A landlord is a person or organization that leases real estate they own to another individual or organization in exchange for rent. Landlords and renters can be individuals, businesses, or other organizations. Renters are also called tenants.

Landlords collect rent from tenants, and they can evict tenants who fail to pay rent. But a landlord must ensure their rental property remains habitable while occupied by a renter. 

In most states and cities, a landlord’s rental property must meet a standard called the implied warranty of habitability. This legal guideline states that a landlord must provide a rental unit that’s safe and livable for their tenant.

Landlord-tenant laws govern the relationship between a landlord and their renter. These laws vary by state and city. 

Are All Real Estate Investors Landlords?

Real estate investors are not the same thing as landlords. 

Landlords are property owners whose primary business goal is making money by collecting rent. They want to maximize their revenue. To do so, they limit their costs by handling the management of their rental properties themselves. 

A landlord may hire a professional, such as an electrician, to repair their rental property. They may also pay a property manager or property management company to oversee their business. Alternatively, they might provide that service themselves, thereby reducing their costs and increasing their profits.

Real estate investors, however, focus on earning money by owning and selling property. Some real estate investors may rent their property while they own it, but doing so is a short-term tactic. For example, an investor may rent a condo for a year while they wait for their local housing market to improve.

A real estate investor who rents their property almost always hires a property manager or property management company to run things. Doing so allows the investor to focus on growing their real estate business, not managing rental properties. 

Sometimes a real estate investor’s only goal is to cover the property’s monthly mortgage payment. They’re willing to pay someone to manage their rental property so they can focus on their business goal of growing their real estate investment business.

Understanding Rental Agreements

A lease, or rental agreement, defines the terms by which the landlord rents their property to the tenant. Items usually listed in a lease include the property’s security deposit, the amount of rent owed by the tenant, and the length of time for which the agreement is valid.

At the end of a rental agreement, a landlord can choose not to renew the contract, and eviction isn’t necessary. If a tenant refuses to vacate the rental property at the end of their lease, though, the landlord will need to evict them. (Keep in mind that instances of a renter failing to leave a property at the end of their rental agreement are rare.)

In most states, a landlord can choose not to renew or extend a tenant’s lease for any reason. Landlords are usually required to provide the renter with at least 30 days’ written notice if they’re opting not to renew a rental agreement.

Eviction Laws for Landlords

Landlords can evict tenants who violate their rental agreements, or lease. Eviction means a landlord removes a renter from the rental property. 

Most evictions occur before the end of the renter’s lease. Failure to pay rent is the most common reason a landlord evicts a tenant. 

But landlords must adhere to their local eviction laws. It’s crucial to note that eviction laws and procedures vary by state. For example, New York requires landlords to provide renters with an eviction notice at least 14 days before eviction, while Texas only requires three days' notice.

Most places require landlords to keep rental properties safe and livable for their tenants. If they don’t, the landlord might find it difficult to evict the renter, even if the tenant fails to pay rent.

Landlords also can’t discriminate. The federal government, via the fair housing act, protects tenants based on race, color, national origin, sex, religion, disability, and familial status. Landlords can’t choose to evict someone because they fall into one of these protected classes.

Landlords can’t evict a tenant as retaliation. Let’s say a renter reports a landlord to their local housing authority for violating building codes. The landlord can’t conduct what’s called a retaliatory eviction.

The best approach is for landlords to reduce the likelihood of eviction, starting with tenant screening. This step is part of the rental application process. It involves a landlord reviewing a potential renter’s credit score, credit history, and verifying their income. The goal of tenant screening is to ensure the renter poses less risk to the landlord.

Note that the Fair Housing Act applies during the rental application process. Landlords cannot refuse to rent to someone based on the protected classes listed above. And some states extend those protections to others. For example, California prevents discrimination based on a tenant’s source of income and sexual orientation.

Important Tenants’ Rights to Know

Most states extend legal protections to tenants, though landlord-tenant laws vary by location. Below are the tenants’ rights that are applicable in most places.

Tenants have a right to privacy. This right means landlords have to abide by other state and federal privacy laws. And it governs how landlords access a rental property while a tenant occupies it.

Most laws provide guarantee landlords access to their rental units for three reasons:

  • To make repairs.
  • To respond to an emergency.
  • To show the property to prospective tenants or buyers.

Tenants aren’t usually allowed to keep landlords out of the rental property if the landlord needs access for any of the above reasons. But landlords must give at least 24 hours’ notice to renters before entering the property. The exact length of time varies based on the state.

If the landlord provides the required notice, they can enter the rental property even if the tenant isn't home. 

This rule doesn’t apply if there’s an emergency. If there’s a gas leak, for example, a landlord has permission to access their property without prior notice to address the issue.

Tenants also have the right to a safe, habitable rental property. This rule means landlords must maintain their rental units, including making repairs as needed. Tenants who feel their landlords aren’t adhering to this standard have a few options. They can:

  • Handle the repairs themselves and deduct the cost from their rent payment.
  • Withhold rent until the landlord addresses the problem.
  • Terminate their lease without penalty.
  • Sue their landlord.
  • Report the landlord to local authorities.
  • Pay partial rent until the issue is resolved.

Some specific laws and regulations protect tenants’ rights. These laws vary by state, so it’s necessary to know what applies where your rental property’s located. When in doubt, consult an attorney.