Editor's Note: This post was originally published on March 2, 2015. Housecall continues to share this piece due to ongoing requests and reader interest.
This post was contributed by Terri Engels
If you own real estate and decide to lease it out to someone else, then congratulations: you are now a landlord in the eyes of the law. Whether you lease out a single family home or apartments in a multiplex building, there are many landlord responsibilities that come with the territory.
Some duties seem clear, like collecting rent or finding tenants for a vacant unit. Others, however, may be less obvious. The more you learn, the more success you will have with your real estate investments. Let’s examine 10 landlord responsibilities you may have overlooked.
1. Knowing the Landlord-Tenant Laws for Your Jurisdiction
Ignorance of the law is no excuse. It’s your responsibility as a landlord to know and understand all tenant-landlord regulations for your city and state. Landlords can be (and often are) sued for not obeying their state’s laws, even if they weren’t aware they existed.
2. Preparing a Legal Lease Document
The lease agreement and any other legal paperwork is all part of a landlord’s duties. It’s your responsibility to ensure the rental contract is legally written and abides by all laws. Leasing periods, monthly rental rates and tenant names must be clearly indicated. In some jurisdictions, legal disclosures, such as security deposit details, must be included. The lease should also contain all appropriate clauses, such as advising tenants to purchase renters’ insurance. Many states have required language that must be included, such as the Megan’s Law clause in California lease agreements.
3. The Duty to Deliver Possession
Once a lease contract is signed, it is the landlord’s responsibility to deliver possession of the rental unit to the tenant on the agreed-upon date. The unit must be in move-in condition and any previous tenants must have vacated the premises.
4. Implied Warranty of Habitability
Another obligation is to make sure the rental unit is in a safe, habitable condition. The property must not have any serious deficiencies, and any supplied appliances, fixtures, plumbing and heating must be in good working order. The property must be free of insects and pests. Landlords are generally responsible for getting infestations under control, even if they occur after tenants have moved in, although in most states landlords can avoid this by specifying in the rental agreement that pest control is the renter’s responsibility.
5. Respect the Tenant’s Right to Quiet Enjoyment
According to most landlord-tenant acts, tenants have the right to quiet enjoyment – meaning to have the benefit of living in their home without being disturbed. Once a tenant has possession of a property, the landlord may not interfere with this right. It’s therefore the landlord’s responsibility to ensure he or she does not enter the rental unit without proper notice (usually 24 – 48 hours, except in emergencies). When a landlord enters the rental property, it must be at a reasonable time of day and for a valid reason.
6. Completing Repairs in a Reasonable Time Frame
Tenants have the responsibility of reporting any repairs that need to be done. Landlords’ responsibilities include responding to these reports and completing repairs in a timely manner. Urgent repairs should be done right away, while minor issues can be addressed more conveniently. But beware that unrepaired damage tends to cause more damage, and tends to encourage tenants to vacate the rental property.
7. Providing Safety Measures
It is your duty to protect your tenants, to a point. In some jurisdictions, landlords must provide specific safety measures. These may include fire and carbon monoxide detectors, fire extinguishers, front door peepholes, deadbolt locks on exterior doors and window locks.
8. Reporting Crime
If a landlord becomes aware of any criminal activity taking place in one of their rental units, they must report it to authorities. For example, some landlord-tenant acts have specific laws that can find a landlord liable if their property is used for dealing or creating drugs.
9. On-Site Property Management
In some states, the law requires on-site property management of multiplex buildings of a certain size. In California, for example, landlords must provide on-site management of all residential rental buildings of 16 units or larger.
10. Responsible for Property Manager’s Acts
An often-overlooked concern is that you can be liable for your property manager’s acts, including illegal ones. If a property manager does not follow local landlord-tenant laws and a rental application is refused based on their religion or race, for example, the landlord can also be held responsible. Stay up-to-date on your rental property’s operations and keep a watchful eye on anyone who works for you.
Being a landlord involves a steep learning curve when starting out, and the laws aren’t always simple. Taking the time to learn about your responsibilities as a landlord can mean the difference between earning a nice profit and losing money – or worse. Protect yourself by learning the laws that apply to you and surrounding yourself with a team of professionals.
Do you know of any landlord responsibilities that many new landlords overlook? Which obligation surprised you when you first became a landlord? Share your comments below!