A landlord expects a tenant to pay the rent on time, take care of the home, and honor the terms and conditions of the lease agreement. But landlords have responsibilities as well, to both the tenant and the local and federal governments.
Here’s a general look at some of the basic landlord responsibilities rental property owners have, including an in-depth look at the implied warranty of habitability.
- Landlord responsibilities generally fall into one of five categories: legal, security deposits, maintenance, tenant rights, and financial.
- Legal responsibilities of a landlord include complying with the laws, including the Fair Housing Act and Fair Credit Reporting Act.
- Tenant rights include receiving adequate notice from a landlord before entering the property and proper handling of the tenant security deposit.
- Implied warranty of habitability means that landlords must provide tenants with a safe and habitable rental home.
What are the basic responsibilities of a landlord?
Landlord-tenant laws for the state a rental property is located in outline the general obligations that a landlord and tenant have to one another and to the community at large.
The legal resource website Nolo.com publishes a chart with state landlord-tenant laws along with specific rules, such as security deposit amount limits and deadlines for return, and how much notice a landlord must give a tenant before entering the property.
While the rules and laws are different for each state, the basic responsibilities of a landlord generally fall into the following categories:
The legal responsibilities of a landlord include complying with laws, including the Fair Housing Act and Fair Credit Reporting Act. As this article from the United States Department of Justice explains, the Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination by landlords to persons because of:
- Race or color
- National origin
- Familial status
Some states and municipalities also expand the list of protected classes based on items such as source of income discrimination, marital status, political beliefs, and sexual orientation.
The Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) requires landlords to obtain the consent of an applicant before running a background check, and to obtain permission before calling a prospective tenant’s employer or former landlords. Information gathered as part of the tenant screening process must be kept confidential and stored in a secure environment.
Landlords may use an online tenant screening service such as MySmartMove or RentPrep to help avoid violating the Fair Housing Act and FCRA. Online tenant applications and the tenant screening process are designed to comply with the rule and spirit of the law.
Credit reports and background checks from both accepted and rejected tenants can be stored securely online by signing up for a free account with Stessa.
State landlord-tenant laws also limit the maximum amount of security deposit a landlord can require from a tenant, whether or not the deposit can be withheld by a landlord if a tenant violates the lease, and the amount of time a landlord has to return a security deposit to a tenant.
According to the chart of Security Deposit Limits, State-by-State published by Nolo.com, state security deposit limits range from one to two month’s rent. Many states have “no statutory limit” on the amount of security deposit a landlord can charge, although generally speaking the amount of deposit collected must be reasonable.
State laws also dictate when and if a tenant’s security deposit can be withheld by a landlord if a tenant violates the lease, such as not paying the rent or causing damage to the property beyond normal wear and tear.
Deadlines for returning security deposits also vary depending on the state the property is located in. For example, states such as Arizona and Vermont have a 14-day deadline, while other states including Alabama and Arkansas give a landlord up to 60 days to return a security deposit to a tenant.
Another responsibility a landlord has is to keep the rental property in a safe and habitable condition. As a rule of thumb, this means performing necessary maintenance and repairs, keeping mechanical systems such as electrical and plumbing in good working order, and following all applicable building and safety codes.
While different cities and states have different rules and regulations, general safety codes a landlord must adhere to include:
- Smoke and carbon monoxide detectors must be functioning and periodically inspected, which is one reason why landlords and property managers perform routine interior inspections of a rental property.
- Lead paint disclosure and an informational pamphlet must be provided to all tenants renting a property built before 1978.
- Mold remediation must be done if mold is discovered in the home, and the issue that caused the mold (such as a leaky sink or faulty bathroom vent) must be repaired.
- Window locks and guards are often required to help keep the rental property safe and secure.
In addition to living in a home that is safe and well maintained, tenants also have the right to privacy and to having their security deposit properly handled.
Most states require a landlord to give a tenant 24- to 48-hours notice before entering the rental property for non-emergency reasons, such as performing maintenance or conducting a routine inspection. In cases where there is an emergency, a landlord may enter the home with no notice to ensure the safety and security of the tenant and the home.
When the rental property is sold or a new property management company takes over the home, any existing lease and tenant security deposit is transferred to the new owner or property manager.
Because the lease agreement is a contract, in most cases the terms and conditions remain the same until the expiration of the lease, regardless of who owns or manages the rental property.
Landlord financial obligations include paying the mortgage on time and keeping property taxes current.
Many landlords also obtain a landlord insurance policy to provide additional coverage for property damage, liability protection in the event that a tenant or guest is injured on the property and sues a landlord, and loss of rental income if the property is damaged and the home can not be rented out for an extended period of time.
Owners of multifamily rental property sometimes are responsible for setting up utility accounts and paying for services such as water, sewer, and trash collection. Sometimes utilities like these in small multifamily homes like duplexes and triplexes have a master meter that services each rental unit. In a situation like this, a landlord pays for the utilities, then charges each tenant for utilities as part of the monthly rent.
A closer look at the implied warranty of habitability for landlords
One of the biggest landlord responsibilities is arguably the Implied warranty of habitability. This legal doctrine means that landlords must provide tenants with a safe and habitable rental home.
According to the Legal Information Institute at the Cornell Law School, the implied warranty of habitability:
“Requires landlords to keep their property ‘habitable,’ even if the lease does specifically require them to make repairs. Furthermore, the warranty conditions a tenant’s duty to pay rent on the landlord’s duty to maintain a habitable living space. This makes it easier for tenants to get landlords to make repairs. This warranty is usually coupled with rules prohibiting landlords from retaliating against tenants who complain about housing code violations.”
Generally speaking, habitable housing means that the home meets basic requirements such as:
- Reliable heating and cooling
- Adequate hot water
- Secure structure, including a roof that keeps the elements out, and sturdy floors and walls
- No danger from environmental hazards such as asbestos, lead, and mold
- Protection from criminal trespass, such as functioning door and window locks
While the laws vary from state to state, if a landlord breaches the implied warranty of habitability a tenant may generally be able to:
- Withhold rent
- Pay for repairs and deduct the cost from the rent
- Sue the landlord
- Move out without notice without being liable for future rent
Tenants have responsibilities, too
Although landlords have a wide variety of responsibilities, tenants also have responsibilities as well. Tenant duties and responsibilities to the landlord fall into one of three main categories:
Even though landlords complete a move-in checklist when the tenant first moves in, issues can arise due to normal wear and tear during the time the tenant occupies the home. A tenant is responsible for reporting items in need of repair to a landlord as soon as they are discovered. For example, fixing a minor leak under the bathroom sink can help avoid having an infestation of black mold if the leak continues for months on end.
Maintain the property
A rental property is not a hotel, which means a tenant is responsible for helping to keep the home in a safe and sanitary condition. Things a tenant can do to maintain the property include cleaning appliances, preventing rust and grime buildup in the kitchen and bathrooms, and promptly discarding trash from the inside and outside of the home.
Avoid excessive damage
Tenants are also responsible for negligent or reckless behavior that could cause damage to the property beyond normal wear and tear. Some of the surprising things tenants do that leave the home in worse condition than when the moved in include:
- Stealing plumbing and light fixtures, and appliances.
- Having an unauthorized pet.
- Intentionally damaging carbon monoxide or smoke detectors.
- Misusing a room, such as repairing a car engine in the living room.
- Using the home for illegal purposes, such as drug manufacturing or prostitution.
There are a wide variety of landlord responsibilities, and it’s important to be aware of them before investing in rental property. Landlords who understand their responsibilities can avoid issues with tenants, along with the local and federal governments.
Tenants also have responsibilities as well. While it’s always possible to end up with a bad tenant, hiring a good property manager and having a thorough tenant screening process in place can help to minimize the risk of renting to a tenant that causes excessive damage.