What Is Landlord Tenant Law?

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Landlord-tenant law refers to a body of laws that regulate rental properties and outline the rights and responsibilities of both landlords and tenants. The landlord is the person who owns the property, and the tenant is the person who pays to rent it.

Typically, landlord-tenant law involves disputes over lease agreements, eviction proceedings, issues with security deposits, and general tax questions.

Lease Agreements

Before moving into a new apartment, becoming a resident of a mobile home park, or even renting an office building, you will need to sign a lease agreement. Typically lease agreements include:

  • The name and contact information of the landlord and all tenants
  • The address and description of the rental unit or property
  • Information about rent – how much rent costs and when the balance is due
  • Any services that are included with the rent (water, trash, etc.)
  • Terms of the security deposit
  • The unit’s pet policy
  • Renter’s insurance requirements (if applicable)
  • Rules of the apartment complex or property
  • What happens if the tenant breaks the rules or fails to pay rent

Most lease agreements last for at least one year, but short-term lease agreements do exist. Lease agreements cannot include arbitration agreements or require tenants to waive their security deposit refunds. Further landlords may not use gender, religion, race, or any other protected characteristic to exclude a tenant from their rental property or turn down a lease.

How Security Deposits Work

Landlords usually ask for security deposits before letting tenants move in. This way, the tenant will be responsible for any damage they cause. Both landlords and tenants should agree to the condition of a property before the tenant moves in so there are no disputes when the landlord returns – or does not return – the security deposit. In California, the security deposit cannot exceed 2 months’ rent unless the unit is furnished.

When the tenant moves out, the landlord should return the security deposit. If the landlord uses any portion of the security deposit for cleaning or repairs, they should provide a detailed list of these costs to the tenant before returning a partial deposit.

Otherwise, the security deposit could be taken to small claims court.

Rights and Responsibilities Outside of the Lease Agreement

Federal laws like the Fair Housing Act protect tenants from landlord abuse and discrimination. Tenants are also entitled to privacy and livable conditions.

Similarly, landlords are entitled to protect their investment. If the tenant has a problem that interferes with the safety of their unit, the landlord must fix it. If the landlord does not receive rent or other agreed-upon payments, they can evict the tenant.

Evictions

Landlords may not evict tenants without cause and reasonable notice. If the tenant breaks a rule or fails to pay rent, the landlord must give them a 3-day notice and an opportunity to remedy their behavior. Once this notice period expires, the landlord may file an eviction suit. If necessary, the court will enforce evictions and officials will remove tenants from the rental property.

In California, landlords can also charge late fees for late rent payments, charge $25 for bounced checks, and raise the rent subject to state and local rent control rules.

When Do I Need a Lawyer?

If you are a tenant, you may need to recruit a lawyer if your landlord fails to adhere to the terms of your lease or violates your rights as a renter.

If you are a landlord, you might want an attorney during the eviction process – or if you need to respond to a tenant’s complaint. You may also need to discuss rent control measures and other rules with the city or state you live in.

At Allen, Semelsberger & Kaelin LLP, we can handle landlord-tenant disputes as part of our real estate practice. We are also uniquely qualified to help residents of mobile home parks resolve problems with their landlords.

Call us at (888) 998-2031 or contact us online to learn how we can help you today.

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