Requirements for Landlords and Tenants

When tenants rent an apartment, they expect the unit to be habitable — that means safe and clean. They expect their landlord to repair and maintain the property and keep it in good condition. Landlords, in turn, expect tenants to meet terms of the lease, pay rent on time, take care of the property and not run it down. They also expect tenants to use the property responsibly, not illegally.

Landlords' Responsibilities

Many state and local governments now require landlords to provide buildings that are habitable: safe, sanitary, and structurally sound and that comply with all health and safety codes. That means units must have:

  • Heat

  • Electricity

  • Hot water

  • Toilets and plumbing that work

  • Doors that lock

  • Unbroken windows with screens

  • No rats or insect infestations

  • Tenants have the right to privacy, quiet, and possession of a clean, livable unit. If anything breaks or doesn't work, the landlord must fix it in a timely fashion. Landlords have to maintain the property; if they don't, tenants can report any violation to health or housing authorities.

    Do You Need to Be Licensed?

    Landlords who are just starting out usually do not have to be licensed. But they very likely have to register income property with local officials and they may have to renew that registration a year or so later. Some cities routinely inspect rental properties to see that they comply with local housing and safety codes; others may inspect only if they receive a complaint about the apartment or building.

    You should take care of the registration as soon as you are ready to look for a tenant. City officials will not take it kindly if they find out you have tenants after a neighbor calls to complain or someone in the building department lets another department employee know that you remodeled extensively and converted your property into two units in order to collect rent. You will want to deduct legitimate business expenses and declare income from your rental unit to city and state tax authorities, so it's better to follow all necessary and recommended local business procedures.

    If your tenant breaks a window or door, he has to repair or replace it. Your responsibility is to fix windows and doors before the tenant moves in. If you fix a window broken by your tenant, you can deduct the expense from the tenant's security deposit.

    Tenants' Responsibilities

    When tenants sign a lease, they are expected to keep the unit, fixtures, and appliances in a good and sanitary condition. They must take out the garbage and put it in trash containers and keep the apartment and disposal area clean and sanitary.

    Tenants also have to be responsible about how they act. They should:

  • Be quiet, not a nuisance to neighbors

  • Not use the property for illegal purposes, such as selling drugs

  • Comply with terms of the lease or rental agreement

  • Not run a home-based business without landlord approval

  • Pay rent as the lease or rental agreement requires

  • Behave reasonably

  • Not damage or destroy the unit

  • Not alter or add to the unit without landlord approval

  • Not slander other tenants or the landlord

  • If your tenant is irresponsible or behaves unreasonably, you have the right to evict him. However, you must be able to prove the irresponsible behavior. The key to proving your case is to keep good records of everything that transpires and how you handled it.

    Whenever a tenant breaks a rule, send notification that it was a violation of the lease. In eviction proceedings, a judge will expect that the tenant received at least three notices from the landlord before coming to court. (If the tenant signed a rental agreement, you can terminate the tenant after giving thirty days' notice.)

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