Being a landlord can be complicated at times. Even with the best of intentions, many residential property owners find themselves involved in disputes with tenants from time to time. The good news is that in many cases, these disputes can be avoided simply by understanding the legal rights and obligations of both landlords and tenants.
Follow these tips to avoid some of the most common landlord-tenant relationship pitfalls:
Don't ask discriminating questions
Questions may be perceived as discriminatory even if that wasn't the intention, so be careful to phrase your screening questions carefully. Keep in mind that it's illegal to discriminate against a tenant on the basis of gender, race, religion, national origin, disability or familial status. While a landlord certainly has the right to conduct criminal background and credit checks, avoid asking additional questions that might appear to suggest discriminatory intent.
Disclose all important information
Requirements about residential property disclosure vary depending on the area, but in general, disclosures that are considered important include notice of mold or other environmental hazards like lead paint, notice of sex offenders living in the area and any deaths that have occurred in the rental unit. Failing to disclose important information may result in a serious landlord-tenant dispute requiring legal action.
Provide and maintain a safe environment
A landlord is required to provide a safe living environment for tenants at all times. This includes simple safety measures like installing locks and adequate lighting, in addition to taking reasonable action to prevent criminals from entering the property. Landlords are also required to perform safety inspections and inform tenants of any hazards that exist on the premises. Similarly, a landlord is required to perform any repairs necessary to provide a rental unit that is deemed fit to live in.
Understand tenant privacy rights
All tenants have a right to privacy. For this reason, landlords are required to give at least 24 hours' notice before entering a rental unit to conduct an inspection, show the property to a prospective tenant or make a repair. There are exceptions to this rule in emergency situations.
Follow eviction rules
Generally, landlords can only evict tenants for failing to pay rent, failing to vacate the unit after the lease has expired, violating the rental contract or substantially damaging the property. Before completing the eviction process, it's important to be sure you are following the right guidelines. These rules vary by location, but nearly always require giving the tenant notice before filing an eviction court order.
Know what to do when a tenant leaves
After a tenant moves out, a landlord can use the security deposit to cover the cost of any necessary repairs. However, if repairs must be carried out, the landlord is required to provide the tenant with an itemized list of all repairs and their costs, and return the remaining portion of the deposit to the tenant.
If the tenant leaves behind abandoned property, the landlord must store the property and notify the tenant of where and how to claim it, in addition to providing a date by which the tenant must pick up the items. If the property remains unclaimed after the specified amount of time, landlords have the right to sell it, keep it or throw it away.
Landlord-tenant disputes can be extremely stressful and sometimes costly, but you can avoid many of the most common issues by following these simple tips.