Tenants' Rights

Landlord/Tenant Issues

As with other areas of law, state law governing this area in each state will vary. Inthis particular area, the time periods and remedies are critical in each state, and may be completely different. Sometimes even cities have their own Rent Control laws, so it is imperative that you check with your local Plan Attorney before proceeding. This section can only be a general guide and if you have a serious landlord-tenant problem, it is advisable to seek help immediately from a lawyer.

Understanding your rights as a landlord or tenant can assist you in avoiding problems should you decide to rent instead of purchase your home.

AGREEMENTS

If you are a landlord, you should have your lease agreement drafted by a lawyer and periodically reviewed. This will protect you and your tenants from most unforeseen contingencies during the course of the lease term. If you are a tenant, you should take your lease agreement to an attorney if you have any questions about any term in the agreement. Remember, even if the landlord makes a statement during negotiations, unless the statement is set forth in the agreement, it will be difficult to prove later, especially if the building changes managers or owners.

Assume that you are about to sign a lease, and the landlord specifically states that the apartment complex is quiet and never has any problems with noise. When asked where this is stated in the rental agreement, you retort, "The landlord is a nice older man, and he seems honest, I believe him." Only after the lease is signed do you learn that three rock bands practice in the complex for hours each afternoon and night.

TERMS

Any agreement should set forth the terms by which the premises will be leased, such as a time period, and the monthly rental. Any agreement not specifying a term will in many states be construed to be a 30-day term. That means either the tenant or the landlord can, for any reason, terminate the lease by giving the other party thirty days written notice of termination.

In major metropolitan areas, where a shortage of housing exists, Rent Control ordinances may apply which will not allow landlords to evict tenants, except for specified reasons. For example, Santa Monica, California, has what many consider to be one of the most tenant-favorable Rent Control standards in the United States. Tenants may only be evicted for specific reasons set forth in the Rent Control ordinance, such as the landlord wants to move his/her family into a particular unit. Many of the usual landlord-tenant principles of law do not apply in such areas.

LANDLORD'S DUTIES

Generally a landlord's duties are to provide the unit rented in reasonably habitable shape for the tenant, and to include such periodic repairs as may be necessary. For instance, the landlord must supply a unit which meets the Building and Safety Codes as well as local Health Codes.

The landlord usually has a duty to make reasonable repairs but not to repair every single item which may be considered unnecessary. Also, the landlord is generally not required to make any improvements that a tenant desires during the lease term. Once rented, the landlord has a further duty to provide "quiet enjoyment" of the premises to the tenant. This means that the landlord cannot enter the premises at will, and must respect a tenant's right to privacy. If the landlord does not honor this implied or expressed covenant, the tenant may have a course of action for invasion of privacy.

This also includes a duty on the part of the landlord to make sure that each tenant respects the right of quiet enjoyment expected by each other tenant. This does not mean that the building must be free from noise, however, and generally, absent a special ordinance or statute, the standard use to measure any disturbance is whether each tenant is being reasonable. Tenants should be aware that at the expiration of any written lease, the tenant will be expected to have fully and completely moved from the premises. Any "holdover" even if it is one day, may subject the tenant to penalties or even rent charges.

TENANT'S DUTIES

  1. Rent. First and foremost, the tenant's first duty is to pay rent in the full amount owed and on the day specified. Failure to do so, depending upon the terms of the lease, or the lack of terms, can subject the tenant to eviction procedures. Landlords who are overly technical might even commence such proceedings if the rent is one day late!

    Should the premises need necessary repairs, e.g., leaking pipes, broken windows, defective toilet, etc., the tenant should make a demand to the landlord to fix the problem and give the landlord a reasonable time to make repairs. If the landlord does not do so, the tenant is permitted to fix the problem and withhold, or "abate" the rent.

    Rent abatement is an exception to the tenant's duty to pay rent in full. If you are going to abate the rent be sure whatever you are doing is reasonable. For example, obtaining three estimates on the cost to fix a problem is more reasonable then obtaining one estimate. It is advisable, but not necessary, to obtain the advice of an attorney before you decide to abate your rent, if you believe it is necessary. Your Plan Attorney will be able to assist in determining the reasonableness of your actions.


  2. Damages. Generally, unless specified, a tenant is liable for any damages caused to the premises, except normal wear and tear and those caused by problems such as water leaks, etc. Thus, any tenant or any guest of any tenant, who causes any damages whatsoever to the premises will be responsible to make repairs that return the premises to the condition in which they were found. This is whether or not the damages were intentional or accidental.

    Should the premises be damaged in any manner, a landlord is able to deduct an amount equal to the amount of repairs from a tenant's security deposit; and if the damage is in an amount greater than the security deposit, the landlord will have a cause of action to sue the tenant for the cost of repairs.


  3. Nuisances. Tenants are also requested to keep the premises free of any and all nuisances to the other tenants, their guests, the landlord, as well as any neighbors from outside the building. Thus, loud stereos which disturb other tenants will create a nuisance. In some cities, such as Los Angeles, local ordinances may be enacted to control these nuisances and provide a manner by which violators may be subjected to criminal penalties. Thus, in such cities, a loud stereo played during the day may be enough to violate the noise abatement ordinance, and subject the tenant to not only civil action for the nuisance, but possible criminal penalties for violating the statute.


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