If you’re just getting started as a landlord, it’s important to be familiar with your local landlord-tenant laws before you do anything else.

Most states have their own set of laws that you and your tenants must both adhere to, and it is crucial to know what they are in order to protect yourself and your property as you continue to work with tenants and manage your business. 

Most aspects of owning a rental property are regulated in some way. This includes the habitability of the home, evictions, the process of choosing a tenant, and even the collection of security deposits.

We know that brushing up on your legal knowledge may seem daunting, and you’re in luck! In this blog post, we will be providing you with a comprehensive guide so you can get started.

Habitability of the Rental Property

To begin our guide, let’s talk about the habitability of your rental property. As a landlord, you always want your property to be in a safe and habitable condition for your tenants. But what exactly does that entail?

Many states have their own set of regulations to protect the health and safety of tenants. This is often referred to as a “warranty of habitability”. Usually, it is up to both the landlord and the tenants to maintain the property to a certain standard, and both parties are legally obligated to follow through on their responsibilities in this area. 

A wooden gavel on a desk in front of a person signing a document

This is why it is incredibly important for both landlords and tenants to be familiar with their responsibilities when it comes to maintaining a property’s habitability before they enter into a lease agreement

Your local state laws will most likely require you to provide your tenants with certain amenities that ensure the tenant’s safety while occupying the home. These features can include the following:

  • Air conditioning and heating
  • Access to running water
  • Trash disposal
  • Removing and preventing mold
  • Handling any pest control measures if necessary

At the same time, tenants have their own set of responsibilities that they need to uphold to make sure that the home remains habitable. This includes keeping the space reasonably clean and preventing damage to the property. 

The Eviction Process

While evicting a tenant is never fun, it’s important to be familiar with the legal process should the situation ever come up. These laws vary from state to state. For example, the majority of states have a specific list of reasons that a landlord can evict a tenant, such as failure to pay rent or causing damage to the home. 

Among the statutes regarding eviction, there are specific procedures that must be followed by a landlord as they carry out their legal eviction process. This includes the amount of notice that you will need to provide the tenant with, and how this notice is delivered.

To make sure that you avoid getting into legal trouble, it is always important to read up on your local eviction laws. 

Scrabble letters scattered on a wooden table, three in the middle spell out "law"

Security Deposits

Like most landlords, you probably require your tenants to pay a damage deposit at the beginning of the lease period. But did you know that most states have regulations that dictate how these deposits should be collected, held, applied, and returned to the tenant at the end of the lease? 

For example, there are some states in the US that limit how much a landlord can charge their tenant for a security deposit. These limits are often determined by the cost of the tenant’s rent, and are usually set at one or two times the monthly cost of rent. 

There are some states that also regulate how you can hold the collected deposit during the lease period. In a few places, landlords are required to hold security deposits in an escrow account that gradually generates interest. The property owner may then be legally required to pay out this interest to the tenant on a periodic or annual basis. 

In addition to the collection and maintenance of a security deposit, there are also rules in each state that dictate how the funds must be returned to the tenant at the end of the lease. Typically, security deposits (or what remains of them after deductions) must be returned to tenants within 15 to 30 days of the lease’s end date. 

Lawyer sitting in a chair reviewing a document behind a desk, two other people in suits are standing facing him

Terminating a Lease Agreement

Along the way, you may end up in a situation where a tenant needs to terminate their lease before the previously agreed-upon end date. In order to make sure that all parties are on the same page should this happen, many states have regulations regarding the premature termination of a lease agreement. 

This includes how much notice a tenant must provide you with before terminating their lease. This notice period is usually 15 to 60 days. 

It’s important to know the many reasons why a tenant may end their lease, and which reasons allow them to end the contract early without penalty. Failing to maintain a habitable home can result in a tenant being able to end their lease, so it is always important to maintain the property. 

Additionally, some states will allow tenants to break their lease if they are entering active military duty or are suffering from an illness that requires them to live in a home that is more catered to their condition. 

In situations like these, tenants usually are required to provide their landlord with 30 days’ notice. In some states, you may also be required to allow your tenant to sublet the space should they leave the property early. 

Wooden gavel

Increasing Rent

If you are looking to increase the rent for your property, you may want to brush up on your local regulations before doing so. Many states have recently updated their rent increase rules, and the process may be less simple than you think.

Some states require landlords to provide their tenants with at least 30 days’ notice before increasing the cost of their rent. Other states will require you to allow your tenant an opportunity to end their lease early without penalty should the cost of their rent increase.

Some local laws can even enforce limits to how much you are able to increase the rent and for what reasons. 

Another important topic when it comes to your local landlord-tenant laws is the fees that you may charge your tenants. Among others, late fees are often regulated and will have a set limit to how much you can charge.

Many states will also have a limit to how much you may charge to process a returned check. Therefore, it’s important to be aware of these limits before you begin to charge your tenants any extra fees.

Fair Housing Laws

One of the most important topics to remain informed on as a landlord is housing discrimination. This issue is addressed through the federal Fair Housing Act, which prohibits any discrimination both before and during a lease period on the basis of the following:

  • Race
  • Color
  • Disability
  • Religion
  • Sex
  • Familial status
  • National origin
Hands signing a document with a fountain pen

Many states enforce more fair housing laws in order to prevent discrimination against other protected classes. These often include sexual orientation, gender identity, age, and immigration status. 

It is often a common practice for states to have a detailed list of actions that are considered discriminatory as a rental property owner. This can include actions such as giving altered lease terms to different groups of tenants or enforcing different tenant screening methods on the basis of a protected class.

Additional Regulations to Note

In addition to the laws listed above, there is a long list of miscellaneous regulations that are worth noting for any landlord. For example, there can be a significant amount of variation between state laws when it comes to how a landlord may enter an occupied rental home. 

The majority of states require a certain amount of notice prior to landlord entry, and this amount of time can be anywhere from 12 hours to two days’ notice. The amount of notice required may also vary based on the reason that you need to enter the home.

Another aspect of landlord-tenant law that is important to note is mandatory disclosures that landlords must provide tenants with prior to signing the lease agreement.

Like most laws, the specifics of which disclosures are required will vary from state to state, but they usually involve things like lead paint, mold, or any other potentially harmful aspect of the property that tenants need to know about. 

Bottom Line

As a landlord, you always want to stay up to date on these regulations and how they will affect you and your rental property. It’s important to note that these laws have a tendency to change frequently, so you will need to check in on a regular basis if you want to remain informed on the latest legislation.