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There are a lot of considerations, plans, and precautions to take when you allow other people to lease real estate rental property you own. You need to make sure you’re following all the necessary landlord-tenant laws and know how to protect your own legal rights. So what exactly are those rights, and what can you do to assert them?
As a landlord, your most basic rights are to protect your property and collect rent payments from your tenants. To achieve these goals, you should usually require rental agreements, security deposits, and background or reference checks of your tenants.
Rental agreements, or lease agreements, should lay out in clear language what the rules and terms of the rental will be. This usually includes:
You’re allowed to add certain other rules and regulations to your lease, provided they fall within the limits of the Fair Housing Act, which provides certain tenants’ rights and requirements for making the rental properly habitable.
Typically, landlords may enter the rental property in an emergency or to make necessary or agreed upon repairs. In most jurisdictions, you have to provide your tenants with notice, sometimes of a day or more, before you can enter the property. You need to remember that your tenants have rights to a certain level of privacy and freedom from interference, provided they’re following the laws and the stipulations of the lease agreement.
So what happens if your renters aren’t making their rent payments or violate provisions of the rental agreement? It may be worth your while to try to address the problems with your renters first, but if the problem gets bad enough, you may need to begin the eviction process.
The exact steps and regulations of eviction will depend on a combination of federal and state laws. Usually, you’ll have to gather proof that you have a valid reason for the eviction. Its not enough to just want your tenants gone; housing laws require specific violations to break a lease.
Your next step will be to provide written notice of your intent to start the eviction process. Your notice should state what your renters need to do to improve, be it ceasing problematic behavior or getting caught up on their rent payments. Your written notice also needs to give them a deadline for when they need to either meet these requirements, or else move out before the formal eviction process begins. Provide as many details about the problems or what you’re owed as you can to give them fewer openings to argue your claims. You’ll need to follow the landlord-tenant laws for your area to determine the timelines and other information you have to provide for notice.
If the situation doesn’t improve after the time stated in the proper notice, you’ll need to go through the courts for a formal eviction process. You typically cannot evict a tenant without a court order. You’re also likely barred from physically removing your tenants or their belongings. Your state should provide guidelines and options for you if your tenants don’t vacate when the court order requires them to, but you should never try to force a physical eviction yourself.
When a refundable security deposit is based on the condition of the property, state laws usually require a recorded inspection of the property before the tenants move into the rental unit and then after they move out. Different state laws will determine how much of a security deposit you’re allowed to keep, or what reasons you’re allowed to keep it for. In many states, you can only deduct provable damages from a security deposit, and you’ll be required to provide an itemized receipt of those damages and their costs. Often, you’ll have a short time window to do this, or else you’ll be required to return the full security deposit. As such, documenting the move-out inspection helps both parties prevent disputes about any deductions for repairs to items. Your tenants may take photographs of the rental unit when they leave, and you should take photos as well.
In general, it depends on the timing of the rent increase, the rules of the lease, and the local laws. Most rental amounts need to stay the same for the duration of the lease, but can be raised when the lease is being renewed. For month-to-month tenancies, the terms of the rent are only “fixed” for a month at a time. Therefore, rent can be increased with 30 days notice.
Usually, you won’t be able charge a late fee unless you’ve specified it in the lease. If the lease does allow you to charge a late fee, most states don’t require a grace period before the charge, unless the rental agreement states otherwise.
In most states, a landlord may not use force to evict a tenant without a court order. This prohibits the landlord from changing the locks or retaining the tenant’s property.
Writing and enforcing rental agreements can be a complicated process, as can knowing when and how to go through with an eviction. An experienced local landlord-tenant attorney will be able to provide legal advice on your specific situation and help you come to the solution you need.
This article is intended to be helpful and informative. But even common legal matters can become complex and stressful. A qualified landlord rights and duties lawyer can address your particular legal needs, explain the law, and represent you in court. Take the first step now and contact an attorney in your area from our directory to discuss your specific legal situation.