Unfortunately every now and then there’s a Landlord-Tenant dispute that can’t be settled with a simple conversation because either the Landlord or the Tenant (or even both) are too stubborn to realize it’s in their best interest to resolve the situation amicably. With that in mind, we came up with this article so that both Tenants and Landlords - especially the ones behind For Rent By Owner (FRBO) homes – can refer to in times of trouble.
One thing we repeatedly say is that: it all depends. And, in this case, it’s not a real estate thing, but a United States thing. It’s the way our country was constituted: we have important basic things we all agree – the constitution – and a ton of things that are regulated at a state level. But, fortunately, on the Department of Housing and Urban Development website there’s a section with specific Landlord Tenant Rights for every single one of the 50 United States (plus DC, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands). Click here to see it.
However, like the constitution, there are universal Landlord-Tenant Rights that apply whether you are a landlord or a tenant, whether it’s a for rent by owner (FRBO) home or a rental company owned building; and that’s what this article is about.
An eviction notice cannot be given by a Landlord because of a Tenant’s gender, religion, race or because of any special needs he/she might have. Actually, this is something that goes into effect even prior to an eviction notice: during the screening process of the rental agreement, it’s the tenant’s right to be considered solely by his/her credit score, credit history, criminal record and financial stability like everyone else.
Of course, most of the times discrimination is not black and white – see what we did there? – and it’s difficult to prove that the reason the Landlord disapproved the Tenant’s rental application was based on gender, race etc. On this one and on every single occasion regarding Landlord-Tenant rights it is extremely important for both of the parties to document everything. One common error in a dispute is to act on what the other person said in person or over the phone. You rarely have a witness in those situations, so try your best to have everything in writing. E-mail is your best friend. SMS is a great acquaintance. When applicable, take pictures/film it.
Some Landlords might try to put in the rental agreement a waiver of the right to sue them. That is illegal. They can certainly limit some Tenant’s rights (or their responsibilities) but no one is above the law, no one is “unsuable” (and that’s so true, the word unsuable doesn’t even exist). So, if a Landlord (or a Tenant) ask for a waiver of the right to be sued, fight against that. If you have signed a waiver already, don’t fret. This privilege will easily get nullified in court.
It is common for Tenant’s to ask for a security deposit to ensure they don’t lose money should something goes awry. This is 100% within the Landlord’s right. And if you think about it, it’s pretty fair. Even if the Tenant’s had a good credit score so far, he/she might go through a rough patch and stop paying the rent. Even if the Landlord gives an eviction notice to him/her and she leaves the apartment, the Landlord would have months of financial losses, because his property could have been occupied by a paying Tenant. So it’s a Landlords right to ask for a security deposit to ensure he will receive exactly what he wished. Another scenario to show the importance of the security deposit is the possibility of the Tenant ruining something in the property, or failing to return the property in the same conditions encountered when the rental agreement was signed (discarding natural depreciation due to time-of-use).
However, it’s not within the Landlord’s rights to put in the rental agreement a waiver of refund of the security deposit. If there was no damage to the house, if the tenant painted the place and made any necessary minor repairs (like taking the nails off the wall and covering its holes), then the Landlord must return the deposit in full. The security deposit should only be used to cover damages. This is one of the most common disputes regarding Landlord-Tenant rights. Again: document everything
It’s within Landlord’s right, whether a For Rent By Owner (FRBO) or a rental company, to establish a no-pet policy, yes. However, they cannot refuse pets that are essential to the life of a Tenant. For example, a service dog – that dog you see helping blind people move through the streets – cannot be refrained from living in an apartment or house, even if the Landlord established a no pet rule. Not only service dogs, but any “emotional supportive pet” has to be allowed to be with its owner, as it is considered a necessity for that person to live. It is, of course, well within the Landlord’s right to request documentation proving this necessity; usually an official letter from an accredited psychiatrist regarding the person’s situation for emotional supportive pets and a certificate of the dog’s training for service dogs.
Plus, in the case of buildings and places that do accept pets but charge an additional security deposit to cover for possible pet damages, that fee needs to be waived, as the person has not the option of living there without the pet. It’s all about being fair, so an extra charge for someone with no option shouldn’t exist.
Interestingly, most people think that basic appliances like fridge and an oven are mandatory assets the Landlord should provide, but that’s actually not true. The Landlord can put his property for rent with the keys to the door and nothing else. But there’s so much competition out there, that those appliances (which are not that expensive) can make the Tenant’s life easier and make the real estate property more appealing, so it’s become the norm having the fridge and oven “free of charge”. However, you’ll find occasional rentals without them to suit for occasional people that have their own fridge and oven.
One last curiosity regarding the basic Landlord-Tenant rights is the charge for utility bills. Have you noticed how sometimes the landlord pays for it, sometimes the tenant does? Well, when that happens, it’s usually because it’s a decision within the Landlord’s rights. He/She can ask for those expenses to come out of the Tenant’s pocket – after all, the tenant is the one consuming electricity and such - but they can also say “ you know what; let me pay for this, because I don’t trust you with that and I don’t want any Lien with my house”.