Rental laws

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Rental laws are a combination of state statues, common law, federal law, and property law.  Housing codes also affect the renting of residential property.  Landlord-tenant issues for both residential and commercial rentals and leases are governed by these laws.  In most states, cases concerning landlord-tenant disputes of less than $5,000 are handled in small claims court.  Some states, however, have a district Landlord-Tenant Court to hear such disputes.

Rental laws, commercial rental laws, tenant laws, eviction laws, and the procedures concerning an eviction notice vary from state to state and from jurisdiction to jurisdiction.  When choosing a lawyer to represent you in small claims court, landlord-tenant court, or district court (or even to prepare contracts), you should be confident that they are experienced in practicing rental law in your specific state.

It is always advisable to hire a landlord-tenant attorney when contracting for rentals or leases, serving eviction notices, or taking the other party to court to resolve landlord-tenant disputes.  Sometimes problems present themselves that don’t necessarily require the hiring of a lawyer, but require obtaining reliable information about your legal standing under rental law.  Our experienced lawyers can help provide you with the legal advice you need today.

Rental Laws of Interest to Tenants

If you are a tenant, you will need to be informed about topics such as tenant screening, security deposits, damages vs. normal wear and tear, renter’s insurance, subleasing, breaking a lease, and rent collection.  Tenants may also be concerned about such things as no-pets policy, pet deposits, and late charges, as well as the landlord’s right to access the property.  If you fall behind on your rent or lease payments you may need to consult an attorney with knowledge of eviction laws and tenant rights.  At Legal Help Lawyers, we can provide you with excellent legal advice today.

Rental Laws of Interest to Landlords

In addition to the standard rental laws, landlords need to be informed of applicable laws concerning contracts, eviction laws, tenant rights, and the rights of property owners.  If the property being rented or leased is commercial property, commercial rental laws come into play.  The landlord has more to lose than the tenant, because of the value of the property and the chance that the tenant may devalue the property by damaging it or making it inhabitable.  Late payments by tenants can cause cash flow problems for the landlord, and subletting is also a valid concern that many landlords hold.

Landlords need to know their legal rights regarding security deposits, pet deposits, tenant screening, subletting, renter’s insurance, rent collection, late fees, and access to property.  They also need to be aware of their responsibilities as landlords.  Consulting with an attorney who specializes in rental laws is a good idea, as contracts prepared by experienced rental attorneys can provide enormous protection for the landlord as well as making sure that the contract complies with the law and is enforceable.

Eviction Laws

Eviction laws are primarily designed to protect the rights of tenants, but the landlord’s interests and rights to reclaim the property are also addressed.  A landlord who makes an unlawful eviction could be found liable to compensate the tenant for costs in the court of law.  To avoid such costs, it is beneficial to consult with an attorney who specializes in rentals or leases to clarify the procedures spelled out by eviction laws.

An eviction notice must be provided to the tenant in writing and in accordance with the rules of the state or jurisdiction in which the property is located.  In most states, a tenant can be lawfully evicted for failing to pay rent, violating the contract, or expiration of the lease.  There may also be some terms in the rental contract that give the landlord the right to terminate the lease under certain circumstances.

Commercial Rental Laws

Commercial rental laws differ from residential rental laws; it is imperative to hire a lawyer who specializes in commercial leases to prepare commercial rental and lease agreements.  When a landlord violates commercial rental laws, especially in connection with an eviction, the potential for liability for the tenant’s economic loss is much greater.  If a tenant under a commercial lease is unlawfully evicted, the landlord may be held responsible for the loss of business due to the eviction.  When attempting to evict a commercial tenant, it is critical that the landlord seek expert legal advice.

Renter’s Rights

We offer a legal referral service so that you can protect your rights as a renter.  Your landlord or apartment complex has certain responsibilities to you as a renter, including:

  • Your rights under the Fair Housing Act
  • Your right to a return of your deposit
  • The obligation to maintain the property
  • Proper access notification
  • A legal eviction notice
  • Notice of legal rent increases
  • Elimination of health hazards

All states have different laws that protect tenants’ rights.

Security Deposit Law

Security deposit law applied to both landlords and tenants.  Security deposit law ensures that the tenant adheres to their responsibilities in regard to caring for the property during their tenure, and also restricts the amount of deposit that a landlord can require.

Laws concerning security deposits vary from state to state, and apartment security deposits can differ from security deposits for rentals of houses or commercial property.  There can also be differences between short-term and long-term leases.  Whether you are a tenant concerned with a renter’s right to return of a security deposit, or a landlord concerned with the condition of your property and the tenants’ ability to pay for damages, it is best to consult with an attorney who knows the ins and outs of the security deposit law in your state.

Limits on Security Deposits

In most states, there is a limit on the amount of money that a landlord can require as a deposit.  Some states require one month of rent as the deposit on a rental agreement if that rental agreement is less than one year, but if the rental agreement is for more than one year than there might be no limit on the security deposit amount.  Before signing an agreement, it is best to make sure that the contract is an accordance with the laws of your state and that it provides you with the best protection available.

Security Deposits for Pets

In most instances and in most states the landlord is permitted to collect a separate deposit, in addition to the general deposit, if there are to be pet(s) living on the premises.  Pets often cause damage to the property, such as damage to the yard from digging, damage to wood from chewing, and carpet damage due to urination.  Because of this potential damage, the landlord may choose to have a “no pets” policy.  In instances where the tenant has a disability that requires an assistive animal, the landlord’s policy may be superseded by laws that permit the use of assistive animals in the household.  This may or may not have an effect on the renter’s security deposit.

Return of the Security Deposit

Security deposit law sets time limits for landlords to return the remainder of a security deposit to the tenant and to provide a statement of deductions from the deposit.  There are a lot of differences from state to state in regards to the return of a security deposit and an explanation of deductions, but most often the time frame is 14 – 60 days from the tenant’s move-out date.  As always, there are exceptions, such as how much and if the tenant gave notice, if the tenant abandoned the property (breach of contract), whether the landlord was provided with an accurate forwarding address, and more.  In some states, if the landlord fails to meet the deadline to return the remainder of the security deposit, they cannot deduct anything from that deposit.  Sometimes the remainder of the deposit can be applied to rent left unpaid by the tenant.

Damages VS. Normal Wear and Tear

Damages to the property can be deducted from the security deposit under security deposit law, however normal wear and tear cannot.  Occasionally, the tenant and the property owner or landlord have conflicting views on what counts as normal wear and tear, and these cases frequently end up in court.

Documentation and photos play a big part in determining the liability due to damages and they can be beneficial in the court of law.  Tenants should perform a walk-through and document any damages before they more in to prevent such preexisting damages from being deducted from their security deposit.  A walk-through after moving out will provide a comparison of what the property looked like when the tenant moved in compared to what it looked like when they moved out.  Such documentation can be beneficial to both the tenant and the landlord.

In cases where property is damaged beyond repair, it is common for the replacement cost to be prorated to reflect the useful life of the property.  The renter’s security deposit may be protected from having the full cost of replacement deducted.

It is normal wear and tear for a carpet to fade and be worn, but if the carpet is torn, burnt, or stained it is considered damaged.  Water damage can be either the responsibility of the landlord or of the tenant.  For example, if the tenant caused the plumbing to back up due to improper disposal of items, the tenant may be held responsible.  However, if there was a water leak and the landlord was informed but did not repair it, the landlord may be held responsible.

Security deposit law doesn’t specifically define the differences between damage versus normal wear and tear.  Common sense plays a big part in relationships between tenants and landlords and is often used in court cases.  For these reasons and more, it is advisable to speak with an experienced landlord-tenant attorney.

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