Landlord/Tenant Law

What Are My Rights as a Landlord?

Key Takeaways

  • Landlords have the right to collect rent and protect their property by using written rental agreements and setting clear rules.
  • Evicting a tenant requires following legal steps, including giving written notice and possibly going to court if the tenant doesn’t leave.
  • Landlords can keep a security deposit for unpaid rent or damage beyond normal wear and tear, but must follow state laws about inspections and refunds.

There are a lot of considerations, plans, and precautions to take when you allow other people to lease rental property you own. You must ensure you’re following all the necessary landlord-tenant laws and know how to protect your legal rights. What are a landlord’s rights and responsibilities?

Property laws for landlords and renters are generally based on state and local laws. If you have questions about rental housing, collecting rent, and eviction proceedings, talk to a local landlord-tenant lawyer for legal advice.

Do I Have Rights as a Landlord?

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 require a written rental agreement, security deposit, and background or reference checks for 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:

  • A description of the property
  • Your name and information
  • The names and information of your prospective tenants
  • Rules for occupancy
  • Monthly rent payment amounts and due dates
  • Late payment terms and penalties
  • Length of tenancy
  • Rules on pet ownership
  • Rules on short- or long-term guests
  • Security deposit information
  • Information on the processes for repairs and maintenance

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 must remember that your tenants have rights to a certain level of privacy and freedom from interference, provided they’re following the laws and the terms of the written lease agreement.

How Do I Evict a Tenant?

If you have renters who aren’t making their rent payments within a reasonable time or violating the lease terms, you may need to begin eviction. The exact steps and regulations for eviction will depend on federal, state, and local laws. Before the eviction, you may need to have a legal reason for the eviction.

Your next step may be to provide a written notice of your intent to start the eviction process. Your written notice generally needs to give the renters a deadline for meeting these requirements or moving out before the formal eviction process begins. 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. 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 after the court order, but you should never try to force a physical eviction yourself.

Can I Keep a Security Deposit Once My Tenants Move Out?

When a refundable security deposit is based on the property’s condition, state laws usually require a recorded inspection 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 why you’re allowed to keep it.

For example, in New Jersey, the maximum security deposit amount a landlord can keep is one and a half months’ rent. A landlord cannot charge a cleaning fee out of the deposit and can only use the security deposit for unpaid rent or repairs beyond normal wear and tear. In addition, landlords have to keep the security deposit in a money market fund or interest-bearing account and pay the tenant the earnings on the account annually.

In many states, you can only deduct provable damages from a security deposit, and you may be required to provide an itemized receipt of those damages and their costs. Often, there is a limited time window to show the repair costs, or you must return the entire security deposit.

Documenting the move-out inspection helps both parties prevent disputes about any deductions for repairs to items. Your tenants may also take photographs of the rental unit when they leave, and you should also take photos.

Can I Raise the Rent for My Rental Property?

Raising the rent on rental properties is allowable in many states. However, rental laws in other states, counties, and cities limit monthly rent increases. Some properties are also subject to rent control, limiting when and how much a landlord can increase the rent. Rental rate increases may be limited to a maximum percent per year and have limits on when a landlord can lawfully evict a tenant.

In general, landlords can increase rent by any amount between tenants. For rental rate increases for a continuing tenant, it depends on the timing of the rent increase, the rules of the written agreement, 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 renewed. For month-to-month tenancies, the terms of the rent are only “fixed” for a month at a time, and the amount of rent can be increased with a month’s notice.

Can I Charge Late Fees for Late Rent?

It must be specified in the rental agreement if you want to charge a late fee for late rental payments. State laws may require a grace period to pay rent, usually five days after the rent is due before a landlord can charge a late fee. Late fees may also be capped by state law at a set amount or percentage of monthly rent.

Can I Change The Locks if the Rent is Late?

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 because a tenant is late paying rent. Check with a landlord-tenant attorney or your local real estate laws before changing the locks on a rental unit.

Do I Need a Landlord-Tenant Lawyer?

It can be difficult for a landlord to keep up with changing landlord-tenant laws and what a landlord has to do when raising the rent or evicting a problem tenant. Even writing and enforcing rental agreements to stay on top of changing fair housing laws can be complicated. An experienced local landlord-tenant attorney can provide legal advice on your specific situation and help you come to the solution you need.

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