Landlording & Rental Properties

The Top 7 Laws Every Landlord Needs to Study

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Successfully managing an investment property is about much more than finding the perfect tenant for the perfect unit. It's even more important to understand the legalities associated with running a rental business. Landlords should be up-to-date on all laws regarding tenant rights and the proper legal proceedings of managing a property. Here are a few of the laws every landlord should know about.

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The Top 7 Laws Every Landlord Needs to Study

1. State Regulations

Every state has its own regulations regarding housing. These laws govern tenant-landlord interactions, tenant rights, how to terminate leases, how to carry out evictions, and even the size of the security deposit. To learn about the specific laws associated with your state, visit the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

2. Legal Binding Contracts

This may seem like a no-brainer, but it's important to cover. When a tenant and landlord sign a lease agreement, it becomes a legal, binding contract, which can only be broken under certain parameters, as stated in the contract or by federal or state law. Both the tenant and the landlord are legally responsible for any constraints issued in the document.


Related: How to Find the Right Rental Lease for Your Landlording Business

3. Tenant Privacy and Access Rights

A master key does not grant landlords access whenever they want. Laws may differ from state to state, but in general, landlords are only allowed unannounced access to an apartment in the case of an emergency. They’re also allowed access without the tenant’s permission in order to show the property to a prospective tenant and make repairs, but generally, they are required to inform the tenant at least 24 hours in advance. Otherwise, they must be invited or give proper warning before entering.

4. The Fair Housing Act (FHA)

Under federal law, the Fair Housing Act protects against discrimination on basis of race, color, national origin, religion, sex, familial status, or handicap. Discrimination is defined as treating one tenant differently than another and varies from setting higher rent to denying a lease for personal reasons. The FHA also prohibits discriminatory or selective advertising. For more information about the FHA, click here.

5. The Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA)

Landlords are also responsible for securely treating tenant credit information. This act regulates landlord access to tenant credit report histories. The act was designed to protect tenant privacy, and failure to respect the law usually leads to lawsuits and civil penalties. Click here to learn more about the FCRA.

6. Landlord Liabilities

Almost every state mandates that tenants have the right to live in a dwelling that meets county building and health standards. If the landlord rents out a property that is not fit for habitation by these standards, they are liable for the consequences, unless the current tenant caused the damage. Essentially, this law penalizes any landlord who doesn’t do his or her job.

Related: 3 Important Practices Landlords Should Use During the Move-in Inspection


7. Terminating Contracts and Evictions

Since terminating a contract or evicting a tenant breaks the binding contract, there are proper regulations based on the state you live in. If the tenant or landlord is not holding up their end of the contract, it may call for an early termination, resulting in a mutual parting of ways or an eviction. Likewise, there are instances where the tenant will have a legally backed reason for breaking a contract, and the landlord must honor that request.

When this occurs, consult your state regulations for the proper way to handle it. In general, breaking a contract involves giving 30 days’ notice and the proper paperwork.

It’s also important to note that the landlord is not allowed to change locks, turn off utilities, or use other means of force to evict a tenant. Nor is the landlord allowed to perform an eviction in retaliation to the tenant’s past actions.

The legalities of being a landlord take a considerable amount of research and understanding before you feel comfortable that you’re not breaking the law. Be sure to get a handle on the specifics of your market to stay legal and profitable!

What laws would you add to my list?

Be sure to leave a comment below!

Larry is an independent, full-time writer and consultant. His writing covers a broad range of topics including business, investment and technology. His contributions include Entrepreneur Media, TechCrunch, and When he is not writing, Larry assists both entrepreneurs and mid-market businesses in optimizing strategies for growth, cost cutting, and operational optimization. As an avid real estate investor, Larry cut his teeth in the early 2000s buying land and small single family properties. He has since acquired and flipped over 30 parcels and small homes across the United States. While Larry’s real estate investing experience is a side passion, he will affirm his experience and know-how in real estate investing is derived more from his failures than his successes.
    Ricardo Charles from Boynton Beach, Florida
    Replied over 5 years ago
    Larry, Do you personally landlord and if so what are some of your best strategies to getting started?
    Robert Taylor Broker, Investor, Property Restorer from Fox Point, Wisconsin
    Replied over 5 years ago
    Nice article/list, To add to your rule abut giving proper notice to tenants before coming in their unit, I always make sure I let them know that I realize even there comes the alndhough I own it, that unit is their HOME and other than in an emergency, i will never come barging in on them. I’ve found that especially any of the the lower income tenants I’ve had really appreciate this and I’ve heard MANY believable horror stories from them where landlords (and not to stereotype here, but this is just what I’ve been told 100x over, but they so often mention foreign born landlords being the very worst on this like hearing a lot of stories where it was a weekly or sometimes near daily occurrence where they’d suddenly here the key turning the deadbolt and here he comes again!) By simply paying them that bit of respect and basically saying “hey I know you don’t make a lot of money and are living in a place I own, but I will still treat you with the FULL respect that I’d some rich person renting a fancy place from me because you’re a decent person just like me, I’ll treat you and your home with my full respect” that has many times almost shocked them, since apparently they’re used to being treated like dirt, where probably the landlord lumps all lower income people together in with the sizable number of clowns and scumbags who constantly trash places, break rules like no pit bull rules that could potentially land the landlord a massive lawsuit if it gets out and mauls some kid, which happens, etc and I’d be pissed as heck if that was happening to me and I had a stellar record as a tenant. PS-Of course, if I think there’s illegal stuff happening inside, then all bets are off but as many have said, proper screening is huge to avoid that in the first place!
    Tim Booz
    Replied over 5 years ago
    This is great advice. I’ve found that when tenants feel you’re on their side a lot of confrontation can be avoided. It becomes more of a “what we need to do” instead of an “us vs. them” mentality.
    Robert Taylor Broker, Investor, Property Restorer from Fox Point, Wisconsin
    Replied over 5 years ago
    I should clarify the part where I say “by basically saying hey I know you don’t make lot of money” I didn’t mean I actually say those words to them, which some might find to be kind of a put down. I’d actually say something more like “Hey I treat all of my tenants the same way, whether its a studio apartment or a fancy penthouse . . . ” and I’m down to just one rental unit right now anyway, but I think you get the idea!
    Jerry W. Investor from Thermopolis, Wyoming
    Replied over 5 years ago
    Hey Larry very good blog. It accurately depicts things to look out for. It is worth mentioning that even Towns can enact tenant landlord laws so it is important to look up those laws as well. thanks for taking the time to give folks pointers on this.
    John Shultis Investor from Springfield, Virginia
    Replied over 5 years ago
    Larry, Thanks for the great article, and links to the resources. You did not go into detail on the comment about “mutual parting of the ways,” but that’s a very important point, and one that will save a landlord a lot of trouble and money over time. I’ve had my share of troubled tenants, and find that helping them to move when the rental situation is no longer viable has saved me from having to make more costly repairs owing to willful damage and vandalism perpetrated by an angry tenant. I also agree with Robert Taylor that treating the folks who rent my properties with dignity and respect is the best way to run any business. Our legal system has its roots in British Common Law, which has held for centuries that a man’s home is his castle, and even the King of England must receive permission to enter the humblest habitation.
    Mujangi Kabamba Investor from Midlothian, VA
    Replied over 5 years ago
    Great topic. Thanks for sharing , Larry.
    Replied over 4 years ago
    Do you have the right to evict a tenant if the house is trashed. For instance trash is piled up in garage. You can’t see bedroom floors because of clothes everywhere. You can’t see kitchen counters because of all the crap on them. Bathroom doesn’t look like it’s been cleaned since they moved in.
    Kathleen Leary from Princeton, Kansas
    Replied over 4 years ago
    I make sure my tenants know that “30 days notice” means “30,” not “20” or “whenever you get around to it.” I also furnish them all the proper forms to fill out for end-of-tenancy, repair requests, etc. & even if I technically don’t have to, I make sure & text them as to when I’ll be at the property for maintenance & ask if it’s okay with them. So far, every one has said, “Hey, just go on in!” It’s a two-way street: I’m respectful of their home & they’re accommodating of my ownership.
    Matthew Kreitzer Attorney from Winchester, Virginia
    Replied over 4 years ago
    There are a few more sources that may inform the average Landlord/Tenant interactions including, but not limited to, municipal code, administrative opinion letters, and case law. It is important that if a Landlord or a Tenant have a potential legal issue, they should seek competent, independent legal counsel in the state where they do business.