tenant rights. Federal laws regarding the Fair Housing Act may also apply, such as in disputes involving allegations of housing discrimination with respect to a tenant’s familial status and/or national origin.

If you have questions, it’s never too early to speak with an experienced landlord tenant attorney in your area.

Landlord Rights vs. Tenant Rights

In order to protect landlords, the law provides certain remedies on which they can rely if tenants breach their leases. Property owners may require security deposits as part of the lease terms contained in the rental agreement, and assess late fees if occupants fail to make monthly rent payments on time or illegally withhold rent. They can also evict tenants and terminate the tenancy within reasonable time under certain circumstances.

Landlords can require that tenants sign written leases, submit written applications, provide references and disclosures, and allow credit and background checks prior to 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 unless an emergency exists or unless applicable housing codes provide exceptions.

Tenants also have certain rights when they rent residential or commercial 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, and the right to receive a several-day notice to quit before an eviction. Local rent control laws can strengthen tenants rights against unreasonable rent increases as well.

Common Areas of Landlord-Tenant Litigation

Common disputes that can lead to landlord-tenant litigation include a variety of different matters, the most common of which involve nonpayment of rent, violations of health codes (e.g. mold or lead paint), and habitability issues such as inadequate hot water or other critical issues involving utilities and safety.

A dispute may also arise because of a tenant’s violation of 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, as can tenants who fail to keep the property clean. Generally, lease violations can lead to eviction processes.

Evictions and Unlawful Detainers

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

  • The property owner or manager provides written notice to the tenant notifying them of an alleged violation of the lease and the number of days they have to fix it; in the alternative, an outright eviction notice is provided to the tenant in circumstances where an issue is too grave to be remedied.
  • The property owner drafts and files a complaint with the court, containing legal information in relation to the dispute.
  • The court issues a summons for the tenant to appear in court.
  • The court hearing occurs and legal issues pertaining to the landlord-tenant relationship are argued 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 still refuses to vacate, the local sheriff’s department enforces the eviction by physically removing 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 on their own or through mediation or written agreement. If they can’t reach an agreement, they can proceed to a hearing. Both parties may hire an attorney to represent them 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.

Speak to an Experienced Landlord Tenant Law Attorney Today

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 particular situation, explain housing law, and represent you in court in case an unlawful detainer action needs to be filed or has already been initiated.

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