Landlords and tenants are on opposite ends of a rental contract and, in case of a dispute, on opposite ends of a lawsuit. But the type of law involved in these transactions and disputes includes both parties and is known as landlord tenant law. Landlord tenant law is not standard across the country. Whatever the rules applicable in your jurisdiction, you'll find answers to all your legal questions in your city and state's landlord tenant law.
Landlord Tenant Law
Think of landlord tenant law as a hybrid plant, the result of the mixing of contract law and property law. It contains elements of each, covering almost all aspects of a real property rental arrangement. Generally, landlord tenant law tells you what you must do to enter into a legal rental contract as a landlord or a tenant, what the contract can contain, and also what it must contain: tenant rights, landlord rights and the responsibilities of both parties. If your jurisdiction has a rent control ordinance, this is a very important source of tenant protections.
What Are Your Rights as a Renter?
Since tenants have far more rights in some states than in others, and even more in cities with municipal rent control laws, you'll need to track down your local laws. Note that not all states list their real estate rental laws in statutes called landlord tenant law. When you research the applicable law in your area but find nothing by that title, look under real estate law.
Tenants have the right to occupy their rented premises. Residential renters have the right to treat the house or apartment as their home as long as they don't violate the terms of their agreement with the landlord or interfere with the rights of neighbors. Most of the time, a renter's rights, along with restrictions on use of the property, are set out in the agreement so that's a good place to start. Can you have pets? Can you get a roommate? Can you plant a garden in the back yard? The written rental agreement should tell you.
If you see a provision in the agreement that appears to be illegal, check the local laws. Some rent control agencies have tenant hot lines, so that's a good place to call.
What Is Considered Harassment by the Landlord?
A tenant is entitled to the quiet enjoyment of the rented premises. That means that the landlord must leave you in peace as long as you fulfill your duties under the agreement. A landlord who harasses a tenant violates the tenant's right to quiet enjoyment. What is considered harassment by the landlord can differ from state to state. Most landlords drift into harassment in an attempt to get frustrating tenants to leave. If tenants are behaving illegally or breaking the contract terms, the legal alternative is eviction, which can be expensive and take time.
In all states, landlords have the responsibility to maintain the premises and fix problems, like a leaking faucet or a broken door, promptly. A landlord who repeatedly fails to do this can be seen as harassing the tenant. Other examples of harassment include refusing to allow tenants to use parts of the property they have used in the past, like the backyard; refusing to acknowledge receipt of the rent check; entering the apartment without proper notice; destroying the tenant's property; and making threats of physical or financial injury.
Can a Landlord Restrict Guests?
A landlord can reasonably restrict guests, but he cannot do so unreasonably. Needless to say, the boundaries of reasonable conduct often look different depending on which side of the aisle you are sitting. A landlord has the right to include provisions in a rental agreement that prevent a tenant from bringing in others to reside in the apartment. If the agreement contains a clause prohibiting subletting, the tenant cannot legally allow others to move in.
It is also legal for a landlord to keep a particular guest out of the premises if that guest violates the rules of the tenancy. For example, if the apartment doesn't allow smoking, a guest who regularly comes over and lights up a cigarette can be excluded from the apartment or even from the entire building.
What about limiting overnight guests? In the absence of a state or local law to the contrary, a landlord may include a provision in the rental agreement prohibiting or limiting overnight guests, but an attempt to prevent a tenant from having any guests at all may well be considered unreasonable.
Read More: Reasons to Sue Your Landlord
Landlord tenant law is the body of laws and regulations that regulate real estate rental contracts in a jurisdiction.
Teo Spengler earned a J.D. from U.C. Berkeley's Boalt Hall. As an Assistant Attorney General in Juneau, she practiced before the Alaska Supreme Court and the U.S. Supreme Court before opening a plaintiff's personal injury practice in San Francisco. She holds both an M.A. and an M.F.A in creative writing and enjoys writing legal blogs and articles. Her work has appeared in numerous online publications including USA Today, Legal Zoom, eHow Business, Livestrong, SF Gate, Go Banking Rates, Arizona Central, Houston Chronicle, Navy Federal Credit Union, Pearson, Quicken.com, TurboTax.com, and numerous attorney websites. Spengler splits her time between the French Basque Country and Northern California.