While the process of finding a new tenant can be relatively straightforward, the tricky part is familiarizing yourself with landlord-tenant laws. And, even if you are familiar with them, rental laws are constantly changing. That’s why regularly keeping tabs on local regulations can help you better manage your rental properties.
While the best way to familiarize yourself with rental laws is to consult a qualified legal expert, this article offers a closer look at ten landlord-tenant laws that all landlords should research.
1. Rental Licenses
Depending on where you live, you may need a rental license before renting out your property. Rental licensing programs exist to ensure that rental properties meet minimum housing standards.
Some states, like Oregon, require all landlords to have rental licenses for their properties. However, other states may only have mandates in certain counties, cities, or municipalities. For example, landlords in Philadelphia must be licensed, despite Pennsylvania not having a statewide requirement.
Failing to comply with these requirements could result in fines and other penalties, so review your state and local laws before leasing your rental properties.
2. Rent and Security Deposit Collection
Rent collection is the primary income stream for rental businesses, so it’s essential to be aware of any applicable rent laws for your state. States like Ohio and Virginia have no specific statewide rent regulations. Meanwhile, California law says landlords can’t require tenants to pay rent in cash.
Security deposits are also subject to specific laws that vary from state to state. Rhode Island landlords, for example, aren’t allowed to charge a security deposit of more than one month’s rent and must return the deposit within 20 days of the lease ending.
Florida has no limit to how much a landlord can charge for a security deposit. Still, if you decide to hold a deposit in an interest-bearing account, you’ll have to choose to pay the tenant either at least 75% of the annualized average interest rate or 5% simple interest per year.
3. Late Fees and Grace Periods
A late fee is an easy and enforceable way to encourage on-time rent payments, but states may have specific rules that apply to them. According to Tennessee law, landlords can impose late fees if they don’t exceed 10% of the rent price.
Before charging a late fee, you should also consider laws concerning grace periods. Tennessee has a statewide five-day grace period before landlords can consider rent late.
In states with no laws concerning late fees and grace periods, landlords should include their policies in the lease for them to be enforceable.
4. Required Clauses and Disclosures in Lease Agreements
Your lease agreement is a legally-binding contract that outlines rules and expectations both parties must follow during the lease period. To be an enforceable agreement, it must include locally-required clauses and clauses that don’t violate renters’ rights.
States like New York, Minnesota, and Rhode Island all require the following clauses:
- Landlord’s name, address, and phone number
- Rent amount and due date
- Length of the lease agreement
- Description of the rental unit
Separate from clauses, landlords may also need to include specific disclosures in the lease as well. A common requirement in several states is to disclose all known lead-based paint and lead-based paint hazards with a warning and an EPA pamphlet.
Some states may have more specific requirements. For example, landlords in Missouri must also disclose if the property was used as a site for methamphetamine production.
You can research your local landlord-tenant laws to verify what clauses are required, but it can be helpful to include the clauses listed above in your written lease, even if there’s no statewide requirement.
5. Marijuana Use
While laws surrounding marijuana use are changing in states nationwide, landlords are generally allowed to set their own policies for their rental properties. Similar to prohibiting cigar and cigarette smoke, you can also prohibit tenants from smoking marijuana in your unit. You may also be able to prohibit tenants from producing marijuana.
For example, Wisconsin law prohibits the possession, sale, and manufacture of marijuana. Landlords can serve a non-curable five-day notice to quit to tenants who produce or distribute marijuana on the rental property.
6. Pets, Emotional Support Animals, and Service Animals
Over half of US households own a pet, so understanding landlord-tenant laws in your state concerning pets can benefit your rental business. Some states, like Kansas, restrict how much landlords can charge for a pet deposit. Other states, like New Hampshire, have no limitations on pet fees.
It’s worth noting that emotional support animals (ESA) and service animals are not considered pets and are regulated differently. ESAs are animals that provide disability-relieving emotional support to an individual. According to the Fair Housing Act, disabled tenants with an emotional support animal may reside in housing with a “No Pets” policy.
Landlords are allowed to request proper documentation for an ESA. However, landlords may not:
- Charge a fee, additional rent, or a security deposit for having an emotional support animal
- Ask the tenant about their disability
- Require the animal to have any specific training
- Refuse to house the tenant because their insurance does not cover ESAs
According to the Americans with Disabilities Act, service animals are animals that are individually trained to do work or perform tasks that mitigate their handler’s disability. Because they aren’t pets, they can’t be subjected to pet fees. However, landlords can collect a security deposit to address any damage the animal may cause to the property.
7. Property Abandonment
Occasionally, tenants may leave some of their belongings at the property after moving out. Before discarding the items, you may need to follow a certain procedure to confirm the tenant no longer wants them.
These laws tend to vary from state to state. Michigan has no specific laws regarding the abandonment of property, while New Mexico landlords must store any of the tenant’s personal property left at the rental for at least 30 days and notify the owner of their intent following the 30 days. Discarding the belongings without following the right process can leave you susceptible to legal issues.
If your tenant plans to be away from the property for an extended period, you may discuss subleasing as an option to keep your rental income uninterrupted. But what are the laws surrounding subleasing?
In most states, landlords can determine their subleasing policies based on their lease agreements. Generally, landlords will include a clause about subleasing within the written lease or add one with a lease amendment if necessary.
Certain states like New York and Virginia have more specific requirements, so verify your state’s policy to avoid any challenges.
9. Lease Renewals
Whether you’ve included an automatic renewal clause in your lease or found high-quality tenants you’d like to retain, you should verify your state’s lease renewal laws.
Some states mandate that fixed-term tenancies terminate automatically at the end of the specified period and convert to renewing month-to-month tenancies with continued occupancy and payment by the tenant. In other states, automatic renewal clauses must be disclosed, and the landlord should remind the tenant during a specified notice period.
Knowing how to handle lease renewals per local landlord-tenant laws can help you cover your bases and communicate clearly with your tenants as a lease ends.
Sometimes, the only way to deal with a problem tenant is by evicting them. This eviction process is highly specific and varies from state to state, so understanding the laws is essential if you plan to pursue an eviction.
While the eviction process may differ between states, they generally begin by identifying a legal reason to evict a tenant. Some of these reasons include:
- Nonpayment of rent
- Violation of lease terms
- No lease or end of lease
- Material health or safety violation
It’s important to note that there must be a valid legal reason for a landlord to begin the eviction process. Furthermore, self-help evictions are considered illegal in most states. This means landlords can’t try to evict a tenant by changing locks, cutting off utilities, entering the property, removing the tenant’s belongings, and so on.
Understanding rental laws can prepare you for various situations you may encounter as a landlord and give you the knowledge to handle them confidently. If questions arise, contact a legal expert to help you better understand local ordinances.
*Disclaimer: The information provided on this website does not constitute legal advice. Instead, all information available on this site is for informational purposes only. Use of, and access to, this information does not create an attorney-client relationship between the reader and Avail, BiggerPockets, or the contributing law firm.
This article is presented by Avail
Feel good about the way you manage your rentals.
Avail, by Realtor.com, is free rental property management software that enables landlords to advertise their rental property listing across a dozen sites, screen tenants with customizable questions, request in-depth background checks, create and sign state-specific leases, collect rent, track your rental income and expenses, and much more — all online.
512,000+ landlords use Avail because it’s the only end-to-end platform that helps you scale from beginner landlord to professional with tools, support, and education.
Note By BiggerPockets: These are opinions written by the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions of BiggerPockets.
Discussion about this post