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What are the main legal rights and obligations outlined for landlords and tenants of rental property?

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Jamie Wheeler eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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Landlord-Tenant laws are in place to govern the management of rental properties, and those regulations come from both contract and property laws. When someone occupies a property owned by someone else, the renter takes possession, but only temporarily, of that space. Rental properties include houses, apartments, and buildings.  How long a person can occupy the space, called “tenancy,” may be defined for a specific period of time, or it may an indefinite but renewable period of time. These short, undefined times are month-to-month leases. When a tenant takes temporary possession of a property, they have the right to restrict access to others.  The terms of landlord-tenant contract are commonly known as “rental agreements” or “leases.”

State law dictates what may, and may not be, included in a lease. There are some standards applicable to all leases; for example, the tenant is expected to enjoy a quiet enviorment without interference from the landloard. Another common element of the landlord-tenant agreement is that the landord maintain habitability of the premises; if the landlord fails to maintain habitable conditions for the renter, the renter may be able to legally withhold rent. In these cases, the renter may also make the repairs himself, and then deduct the cost of those repairs from his rent. He may also be able to recover damage if the landlord fails to maintain habitable conditions. State law also protects the tenant from retailiation by the landlord, who is not legally able to evict a tenant who has taken action to restore habitability. Federal law also bars discrimination of rental properties. 

At the end of a lease, the renter is required to either vacate the property or renew the lease.  The amount paid each month, the rent, is then often negotiated. Sometimes the rent is reduced, but more often, rents increase upon renewal.

The landlord is the person or persons who own a rental property. Larger properties, especially those with multiple holdings, are frequently controlled by real estate management companies. The real estate management companies often act as landlords for both private and corporate owners.

The tenant is the person who has agreed to occupy the property in exchange for rent to the landloard.  Tenants are typically required to make a security deposit to cover any damages incurred during the terms of their rental.  The security deposit should be returned to the tenant if they have kept the property in good stead.  If the tenant has roommates, each one is considered fully and individually responsible for the payment of the rent due to the landlord, although some leases may have exceptions or provisions. Only persons on the lease are considered tenants.  If there are more than two people living on a property, but only two of those people are on the lease, the other persons living there have no legal liability for the rent. 

A tenant can be legally evicted for violating terms of the rental agreements. Evicatable offenses include failure to pay rent, having unauthorized persons or pets on the property, and/or engaging in criminal activities while on the property.

Although there can be variances from state to state. Most agreements are in writing, but there are verbal agreements that are admissible as well. Here is a list of common, standard lease provisions:

  1. The names of the parties
  2. A description of the rental property
  3. The term, or length, of the lease
  4. The amount of rent
  5. The due date of the rent
  6. The amount of the security deposit
  7. Whether the tenant is subject to late fees
  8. Maintenance responsibilities
  9. Options to renew
  10. Termination notice requirements
  11. When the landlord may enter the rental property
  12. Rules concerning pets

SourceEncyclopedia of Everyday Law, ©2003 Gale Cengage. All Rights Reserved.

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Tamara K. H. eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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One main legal responsibility of a landlord, based on the US Tenant Act, is referred to as the duty to deliver possession. The landlord has the responsibility to deliver to the tenant possession of the property under lease at the beginning of the lease. If a tenant leases an apartment, the landlord has the responsibility of making sure the apartment is inhabitable and cleared of all previous renters, even taking legal action if needed.

A second legal obligation of landlords is the implied covenant of quiet enjoyment. It means that once property has been handed over through a lease, the landlord cannot interfere with the tenant's right to possess the property by, for example, forcing entry into the property. A landlord can only force entry in the event of an emergency if the emergency falls under the doctrine of imminent peril. The doctrine of imminent peril legally permits one to act upon instinct to save a life from hazard, but a small emergency task that a tenant could have done himself/herself would not count as falling under the doctrine of imminent peril.

The third legal responsibility of a landlord falls under the implied warranty of habitability and states that a landlord is legally obligated to provide a safe and healthy residence.

One right a tenant has is to defend himself/herself against actions for unpaid rent if the tenant can prove he/she can no longer remain on the premises under the lease, even though he/she was not evicted by the landlord.

A tenant also has the right to withhold paying the rent should the landlord fail to make repairs or keep the premises safe.

Finally, a tenant also has the right to report any landlord's violations of health and safety codes without the fear of eviction.

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