Landlord Best Practices: What You Need to Know to Avoid Legal Trouble With Tenants

Like any investment, owning a rental property (whether you own a second property or have converted a walk-in basement, for example) comes with costs. Although the initial purchase, conversion, or renovation will usually be the most expensive phase there will always be costs associated with maintaining that property.

Normal maintenance costs are to be expected but one thing you won’t want to hassle with is unexpected legal troubles. Most landlord-tenant legal disputes end in settlement or small claims court but either of those options will mean wasted time, wasted money, and extra stress for you as a property owner and/or landlord.

And most disputes are completely avoidable if you’ve covered your bases before asking the tenant to sign on the dotted line. While it is a good idea to use a qualified attorney to draft your lease agreements, you should be aware of a some of the most common and important legal aspects yourself.

Fair Housing

The federal Fair Housing Act of 1968, and the federal Fair Housing Act Amendments Act of 1988, prohibit discrimination on the basis of: race or color, religion, national origin, familial status or age (including families with children under the age of 18 and pregnant women), disability or handicap, and sex. In other words, it is illegal for you to profile or deny a prospective renter based on their belonging to any of these legally protected categories.

Most landlords have no trouble avoiding overt discrimination but you should be aware that more subtle actions can still land you in a sticky legal mess. Broadly referred to as “steering,” these actions include things like trying to convince a prospective tenant to look elsewhere even though your property’s features seem to fall within their search parameters or discouraging renters by exaggerating downsides to your property or failing to inform them about key upsides.

Likewise, something like suggesting that a prospective tenant might not feel comfortable in the neighborhood could lead to fair housing complaints.

For those with larger rental properties that include multiple units it is possible to be accused of steering even if you’ve agreed to rent a unit to the person in question. If a landlord rents to families with small children but only places those families in units on a certain floor then this might be deemed a form of steering because the landlord is imposing their own limits.

Although complaints about steering can be tough to legally penalize, particularly if it an isolated incident, it is still a situation you will want to avoid altogether.

Property Maintenance

As a property owner your rental spaces are obligated to meet certain habitability requirements. These requirements vary from state to state (and city to city in some cases) but generally include providing a structurally safe and sufficiently waterproofed premise with available heat, water, and electricity.

A landlord’s “right to enter” also varies from state to state – in Utah you have the right to enter your rental property to deal with an emergency or to make repairs, alterations, or improvements but you must obtain permission 24 hours in advance (unless the rental agreement specifies otherwise).

It’s important to be aware of the rights your tenant has in regards to repairs as well. If your tenant requests repairs to bring the property up to habitability requirements and you don’t make those repairs then they have several options such as withholding rent until the problem is fixed or making the repairs themselves and deducting the costs from the next month’s rent. In some cases they may be legally allowed to move out during the middle of a lease without the responsibility of paying any further rent.

Call J. Cutler Law Today

At J. Cutler Law, we offer free consultations for you and your business. We can draft and review landlord-tenant contracts to ensure you are entering into a fair and lawful agreement with your tenants. Call us today for a free consultation at (801) 618-4469 or contact us online.