It’s rare a tenant wakes up and starts planning how to get their landlord in trouble. However, failing to understand a tenant’s rights or being an unfair landlord could push them into Googling the phrase: “How to get my landlord into trouble.”
Unfortunately, when it comes to renting out a property, it seems that a tenant has more rights than the building owner or landlord. And ignoring their rights is a fast way to get yourself in hot water. Do you want to run a successful rental business? Then it is crucial to avoid doing things that a tenant could get you into trouble over. This includes everything from a tenant’s right to repairs and maintenance to following state laws.
To help you avoid issues or trouble with a tenant, here are nine of the most common reasons a tenant can get you into trouble.
1. Not complying with the Fair Housing Act
There is room for a landlord in trouble even before you have signed a contract with a new tenant. According to The Fair Housing Act, there are specific questions that you cannot ask a potential tenant because of housing-related discrimination.
For example, race, color, national origin, religion, sex, family status, and disabilities are protected classes. Therefore, it’s against the law to refuse a rental agreement based on these classes. Suppose you prefer to rent your property to a single person or working couple. In that case, turning down a family with children is familial status housing discrimination.
2. Not providing a quiet environment
Noise complaints from tenants are a common problem for landlords. Of course, some things like traffic are out of your control and not your responsibility. However, you can still provide good insulation—like curtains—to help block out some of the noise. Tenants have the right to an undisturbed rental property, including things like persistent fire alarms or noisy appliances.
3. Turning up unannounced
Like a quiet environment, landlords cannot turn up unannounced if they want to avoid getting into trouble. You should give some form of notice before turning up. Of course, if there’s an emergency, you are allowed to show up. But repeated unannounced visits could be classified as harassment.
In fact, some states have introduced a minimum of 24 hours notice for a landlord to visit to help curb this type of issue. To help overcome this potential barrier, it is best to ask the tenant their preferred method of contact.
For example, many rent collection apps allow landlords to communicate directly with tenants. These apps can help you collect the monthly rent on time, avoid late fees, and accept maintenance requests. There are so many apps for landlords that contacting a tenant in advance is easy.
4. The warranty of habitability
Each rental unit must be in a livable condition. Naturally, the property must meet local building codes outlined by each state. However, you are also responsible for providing heat, safe drinking water, hot water and plumbing, and smoke detectors. Properties also must be free from pest infections, including rodents, insects, and termites.
5. Not carrying out repair requests
A tenant’s right to repairs and maintenance is a tricky area. This is one area where it’s easy for tenants to get landlords in trouble.
Can a landlord make a tenant pay for repairs? Generally speaking, a tenant is responsible for maintenance, like keeping the lawn cut and taking care of the trash. Tenants also must keep the property clean and safe and fix things they damage. They also have the responsibility of informing you of any defective or dangerous conditions.
Minor repairs and maintenance, like a dripping tap, may not be your responsibility. However, if you have made a verbal or written promise to fix something, you must comply. Check with state laws on the maximum amount of time you have to carry out repair requests.
Being a landlord can be fun—if you do it right
No matter how great you are at finding good rental property deals, you could lose everything if you don’t manage your properties correctly. Being a landlord doesn’t have to mean middle-of-the-night phone calls, costly evictions, or daily frustrations with ungrateful tenants.
6. Ignoring basic health and safety standards
Dangerous conditions are related to a tenant’s rights to repairs and maintenance. These are more essential repairs required by landlord-tenant laws and building codes. This refers to issues like pest control, heating, plumbing, and even certain security issues that can encourage criminal activities. In some states, tenants may even have the right to withhold rent or make the repairs and maintenance and deduct them from the rent.
7. Not having correct or appropriate paperwork
A rental agreement is the most crucial piece of paper you have as a landlord because provides security and documents the landlord and highlights a tenant’s rights and responsibilities. There are numerous rental agreements that you can download, and they are convenient because they are pretty standard. However, the standard leases don’t typically take into consideration state laws and requirements.
That can be a big issue because a landlord can get into legal trouble when a lease is not compliant with federal and state laws. There should also be clauses regarding terminating the lease and causes for eviction. If you are in any doubt, you should ask an attorney to check your lease agreement before either party signs.
Related: Is evicting a tenant always a good idea?
8. Not returning the security deposit or using it for the wrong purposes
In some states, it is mandatory to return the security deposit within 30 days of the tenant leaving your property. However, some areas stipulate 10 days. Even if a tenant breaks a lease, it might be illegal to retain a tenant’s deposit, especially if you rent the property within the period you have retained the security deposit for.
You also need to be careful about withholding the security deposit and using it for the wrong purposes. The misuse of security deposits is one of the most common disputes in small claims courts—and is both time-consuming and costly. You can’t use a security deposit for anything more than general wear and tear and cleaning. Investing security deposits in new appliances and renovations will get you into trouble.
9. Charging unfair rent and late fees
To avoid a tenant getting you into trouble, you must be aware of the rent controls in place in your state. For example, a rent freeze may set the maximum amount of rent you can charge. There could also be price ceilings, which will determine how much you can increase the rental amount. While you need to set a price that covers costs and allows for a profit, there are restrictions as to how much this amount is.
And, while it is perhaps tempting to set high late rental payment fees to deter late payments, excessive fees won’t work in your favor. Additionally, there are late fee laws set for each state. If the tenant decides to take you to court over excessive late fees, the courts will likely side with the tenant. Choose an amount that reflects potential costs you incur and choose options like pay-or-quit notices.