Every landlord needs a solid understanding of landlord-tenant laws.
But as a new landlord, where can you find the laws that apply to you? What are the implications of landlord-tenant laws? Do the laws ever change?
There are many rules and regulations that dictate how landlords must interact with tenants and run their businesses. Being aware of the laws and understanding how to implement them is critical to managing your properties successfully—and steering clear of legal trouble.
Below is a brief overview of landlord-tenant laws and where to find more information about them.
Landlord-tenant laws are laws that protect the rights of, and assign obligations to, both landlords and tenants.
They regulate lease terms, set maximums and minimums on fees, mandate fair policies, and outline procedures for situations like evictions and lease breaches.
Landlord-tenant laws are important because they make it safe for both landlords and tenants to enter a rental contract. Without governing laws, a landlord could change their policies on a whim or subject tenants to unfair treatment. Likewise, tenants could breach lease policies without any legal consequences.
Landlord-tenant laws are the backbone of any rental contract, so it is critical that you understand them.
Types of Laws
There are many types of landlord-tenant laws. Some regulate the terms of rental agreements while others dictate what landlords must do before even moving in a tenant.
Here are the most common topics and policies covered by law:
- Application fees
- Security deposits (amounts, withholdings, interest, return)
- Late fees and grace periods
- Required disclosures in leases
- Accepted rent payment types
- NSF/Bounced check fees
- Fair housing protections
- Tenant screening practices
- Use of credit reports and criminal background checks
- Landlord entry (advanced notice, permitted times, emergencies)
- Eviction notices and procedures
Before allowing your tenants to sign a rental contract, be sure you know the laws that apply in each of the above categories. Also note that your state may not have a law if there are no regulations on the activity.
Additionally, your property management software may offer lease templates that include the above categories. Use these to remember to include a clause about each one.
Federal and State Jurisdiction
Landlord-tenant laws apply on both the federal and state level. However, the federal government leaves most laws concerning rental agreements to the states.
There are three major federal laws that apply to landlords:
- The federal Fair Housing Act (FHA) prohibits discrimination in housing based on seven protected classes (race, color, sex, national origin, religion, disability, and familial status).
- The Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) regulates how landlords must handle credit reports, including disposing of them properly after use for tenant screening.
- The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires landlords to make reasonable accommodations for tenants with disabilities, including waiving any “no pets” policies for renters with assistance animals.
These foundational fair housing laws are often expanded on by the states, which may provide additional protections for renters.
State landlord-tenant laws cover everything else: fees, security deposits, evictions, entry, etc. Be sure to do appropriate research to find out what the policies are in your state.
Where to Find State Landlord-Tenant Laws
You may be wondering: where can I find my state’s landlord-tenant laws?
You’ll want to look for your state’s consolidated statutes, where all its laws and bills are organized. The quickest way to find state law codes is a quick Google search—the official website should be a .gov site. You can also search for your state’s legislative or judicial website and navigate to the revised legislative codes from there.
State law codes arrange their statutes by topic or category rather than chronologically. This makes easier to find what you’re looking for as fast as possible. Be on the lookout for amendments, repeals, of upcoming bills so that you have a full picture of the current state of the law.
A word of caution: Most states have a specific title or chapter dedicated to landlord-tenant laws. However, not all landlord-tenant laws can be found there. For instance, a law requiring landlords to disclose mold or radon contamination might be found in a “Public Health” or “Environment” title. Other laws might be found in sections labeled “Executive,” “Civic,” or “Government,” in addition to “Real Property” or “Property.”
If you aren’t sure whether there’s a statute for a certain policy in your state, check a secondary source like AAOA.
Understanding landlord-tenant laws is a basic obligation for all landlords. By carefully reviewing the laws that apply to your business, you can avoid liability and execute lease agreements as smoothly as possible.