Property Management Blog

How to Avoid a Lawsuit

Property Management Blog

As a landlord, you have many legal responsibilities, and one of the most important ones is being up to speed with landlord-tenant laws. You are obligated to your tenants to be well versed in them. There are federal, state, and local laws that you must understand and adhere to. Knowing and abiding by these laws can prevent legal trouble, which we all know can be expensive, stressful, and time-consuming.

Here are a few common areas where landlords can get themselves into legal trouble, and our best advice on avoiding it. Please keep in mind that this blog post is for informational purposes only and not a substitution for legal advice. Always consult your appropriate legal jurisdiction authority before acting.

Failing to Perform Maintenance and Inspections

Routine maintenance and regular inspections are key aspects in keeping your tenants safe and your investment in good shape. We know that handling maintenance can be complicated, especially when you have several properties, but neglecting proper maintenance can lead to a lawsuit. There are legal responsibilities under landlord-tenant law that you must abide by, such as making sure that your rental property meets all local building and housing codes. You also need to handle all necessary repairs to the property in a timely fashion, and to know which of the repair issues you are financially responsible for. You must keep the property in a habitable condition at all times, and tenant safety must be your priority.

Our advice: Routine inspections can prevent minor issues from becoming major issues, and can save you time and money. Maintaining the smoke and carbon monoxide detector system is a commonly overlooked task that must be completed regularly. ( See more about smoke and carbon monoxide detector laws here ) Air filters in the heating and cooling systems should be regularly changed, and any leaks should be repaired quickly. ( More on common property maintenance issues here ) Tenants should also be required to keep their own renter’s insurance policy with liability.

Security Deposit Issues

Each state has specific security deposit laws that landlords and tenants must follow. Security deposits are usually returned to the tenant at the end of the lease terms, less an itemized list of repairs and their costs. Landlords can withhold from the security deposit for the following reasons:

  • ·Unpaid rent
  • ·Cleaning costs
  • Making repairs and correcting the damage that was deemed tenant-related, not ordinary wear and tear ( Click here for more information regarding the difference between wear and tear vs property damage )
  • Replacing damaged or lost furniture, keys, remotes that were included in the rental
  • Terminating lease early

Our advice: Promptly return the security deposit to the tenant. Include an itemized list of repairs and their costs. For your documentation, take before and after photos of the repairs.

Violating the tenant’s right to privacy 

Even though you own the property, you may not enter the property whenever you want. Most states give landlords the right to enter their rental property but only under specific circumstances. There are legal requirements that vary from state to state regarding the appropriate amount of time to give notice to your tenant before you may enter the property, and variances in the appropriate reasoning for which you may do so. Here are some common reasons:

  • Make repairs, such as to fix a broken stove
  • Inspect the property for safety or maintenance problems
  • Show the rental unit to a prospective tenant toward the end of a tenancy

Our advice: Always give sufficient notice to the tenant when entry to a property is needed. Having a conversation with the tenant allows them to give input on the best time that could accommodate an interior visit or repair. Follow this up with something in writing confirming the agreed time.

Tenant Discrimination

The Fair Housing Act prohibits a landlord from refusing to rent a property to a tenant for reasons of race, religion, gender, national origin, disability, or familial status. A tenant or potential tenant who believes that his or her civil rights have been violated can bring legal action against you, and it will cost you time, money, and energy to fight the allegations. And tenant screening is important, but can be difficult to navigate in a way that's fair to all concerned parties. ( For more on tenant screening, click here

Our advice: Create a policy regarding the requirements needed to rent the property ahead of time, such as credit, income, and rental history, and don’t deviate from this. Ensure that you are following the Fair Housing laws strictly. ( Click here for more information on Fair Housing and Section 8 )

Property management can be overwhelming and difficult. With so many laws and regulations, it's important to have a good property management company on your side. Palomar Property Services is here to help. Our expert team of property managers provide decades of experience in navigating the complex legality of property ownership, and we have the tools and resources to effectively manage your property. Call today for your free quote.

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