Landlord-tenant laws were created to serve as a blueprint for the interactions, rights, and obligations of both landlords and tenants. While each state’s laws will vary slightly, there are some general duties and services that every landlord must provide. Here are five basic obligations every landlord must follow regardless of the state where he or she owns rental property.*
A landlord’s duties under landlord-tenant law are typically broken down into five parts:
- Security Deposit
- Disclosure of Owner
- Delivering Possession of the Unit
Obligation to Manage Security Deposit or Prepaid Rent
The first obligation of every landlord has to do with a tenant's security deposit. Every landlord has the right to charge their tenants a security deposit even though this deposit never actually belongs to the landlord. Instead, this deposit is a form of security for the landlord in case the tenant fails to pay rent, damages the property or otherwise breaches the lease agreement.
Landlords have an obligation to follow the statewide and local laws regarding the security deposit. For instance, certain states set limits on the maximum amount of security a landlord can charge a tenant for a deposit. There are also specific rules for storing the security deposit, returning the security deposit and what to do with the security deposit if you sell your property. Landlords are obligated to follow these laws or they can face legal consequences for failing to do so.
Obligation to Disclose Owner
The second obligation every landlord has is to disclose to their tenants certain information about the owner of the property. This responsibility lies with the person who has signed the lease agreement with the tenant, whether it be the building’s owner, the landlord, or another individual who is acting as the landlord’s agent.
What to Disclose
The names and addresses of the individual or individuals with the power to manage the building, collect rent, make repairs, address complaints or issue notices.
How to Disclose It
This disclosure should usually be made in writing and should occur before the actual tenancy begins. If any changes occur during a tenant’s tenancy, the tenant must be notified of the change.
Why This Disclosure Is Important
The purpose of this obligation is to ensure that the tenant knows the correct contact person for various activities such as rent collection and maintenance requests, as well as for any legal issues that may arise.
If this disclosure of owner is not made to the tenant, the person collecting the rent becomes the go-to person for handling all matters related to the property.
Obligation to Deliver Possession of Unit
The third obligation for landlords under the landlord-tenant law is to deliver possession of the unit to the tenant. This means having the unit vacant for the tenant on the move-in date that was specified in the lease agreement. If the unit is not available for the tenant on the specified move-in date, the tenant may be able to pursue legal action against the landlord for failure to honor the lease agreement.
In addition, if there is a squatter in the unit or another individual who does not have the legal right to be there, the landlord may pursue legal action against this individual. The landlord could be awarded damages.
Obligation to Maintain the Unit
A landlord has the responsibility to his or her tenants to maintain the property. This includes keeping the property clean, safe and habitable. The landlord must adhere to all building codes, perform necessary repairs, maintain common areas, keep all vital services, such as plumbing, electricity, and heat, in good working order, must provide proper trash receptacles and must supply running water.
Obligations Subject to Limitation of Liability
A landlord is liable for following the obligations set forth under landlord-tenant law. This includes adhering to the terms of the lease agreement.
In many states, a landlord is relieved of this liability once they sell the property and notify the tenant in writing that the property is under new ownership or management. The new owner then becomes liable for adhering to the terms of the lease agreement and for following the landlord-tenant law in the state.
The landlord who collected the security deposit is still responsible for the tenant’s security deposit. The landlord usually has two options:
- Transfer the deposit to the new owner minus any allowable deductions and notify the tenant in writing that the new owner is in possession of the security deposit. The original landlord will then be relieved of any further liability.
- Return the deposit to the tenant minus any allowable deductions.
*Be sure to check your state and local landlord-tenant laws to discover additional or different obligations that may apply in your area.