What Should Landlords Know About State Landlord-Tenant Laws?

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Landlords have all kinds of financial and legal obligations to keep track of.

One obligation all landlords must prioritize is state landlord-tenant laws.

While the federal government provides some laws concerning landlord-tenant relationships (such as the Fair Housing Act and Fair Credit Reporting Act), many of the details are left to individual state legislatures.

For example, laws about security deposits, late fees, rental applications, and landlord entry are all determined by the states.

Clearly, understanding the major rules and regulations for landlords in your state is critical. But how do you know where to find these statutes? What are the most important landlord-tenant laws to know?

Here are a few things every landlord should know about state landlord-tenant laws.  

Most states publish their statutes online.

When it comes to state laws, a diligent landlord should not only enlist the trusted advice of a lawyer, but also review the text of the laws themselves.

Fortunately, you won’t have to scour the public library for copies of your state’s statutes. Most states have official versions of their law code published online. You can find the landlord-tenant act or search the code for keywords.

Not all laws for landlords are in the same act or section.

When you locate your state’s statutes, your first thought might be to view the landlord-tenant act or whichever title contains laws regarding landlord-tenant relationships.

However, some very important laws for landlords to know will not be found in the section designated “landlord-tenant.”

For instance, fair housing laws may be found in a chapter titled “Civil Practice,” “Civil Procedure,” “Employment,” “Housing,” or something else. Laws on important landlord disclosures could be found in “Public Health” or “Environmental Health and Safety” sections, while laws on bad checks are typically part of a state’s “Commercial” or “Criminal” Code. 

Don’t assume your state doesn’t have a statute on something simply because it wasn’t listed in the state’s official landlord-tenant code. As a resident of that state, you are subject to all its other laws as well.

Many states provide more fair housing protections than those in the federal Fair Housing Act.

Most landlords are familiar with the federal government’s seven Fair Housing Act protected classes: race, color, religion, sex, national origin, familial status, and disability. 

However, many new landlords aren’t aware that most states have their own fair housing acts, in which many expand on these protections. 

For instance, most states also expand “familial status” to include pregnancy. States may also include protections based on sexual orientation, gender identity, age, ancestry, military/veteran status, marital status, source of income, genetic information, HIV/AIDS diagnosis, and domestic violence victim status.

Additionally, some states expand on disability rental rights by protecting renters from discrimination based on certain health, functional, psychological, or other type of conditions.

You can’t stop at the FHA when it comes to treating your renters fairly. You must also find out whether discrimination based on other characteristics is illegal in your state.

Some states leave policies up to the lease agreement.

When browsing your state’s landlord-tenant laws, keep in mind that some laws make provisions just in case your lease agreement omitted a detail.

State law codes recognize the legal authority of a signed lease agreement. Some laws limit the terms landlords may include in their agreements, but others only apply when the landlord neglects to include their own rule.

For example, there’s a difference between a mandatory state-wide late fee limit and a limit that only applies when the landlord has not specified the amount of the late fee in the lease.

Read the legal language carefully to determine which type of law you’re dealing with.

Localities have landlord-tenant laws, too.

The federal government and your state are not the only two entities who regulate landlord-tenant relationships. Municipalities also have landlord-tenant laws.

For instance, very few states have state-wide rent control, but many cities have passed rent control ordinances. Similarly, there might be specific eviction laws and procedures for issuing eviction notices depending on the city you live in.

Remember to check municipal laws for important landlord-tenant regulations as well.

State laws are subject to change.

Lastly, remember that state laws, like any other laws, are subject to change.

As new voices enter the government and fresh legislation is written, the landlord-tenant laws in your state could very well change.

For example, many states lately have been modifying their laws on how landlords may use criminal background checks during tenant screening. In California, a new bill would make it illegal to inquire about a rental applicant’s criminal history or require an applicant to disclose their criminal record until after the initial application phase. 

Conclusion

Understanding state landlord-tenant laws is no easy undertaking. Not only do you need the skills to parse the legal language, but you also need an understanding of how these laws apply to your rental business. Even if a law seems clear, it’s never a bad idea to confirm its meaning with a trusted legal advisor. 

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