About Landlord – Tenant Law

Landlord-tenant law includes the rights and obligations of both the landlord and their tenant have with regard to the rental of property.

Both the landlord and the tenant are required to be aware of the basics of renting a property, how to collect or pay relevant security deposits and the basics of state and federal laws regarding commercial leasing or fair housing.

Following are some of the issues that arise in Landlord Tenant Law

The landlord-tenant relationship is outlined in the lease agreement, which protects both the landlord and their tenants’ rights.

Most states also recognize lease agreements made orally, but only for a period of one year or less.

A typical lease agreement includes the following information:

  • The names of the parties involved (landlord and tenants)
  • Address and description of the rental property
  • Rent payment and date by which it must be paid each month
  • Amount of the security deposit
  • Whether pets are allowed
  • Other stipulations such as whether a tenant may or may not smoke in the rented property.

Sometimes, sections of a lease agreement could be deemed illegal.

New tenants should always check their local laws if in doubt, but generally, landlords may not include any of the following terms:

  • Discriminatory exclusion of tenants (excluding a tenant based on gender, religion, race, etc.)
  • Waiver of right to sue landlord (telling a tenant they cannot bring a lawsuit against their landlord)
  • Waiver of right to receive a refund of the security deposit (minus repairs and cleaning costs)
  • A short-term lease agreement — a lease agreement for 30-day short-term rentals — is often referred to as “rental agreement.” Lease agreements are typically for a year or more.

Security Deposits

Most landlords require tenants to pay security deposits before moving in.

Security deposits are limited under most state laws. For instance in California the law limits deposits to two months’ rent (or three months if furnished).

Laws in many states also dictate how soon a landlord must return a tenant’s deposit after vacating a property, usually 30 days or so. In addition to cleaning and repairs, the landlord may deduct any unpaid rent from the deposit. However, the landlord can’t deduct for what may be considered normal wear and tear. Many states require landlords to provide a detailed list of damages and repairs, as well as a detailed list of the cost of repairs or cleaning.

Landlord Rights

Landlords also have certain legal rights, mainly related to the protection of their income investment.

A landlord may require a monthly payment of rent and the payment of other items specified in the lease agreement, such as utility bills.

Landlords also have the right to evict tenants, but it must be for cause (such as nonpayment of rent).

Tenant Rights

The Fair Housing Act protects tenants from civil rights violations, including housing discrimination based on race, color, religion, national origin, gender, age, familial status (although this is waived for some retirement communities), and disability.

Some states’ landlord-tenant laws also offer anti-discrimination protections on the basis of LGBT identity and marital status. 

And if you have a helper animal, such as a seeing-eye dog, a landlord may not refuse to rent to you solely because of a “no pets” policy.

Other rights also include:

  • The right to quiet enjoyment (living undisturbed)
  • The right to livable conditions
  • The right to a home free of lead poisoning 
  • A certain level of privacy in the rental property (e.g., a landlord may not enter your home unannounced)

What does a Landlord Tenant Lawyer Do?

In short, lawyers who work in Landlord Tenant law negotiate contracts and broker disputes between parties concerning the rental of a property or properties

Here are some of the issues that may arise in a landlord / tenant relationship

  • Evictions and unlawful detainers
  • Discrimination against tenants by landlords
  • Rent control
  • Lease abandonment
  • Abandoned tenant property
  • Known criminal activity occurring in a rental
  • Subletting
  • Ending a residential lease early
  • Dealing with neighbor issues
  • Drafting a lease agreement
  • Required disclosures landlords must make to tenants
  • Ensuring a safe environment is provided by landlords to tenants
  • Landlord responsibility to repair things broken in a rental
  • Roommate problems
  • Security deposits
  • Renter’s right to privacy
  • Oral leases
  • Dealing with a difficult landlord
  • Dealing with a difficult tenant

Skills necessary for a landlord-tenant lawyer include:

  • Excellent interpersonal communications skills, both orally and in writing
  • Drafting lease agreements and contracts
  • Negotiation skills
  • Ensuring landlord compliance with laws and regulations
  • Ensuring tenant compliance with laws and regulations

Landlord – Tenant Cases

Vermont Teddy Bear Co. v. 538 Madison Realty Co.

In this case the court takes this idea to the next step, holding that it does not matter what the parties meant to say or what they should have said. When it comes to a lease, the parties will be bound by the clear meaning of the words actually employed… Click to see more

Alexander v. Riga 

A federal court jury in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania found that the defendants had discriminated against an African American couple by lying about the availability of a rental unit. However, the jury declined to award the couple any compensatory damages, even a nominal amount. The judge then refused to let the jury consider whether to grant punitive damages… Click to see more

Avalon Residential Care, Homes, Inc. v. City of Dallas

On November 9, 2000, the United States filed an amicus brief that opposed the legal arguments made by the City of Dallas in its motion for summary judgment. The United States argued that the City violated the Fair Housing Act by improperly denying a reasonable accommodation when it refused to grant the plaintiff a variance to the City’s 1000 foot spacing requirement and six person occupancy limit for group homes serving persons with disabilities… Click to see more

Fuentes v. Shevin (1972)

We here review the decisions of two three-judge federal District Courts that upheld the constitutionality of Florida and Pennsylvania laws authorizing the summary seizure of goods or chattels in a person’s possession under a writ of replevin. Both statutes provide for the issuance of writs ordering state agents to seize a person’s possessions, simply upon the ex parte application of any other person who claims a right to them and posts a security bond… Click to see more

Jordan v. Fox (1994)

These three appeals all arise out of a dispute over a commercial lease (“Lease”) between Arnold T. and Myron J. Berman t/a H.P. Realty (“Bermans” or “Landlord”), commercial landlords who rent office space in Philadelphia, and one of their tenants, Jordan Mitchell, Inc. (sometimes the “Tenant”), an architectural firm. In the course of that dispute, the Bermans’ attorneys invoked a confession of judgment clause in a form lease executed by the Tenant’s predecessor causing the Prothonotary of the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas to enter judgment against the Tenant for rents the Bermans claim Jordan Mitchell, Inc. owes… Click to see more

Lindsey v. Normet (1970)

This class action was brought to enjoin the enforcement in state courts of Oregon’s Forcible Entry and Wrongful Detainer Law (ORS 105.105 to 105.160). Because plaintiffs assert unconstitutionality and demand an injunction, a three-judge court was convened under 28 U.S.C. § 2281… Click to see more

Wong Sun Et Al v. United States (1963)

The petitioners were tried without a jury in the District Court for the Northern District of California under a two-count indictment for violation of the Federal Narcotics Laws, 21 U. S. C. § 174.1 They were acquitted under the first count which charged a conspiracy, but convicted under the second count which charged the substantive offense of fraudulent and knowing transportation and concealment of illegally imported heroin… Click to see more

Memphis Light v. Craft Et Al. (1978)

This is an action brought under 42 U. S. C. § 1983 by homeowners in Memphis, Tenn., seeking declaratory and injunctive relief and damages against a municipal utility and several of its officers and employees for termination of utility service allegedly without due process of law. The District Court determined that respondents’ claim of entitlement to continued utility service did not implicate a “property” interest protected by the Fourteenth Amendment, and that, in any event, the utility’s termination procedures comported with due process… Click to see more

Landlord – Tenant Case Summaries

Landlord - Tenant Law Stories

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