Landlord's Legal Kit For Dummies book cover

Landlord's Legal Kit For Dummies

By: Robert S. Griswold and Laurence Harmon Published: 07-01-2014

The landlord's essential guide to residential rental law

Landlord's Legal Kit For Dummies is a comprehensive guide to the laws and legalities of renting property. This one-stop legal reference provides both guidance and the correct forms that help landlords avoid tenant issues, which could lead to legal ramifications. From screening potential tenants to handling your own insurance and taxes, you'll find expert insight in this easy-to-read style that simplifies complex legal matters into understandable terms. The book includes access to all the needed legal forms in both English and Spanish, and contains current information about applicable codes, ordinances, and policies across the country.

Landlords have a responsibility to provide a safe, fully operational home for their tenants, and oversights can result in major court settlements. As a landlord, you need to know what the law requires of you. You also need to understand your rights, and the actions available to you when the tenant is in the wrong. This resource brings you up to speed, with the most current information about residential rental property law. The book covers privacy rights, domicile laws, paperwork, and more.

  • Features up-to-date lease forms and contracts available for download online
  • Provides information about applicant screening questionnaires and anti-discrimination policies
  • Includes state and local building codes, health ordinances, and landlord-tenant laws
  • Instructs you how to handle breach of lease situations and evictions

There's even guidance on hiring a lawyer to protect your assets, property, and rights. Ignorance of the law is no excuse in court, and it frequently leads to misunderstandings that can hurt your wallet and your reputation. Before you lease another property, get all your ducks in a row with the essential instruction and tools in Landlord's Legal Kit For Dummies.

Articles From Landlord's Legal Kit For Dummies

page 1
page 2
page 3
page 4
page 5
page 6
page 7
page 8
71 results
71 results
Landlord's Legal Kit For Dummies Cheat Sheet

Cheat Sheet / Updated 03-27-2016

Being a landlord certainly sounds easy. All you have to do is line up responsible residents, maintain the property, and count your money as the rent rolls in, right? Actually, no. Owning and leasing residential real estate requires that you comply with a host of federal, state, and local laws. Certain residents may complicate your life by taking legal action against you or forcing you to take legal action against them. This snapshot explains some important landlord legalities and helps you avoid the most common legal pitfalls of owning and leasing residential rental property.

View Cheat Sheet
10 Laws All Landlords Need to Know

Article / Updated 03-26-2016

Dozens of federal, state, and local laws govern the residential rental industry and the landlord-resident relationship. All of these laws are important. The following calls to your attention ten important laws for you to know and follow when you're a landlord. The Fair Housing Act The Fair Housing Act prohibits you from discriminating against applicants or residents based on any of the seven protected classes: Race Color Sex National origin Religion Handicap Family status The Fair Housing Act establishes only the minimum protections. States and localities may set additional protected classes, such as source of income — whether a person's income is from a job, alimony, child support, unemployment, welfare, disability payments, and so on. The Fair Credit Reporting Act According to the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), you may use credit reports to evaluate rental applications. However, if you deny housing to an applicant based on information contained in the credit report, you must provide the applicant with an adverse action notice that includes the following information: The name, address, and telephone number of the credit-reporting agency (CRA) that supplied the credit report, including a toll-free telephone number for CRAs that maintain files nationwide A statement that the CRA that supplied the report didn't make the decision to take the adverse action and can't give the specific reasons for it A notice of the applicant's right to dispute the accuracy or completeness of any information provided in the credit report, and the applicant's right to a free report from the CRA upon request within 60 days The FCRA also comes into play if you want to report the nonpayment of rent to one or more CRAs. If you report a resident for nonpayment of rent and the resident cures the debt, you're legally obligated to update the resident's credit report to indicate that the debt has been cured. The implied warranty of habitability The implied warranty of habitability requires that landlords provide residents with living space that's fit for human occupancy. To be habitable, living space must have heat when it's cold, running water, a sufficient amount of hot water, plumbing and electricity that function properly, and so on. Landlords must also maintain clean and sanitary buildings and grounds — free of debris, filth, rubbish, garbage, rodents, and vermin. If a rental unit is uninhabitable, residents have the right to withhold rent until the necessary repairs are made or, in more serious situations, terminate the lease. Although your residents are responsible for repairing anything they or their guests break, you're required to perform any repairs required to maintain fit and habitable living conditions, and you must complete the repairs in a reasonable period of time. The mutual covenant of quiet enjoyment Implied in every lease and rental agreement is the mutual covenant of quiet enjoyment, which grants all residents the right to the undisturbed use and enjoyment of the rental property. This covenant applies to you, as landlord, in two ways: You're not allowed to enter a resident's unit whenever you want. You can enter in an emergency that threatens life or property, when you ask and the resident gives you permission, and to perform necessary inspections or repairs or show the unit to prospective renters or buyers (only after giving the resident sufficient notice). You need to reasonably investigate complaints and potentially take action against any resident who's disturbing his neighbors. Your state's security deposit rules Every state has a security deposit statute that typically specifies the following: How the security deposit is to be held — usually in an interest-bearing account in an in-state bank What the security deposit may be used for — usually to cover unpaid rent, damage beyond ordinary wear and tear, and cleaning to make the unit as clean as it was when the resident moved in and sometimes to repair or replace the landlord's personal property in the unit if that use is mentioned in the lease When the unused portion of the security deposit must be returned to the resident That the landlord provide an itemized invoice of any money deducted from the security deposit Disputes over security deposits are common and frequently lead to the resident taking legal action against the landlord. To protect yourself, comply with your state statute, and take the following precautions as good business practices, even if it isn't required under the applicable statute: Have a separate interest-bearing account for holding security deposits. Complete a move-in/move-out checklist to document the condition of the property at the beginning and end of a resident's stay. Take photos or video of the property to create a visual record of the property's condition at the beginning and end of a resident's stay. Keep receipts for all repairs and cleaning required to prepare the unit for the next resident, even though you're permitted to charge the resident only for damage beyond ordinary wear and tear, and cleaning to make the unit as clean as it was when the resident moved in. Return the unused portion of the security deposit to the resident as soon as possible as required by state law. Along with the unused portion of the security deposit, include an itemized list of all costs deducted from the security deposit. The Residential Lead-Based Paint Hazard Reduction Act The Residential Lead-Based Paint Hazard Reduction Act, in part, requires that landlords inform residents of the hazards posed by lead-based paint. If your rental property was built prior to 1978 (the year the EPA banned lead paint) you're required by law to do the following: Disclose all known lead-based paint and lead-based paint hazards and any available reports on lead in the property. Give renters the EPA pamphlets "Protect Your Family From Lead in Your Home" and "The Lead-Safe Certified Guide to Renovate Right." Include certain warning language in the lease as well as signed statements from all parties verifying that all requirements were completed. Retain signed acknowledgments for three years, as proof of compliance. Housing that is exempt from this rule include the following: Units that have no bedrooms, such as lofts, efficiencies, and studio apartments Short-term rentals of fewer than 100 days Housing designated for the elderly or the handicapped unless children live or are expected to live there Property that's been inspected by a certified inspector and found to be free of lead-based paint State-required disclosures In addition to the federal lead-based paint disclosure, many states require that landlords disclose one or more of the following: Environmental hazards, including periodic pest control and herbicide treatments, toxic mold, asbestos, radon gas, bedbug infestation, and methamphetamine contamination Recent flooding or location in a flood zone Security deposit policies and procedures Nonrefundable fees, such as a pet fee, where such fees are allowed Smoke detector location and maintenance requirements Nearby military ordinance, such as a US Army base Smoking policy Landlord's or property manager's name and contact information Any shared utility arrangement Your state's Landlord Tenant Act Nearly every state has a version of the Landlord Tenant Act, which defines the rights and obligations of the landlord and the tenant (also known as the resident), legal remedies for breach of contract, possible defenses to legal actions, and much more. To find your state's landlord tenant act, search the web for your state's name followed by "landlord tenant act" and click one of the links that looks promising. If that doesn't work, track down your state's official website, and search that site specifically for something like "landlord tenant" or "residential rental laws." Eviction rules and procedures If you need to evict a resident, turning off electricity, gas, and water to the unit to compel the resident to leave is illegal. You must follow your state's eviction rules and procedures, which typically require that you perform the following steps: Check your state's landlord tenant act to find out whether you have legal grounds to evict the resident. Give the resident reasonable notice of your intent to file for eviction, including the reason you intend to do so and, if required by state law, the time the resident has to address the issues. Wait until the morning after the deadline specified in your notice, and then file for an eviction hearing at your county's courthouse. Assuming you prevail in court, wait until the day after the court's deadline for the resident to move out, and if the resident hasn't moved out yet, call the sheriff to evict the resident. Failure to follow your state's eviction process could result in your losing your case. The resident may end up living in the property for some time, perhaps without paying rent. In addition, the resident may be able to file a legal claim against you in civil court and force you to pay damages, legal fees, and penalties. Mitigation of damages When a resident breaches a lease, for example by moving out three months into a one-year lease, the resident is obligated by the contract to continue to pay rent. However, you can't just let the unit remain vacant for nine months. You're legally obligated to take steps to mitigate (lessen) the resident's losses. In this example, ways to mitigate the damages include: Accepting a replacement the resident recommended to rent the unit for the months remaining on the lease, assuming the recommended replacement qualifies Advertising the unit to find a new resident, screening applicants, showing the unit to qualified applicants, and so on Gather evidence of your attempts to re-rent the property, such as advertisements, records of applicants you screened, and dates on which you showed the property to qualified applicants.

View Article
Dealing with Cotenants, Sublets, and Assignments

Article / Updated 03-26-2016

Residents often need or want to take on a new roommate, sublet the rental unit, or assign their rental contract to someone else. To deal with these types of situations, consider this advice when you’re a landlord: Require that all prospective roommates be screened and added to the rental contract. Prohibit residents from subletting their rental units. When a resident sublets, the new resident has no legal obligations to you under the contract. Prohibit residents from assigning their rental contracts without your written consent and only on condition that the assignee be screened and approved by you. Except for children and other dependents, everyone living in one of your rental units should be screened and approved and required to sign the rental contract.

View Article
Establishing Security Deposit Policies and Procedures

Article / Updated 03-26-2016

One of the most common sources of landlord-resident disputes is the return of security deposits. To prevent confusion and disagreements, make sure you establish security deposit policies and procedures that address the following: Amount: Usually no more than the equivalent of one- or two-month's rent. Some states and municipalities have specific limits. Due date: Usually due at the signing of the rental contract. Allowed uses: State and local laws usually allow landlords to use security deposits only to cover unpaid rent, damages to the unit beyond ordinary wear and tear, cleaning expenses (only to make the unit as clean as it was when the resident moved in), and to restore or replace damaged or missing property, including keys and appliances furnished with the unit. Where the deposit will be held: Even in states when it is not required, deposit all security deposits in a separate interest-bearing account and pass along any interest earned to the resident when you return any unused portion of the deposit. Return of the unused portion: Check on the required maximum number of days you're allowed to hold any unused portion of the security deposit before returning it to the former resident, and return it earlier if possible. The security deposit is the resident's money. Don't treat it as another source of income, because doing so may get you into legal trouble and tarnish your reputation as a fair landlord.

View Article
Meeting Your Landlord Legal Obligations

Article / Updated 03-26-2016

As a landlord, you have certain legal and ethical obligations to your residents that are rarely spelled out in the rental contract, including the following: Maintain habitable living conditions. According to the implied warranty of habitability, you must provide residents with dwellings that are fit for human occupancy. Address safety issues. Comply with all local building, fire safety, and pool and hot-tub safety codes; provide sufficient exterior lighting; maintain walkways, stairwells, and railings; secure any construction sites; enforce pet policies; and address safety issues within rental units by using safety glass, ground fault protection outlets, and safe-cord window coverings, where necessary. Disclose and address environmental hazards. Let residents know about any potential environmental hazards, including lead paint, toxic mold, carbon monoxide, asbestos, and methamphetamine contamination, and take any steps necessary to mitigate risks. Protect residents from criminal activity. Enforce your policies consistently and work with local law enforcement to minimize crime in your facility. Honor the resident's right to quiet enjoyment. Enter a resident's premises only in an emergency or after giving 48 hours' advanced notice to perform essential inspections or repairs or to show the unit to a prospective renter or buyer.

View Article
Screening Applicants

Article / Updated 03-26-2016

Careful screening can help you avoid legal issues, because you have less need to take legal action against good residents, and they're less likely to file legal claims against you. To screen applicants, take the following steps: Have the person complete and submit an application. Order a credit and background report for the prospective resident. Contact the applicant's employer to verify the applicant's employment or check other sources of income. Check recent paystubs, W-2s and 1099s, the previous year's tax return, and a recent bank statement. Contact the applicant's personal references and ask questions about the person's character and reliability. Contact any landlords the applicant rented from in the past and ask about payment history, the condition the applicant left the property in, and whether the applicant caused problems with her neighbors. Interview the applicant in person. When screening prospective renters, you must comply with fair housing laws, so certain questions are off limits. You can gather information about a prospect's employment status, income, credit history, housing history, and criminal past, but you're prohibited from asking an applicant whether she has children, what country she's from, which church she attends, and so forth.

View Article
Important Criteria for Screening Tenants When You're a Landlord

Article / Updated 03-26-2016

When you're a landlord, the seven protected classes that you should never use to discriminate against or in favor of people who are applying to rent from you are as follows: Race Color National origin Religion Sex Familial status Handicap Your state may extend protection to additional protected classes. However, you don't want to rent to just anybody. You need to screen out anyone who's unlikely to pay rent on time, care for the premises, or get along with his neighbors. To weed out potentially bad renters legally, use the criteria presented in the following sections. Interview/visit First impressions provide insight into a person's character. When a prospective renter visits and tours your property, look for the following positive signs: Nice, clean car Well groomed/dressed Good attitude Mannerly Well organized Of course, you may need to adjust your standards depending on the market. A hard-working person who drives a jalopy and shows up in work clothes may be the ideal candidate. Application A rental application can tell you a great deal about an applicant. Make sure the application meets the following standards: Complete: An incomplete application indicates that the applicant probably has something to hide. Legible: If the person didn't care enough to present an application that's legible, you have to question how well they'll take care of the property plus you may not be able to timely or properly screen the applicant if you can't read the application. Accurate: You probably can't tell from just looking at an application that it's accurate; you'll find this out when you verify employment and other details. Copy of government-issued photo ID provided: A valid ID helps ensure that you're dealing with the person you think you're dealing with. Rental or mortgage history Most applicants, unless they're moving out of their childhood home for the first time, have a rental or mortgage history, which should meet the following standards: Current, reflecting the most recent six months or longer Positive recommendations from current and previous landlords No serious rental contract violations, especially none resulting in an eviction No history of missed mortgage payments (for renter who previously owned a home) If the resident has no rental or mortgage history, you may want to require a co-signer and/or higher security deposit. Also consider putting the applicant on a month-to-month lease for the first six months, so you can more easily terminate the contract if the person doesn't work out. References The applicant should provide at least three references — one from a previous landlord, one from the current or a previous employer (if any), and one personal reference. Check references by making phone calls and asking questions about the applicant. Ask the reference whether she feels the applicant is trustworthy and is likely to pay the rent on time, take good care of the rental unit, and get along with the neighbors. Employment/income Every applicant should have a source of income that's sufficient to cover the rent and other living expenses. Consider setting the following criteria for employment and other income: At least six consecutive months of employment (unless relying on nonemployment income or assets) Gross monthly income of at least three times the monthly rent Verifiable by employer, pay stubs, tax returns, or bank statements Credit history For consideration, the applicant must agree to allow you to perform a credit check. The applicant's credit history should comply with your standards set for: Payment history Reasonable amount of debt, if any Housing provider or utility accounts in collection No active or recent bankruptcy Past behavior is the best indicator of future behavior. If a person has had trouble paying bills in the past, she's likely to have trouble paying the rent. Criminal history Perform a criminal background check in all 50 states for every applicant. Although you may be open to approving applicants who've been convicted of petty crimes, consider rejecting any applicant who's been convicted or pled guilty or entered a no-contest plea for any of the following crimes: Sex offenses, especially child molestation Assault, battery, intimidation Drug dealing, trafficking, or possession Illegal possession or use of a weapon Theft Prostitution Human trafficking Don't ask whether a person has been arrested, because rejecting an applicant for an arrest that didn't result in a criminal conviction could be deemed illegal discrimination. In addition, your state may not allow you to reject an applicant for any crime — the crime must be one that indicates the person would pose a threat to other residents or their property.

View Article
Complying with Your Landlord's Duty to Repair

Article / Updated 03-26-2016

Every residential rental contract, whether it's a lease or a month-to-month rental contract, contains an implied warranty of habitability. In other words, even if not included in the contract, you, the landlord, are obligated to your residents to provide living space that's fit for human occupancy and complies with state and local building, health, and safety codes that materially (significantly) affect a tenant's health and safety. Although residents are responsible for some repairs, especially if they break something, you're responsible for repairing any problems that make the rental unit uninhabitable — unfit to live in. The implied warranty of habitability obligates you, as landlord, to provide the following: Windows and doors in working condition Floors, stairways, and railings in good repair Effective weather protection and waterproofing of roof and exterior walls Plumbing in good working order, including running water, a sufficient amount of hot water, and sewage disposal Electrical system in good working order, including wiring, outlets, lighting, and equipment Gas in good working order, if applicable Heating, in areas where heating is required Clean and sanitary buildings, grounds, and other areas Adequate trash receptacles At least one working toilet, sink, and bathtub or shower — bathtub or shower must allow privacy and be ventilated A kitchen with a sink made of non-absorbent material (not wood, for example) Emergency fire exits Deadbolt lock and peephole on entry door(s) to unit Working smoke detectors Locking mailbox Ground fault circuit interrupters for outlets near water, such as in bathroom and kitchen and near pool and sauna Establish a maintenance and repair policy and system for responding quickly to resident requests for maintenance. Respond as quickly as possible to requests for repairs to problems that make a unit uninhabitable, such as a broken furnace on a very cold day, a smoke detector that doesn't work, or a sink that's backing up.

View Article
Retaining Good Residents When You're a Landlord

Article / Updated 03-26-2016

Keeping good residents — those who pay their rent on time, take care of the property, and get along with their neighbors — is important as a landlord because the key to financial success in investing in real estate is stable, long-term tenants that stay and pay and don't bother their neighbors. To plug that gap, here are a few suggestions on how to improve retention of good residents: Hire nice people. The most important consideration in selecting new hires is to find the nicest people you can and put them to work at the frontline of your company. Frontline employees, such as your onsite manager, leasing agents, and maintenance personnel, have the most frequent — and often most unpleasant — interactions with residents, so you want the nicest people working up-front. Empower your staff. Let your employees know that one of their most important responsibilities is to let your residents win. They need the authority to solve their customers' problems on the spot. Equally important, they need to know that the organization will uphold their decisions and provide any assistance they need. Be complaint-friendly. Encourage residents to notify you of any problems they're having and be receptive and responsive when residents submit complaints or maintenance requests. Don't get defensive or consider a complaint petty; if a resident communicates a problem, then it's significant to that resident. Respond quickly to maintenance and repair requests. Customers expect expeditious service and are increasingly willing to pay extra for it, with both money and loyalty. What may seem minor to you, such as a leaky faucet or a clogged drain, may be a major annoyance or inconvenience to a resident. Fix even minor problems quickly. (Respond to issues regarding heating, cooling, electricity, gas, and water within three to four hours, if at all possible.) Make up for the hassle factor. When residents experience a problem with their unit, they expect that the situation will be resolved promptly to their satisfaction. They also deserve an additional benefit, something unexpected, to make amends for the annoyance. Recognize and recover from service deficiencies. Look for gaps in services, and plug those gaps. To identify areas for improvement, keep an eye on your competition and listen to your residents when they communicate their needs. Improve your customer ergonomics. Streamline procedures, so residents don't have to jump through hoops to have their needs met. With the electronic technology available these days, take advantage of the opportunity for immediate response. And an added benefit is that you then have written documentation of your interaction. Underpromise, overdeliver. A frequent complaint of retail customers is that their suppliers have promised things they either couldn't deliver or didn't intend to deliver. The overpromise, underdeliver syndrome is prevalent in the real estate industry. Thin the rulebook. It's human nature to overregulate the behavior of others. Decide which rules are absolutely essential to protecting human safety and the apartment community. Keep the essential rules, and get rid of everything else. Wow your residents. Dazzle residents with an occasional, unexpected perk that you've scrupulously planned to delight them. Personally wash their cars some spring Saturday. Serve them coffee, juice, and rolls in the parking lot at 7 a.m. Throw an impromptu Memorial Day opening-the-pool party. Whatever it is, let your residents know that you love them!

View Article
Brushing Up on Fair Housing Laws

Article / Updated 03-26-2016

The federal Fair Housing Act prohibits you, as landlord, from discriminating against or giving preferential treatment to people based on a protected class — a characteristic that can't be used to discriminate against or in favor of an individual or group. The Fair Housing Act specifies the following seven protected classes: Race: Ethnicities or cultures, including African American, Caucasian, Hispanic, and Asian. Some interpretations may include designations that would seem to belong to other protected classes, such as Polish or Jewish. Religion: System of belief, such as Christian, Muslim, Wiccan, or atheist. National origin: The country or area a person was born in, such as Canada, Mexico, the Middle East, Nigeria, and even the United States. Sex: Physical sex — male or female. Sexual harassment is recognized to be an element of sex discrimination. Color: Skin color or shade, which may seem to be the same thing as race, but whether or not someone knows another person's race, they may discriminate based on lightness or darkness of skin. Handicap: Physical or mental handicaps or disabilities, including hearing and visual impairments, chronic alcoholism, HIV/AIDS, depression, hoarding, allergies, and more. Familial status: Whether a household includes minors. Pregnancy is also protected. An exception does apply to bona fide senior housing. State and local laws may extend protection to additional classes, including age, marital status, income source, and sexual orientation.

View Article
page 1
page 2
page 3
page 4
page 5
page 6
page 7
page 8