Landlord - Tenant


The landlord-tenant relationship, the relationship between the person who owns the land, house or apartment and the person who is temporarily occupying the land, house or apartment, is controlled by state law and is expressed in writing through a lease or a rental agreement executed by both parties.

What is a lease?

A lease or rental agreement is a contract between the landlord and the tenant. The agreement typically sets out the length of time the landlord-tenant relationship will exist, the amount of rent to be paid, how often the rent is to be paid, the amount of any security deposit, whether pets can occupy the premises, who will be responsible for paying utilities or maintaining insurance as well as who will be responsible for attorney's fees if a dispute should arise that has to be resolved in court.

Do all rental and lease agreements have to be in writing?

While many states do not require rental or lease agreements to be in writing, it is always best to formalize any agreement, put it in writing and have both parties sign the agreement so there can be no question later as to any term or condition that is properly set out in the agreement.

What happens if I sign a long-term lease but I'm not able to pay?

A contract is a contract. If a person is in a financial bind and cannot meet his or her contractual obligation of paying rent on time, the landlord can consider the agreement breached and take the necessary steps to remove the tenant for violating the agreement.

If I was late paying my rent but my landlord did accept the rent from me, can I still be evicted?

Typically, if a landlord accepts rent payment, even if it is late, that acceptance is often viewed as a waiver of any breach.

As a landlord, if I have rented an apartment or a house to someone and we've signed a lease or a rental agreement but I have a change of heart later, can I break the lease and remove the tenant?

A contract is a contract. If the tenant has complied with all the terms and conditions of the rental or lease agreement, a landlord must honor the terms or conditions of the agreement.

As the owner of a house or an apartment, do I have the right to exclude anyone I choose from renting my property?

A landlord may ask any prospective tenant to fill out an application that asks the potential tenant about roommates, financial condition, pets or use of the premises for something other than a residence, and the landlord, based upon those answers, can decline to rent to a tenant. Also, if a tenant has a bad credit history a landlord is not obligated to rent to that person.
If a landlord attempts to exclude a potential tenant because of his or her race, gender, religion, age, handicap status or national origin, that landlord will be in violation of the Fair Housing Act. In addition to this federal law, there are laws in most states which prohibit discrimination in housing.

How do you prove housing discrimination?

Housing discrimination, like all forms of discrimination, can pose a difficult proof problem for someone who believes he or she has been discriminated against. It is very rare in this day and age for someone to say, "I'm not going to rent to the handicapped Latino forty-seven-year-old woman." More often than not discrimination is not that explicit. Instead, an individual will often be told by a landlord that there are no apartments available to be rented when in fact apartments are available and are soon rented to members of the majority population. Sometimes a landlord may require a larger deposit or proof that a prospective tenant's income is higher than the income requirement for white individuals.
Complaints concerning discrimination in housing should be directed to the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development. This federal agency will take the necessary steps to investigate and reconcile differences between prospective landlords and tenants in housing discrimination cases. Or a tenant can proceed into federal or state court, depending on the laws that exist in that state, and seek monetary damages against the landlord.

Can my landlord enter my apartment any time he or she wants?

Access to a rental premises should be something that is discussed fully with the landlord prior to entering any rental or lease agreement. It's advisable to have the amount of time or notice a renter is to be given by the landlord before the landlord can enter the apartment set out in the rental or lease agreement. Typically, landlords have the right to enter to make repairs during normal business hours or during times of emergency. Again, to avoid any misunderstandings, this privacy or access issue should be set out plainly and clearly in the lease or rental agreement.

The door to my apartment doesn't properly close and lock, and I'm concerned about my family's security. Whose obligation is it to maintain repairs of this nature?

 When a landlord signs a lease or rental agreement with a tenant, the law states that the landlord is making certain promises to the tenant, even if they are not stated in the lease. One of these promises is that the apartment or house is fit for human habitation. This is called the implied warranty of habitability. The warranty of habitability requires that the landlord make sure the locks on all the doors work properly so that the tenant's security can be maintained, that the roof doesn't leak, that the heater works properly, that hot water is available and that the building is structurally sound. If the landlord does not address your concerns after being placed on notice to make the repairs, this might be construed as a breach of the rental or lease agreement and the tenant can move out with no further obligation to pay rent on the balance of the agreement or lease. Also, the tenant has a right to place his or her rent into an escrow account until the necessary repairs are made, at which time the withheld rent is to be paid to the landlord.

I recently signed a one-year lease but I have been transferred to another city. What are my options?

If you personally cannot fulfill the contractual terms of your lease or agreement, you may want to sublet your apartment or home to another for the balance of the agreement. Sometimes landlords have conditions or clauses in rental agreements and leases that forbid subletting. When it is allowed, it's often done with the approval of the landlord.
Another option, although one that's financially not very pleasant to think about, is to surrender the premises back to the landlord so the landlord can take the necessary steps to mitigate damages by attempting to re-rent the premises as quickly as possible. If the landlord is able to re-rent the premises fairly quickly, the tenant will only be obligated for the rent that accrued from the time he or she moved out until the time the apartment was re-rented. If the landlord is unable to re-rent the premises, then a tenant can be held accountable for the balance of the rental or lease agreement.

Is a security deposit refundable?

Depends. A security deposit is usually a specified amount of money held by the landlord as security against damages to the rental unit by the tenant. If, at the end of the term of the lease or agreement, the rental unit is in good condition and requires no repairs, the security deposit can be refunded.
It is always advisable for both the landlord and the tenant to do an initial "walk through" before the tenant moves into the premises. In this way both the tenant and landlord can make note of any damage anywhere on the premises so there can be a writing which memorializes the condition of the property. At the end of the lease or rental agreement an "exit walk through" can be done and the condition of the premises can be compared to its prior condition.

Doesn't the law require a landlord to return a security deposit within a certain number of days after the tenant has left the premises?

In some states yes, in some states no. Landlord-tenant laws vary greatly from state to state. Some states have no requirement whatsoever that a security deposit be returned by a specific time, while other states have very specific windows of time for returning a security deposit.

The parking lot area at our apartment does not have any lights. Is the landlord responsible for providing security?

If it is foreseeable that a security problem might exist in a darkened parking area, a landlord can be held liable for failing to take the necessary steps to provide adequate lighting or other forms of security. This is particularly true in situations where there is a history of crimes against persons or property, but the landlord refuses to take the necessary steps to provide adequate protection for the tenants.

Who is responsible if someone is injured on the premises?

If a tenant or a guest is injured in a common area such as a playground, sidewalk, stairs or a parking lot, the responsibility may rest with the landlord if he or she has control over the area in question and has failed to provide necessary upkeep and maintenance to avoid a foreseeable injury.