Rental Housing

Landlord-tenant Law: An Overview

After entering into a lease for an apartment or rental property, any number of things could go “wrong,” such as a discovery that the property is unsafe for habitation, or the failure to pay rent when it is due. Sometimes real estate issues are resolved without the involvement of judges or lawyers. In other situations, the disputes and consequences surrounding the rental of property necessitate legal assistance and resolution. At those times, the help of an experienced and effective real estate lawyer, like those at the Harris Law Office, becomes a key component to protecting your financial and personal rights, whether you are a landlord or tenant. If you are involved in a real estate dispute, call G. Thomas Harris today.

The laws surrounding rental transactions

When a person signs their name on a lease, they are effectively entering into a contract which binds them, and the other party, to certain obligations and affords certain rights. Even before that time, laws are in effect which limit the real estate rental process.

For example, if an individual is working with a rental services agency or real estate agent, there are laws that govern the agent/client relationship and how much compensation the agent can charge. Other laws mandate what information must be disclosed to potential tenants about a property, what limitations may be placed on a rental, and numerous other things.

Certain federal laws, such as the Fair Housing Act, bind people across the country no matter where they live. The Fair Housing Act places strict limits on the manner in which, and to whom, a landlord or owner may rent a property. Other laws affecting the obligations of a landlord to maintain a property or return a security deposit are state-specific. While different states may have similar laws, the requirements vary from state to state.

Rental agreements and leases: what’s the difference?

Many potential tenants do not realize that there is a legal difference between a rental agreement and a lease. In short, a rental agreement is a document that provides for a short period of tenancy (often one month). The tenancy agreement is automatically renewed at the end of the period unless the tenant or the landlord provides written notice to the other party that it will not be renewed. This is called a “month-to-month” rental. In addition to opting not to renew a rental agreement, a landlord may also change the terms of the agreement after providing notice to the tenant. This right is subject to certain limitations, such as rent control laws and potentially other laws depending upon the state in which the property is located.

A lease, on the other hand, usually binds the parties to a longer period of time, such as six months or a year. The lease is considered valid over that period as long as the tenant continues to pay rent and abides by the other requirements of the lease. Leases are generally not automatically renewed at their expiration and instead require the parties to sign a new lease or renegotiate the lease for the next term or period of time.

When something goes wrong

Laws protect the rights of landlords and tenants in the event that something goes wrong. For example, if a tenant fails to pay rent when it is due or consistently has loud parties resulting in property damage, a landlord may have a right to evict the tenant and retain the security deposit. A tenant may have a right to break a lease and move from a rental property if a landlord fails to make necessary repairs or to maintain the property in a habitable condition. For the most part, the rights and responsibilities of landlords and tenants are determined by state law, not the federal law. For that reason, the ramifications and the remedies can be very different from state to state.

Speak to a landlord-tenant lawyer

Whether you are a landlord or tenant, the right lawyer can help you understand your legal rights and obligations when you are involved in a real estate rental. Contact us to see if we can help in your specific situation.