The business of being a landlord is complicated. Landlords are responsible for potentially complex maintenance and repairs, negotiating the terms of the lease, ensuring rents are paid in a timely manner, assessing any fees for damages or late payments, and so much more. Mixed in with the long list of responsibilities landlords must handle are a number of complex legal requirements that can trip up even the most pragmatic of commercial property owners.
5 Common Legal Mistakes Made By Landlords that Should be Avoided:
- Asking discriminatory questions: in this modern day and age, you would think that this wouldn't be an issue, but it continue to be one of the most common causes of legal trouble for landlords. If you are unsure about the appropriate nature of a question you would like to use in determining eligibility for tenants, consult a real estate attorney in your area before you approach your tenant or potential tenant. Discriminatory questions can come in many shapes and sizes, including questions on the topic of: race, religion, national origin, sex/gender, disability, familial status, etc.
- Failure to Provide Prospective Tenants with Disclosures: Landlords are required to disclose important information about the rental property being considered by any prospective tenant: notice of mold, pertinent information found in the state's sexual offender registry, recent deaths on/in the property, etc. for a full list of required disclosures, contact an experienced southern California real estate attorney.
- Including Illegal Provisions in the Lease Agreement: There is no appropriate reason to include provisions that are, in and of themselves, in violation of state or federal law. Landlords should avoid any clauses or conditions that would require a tenant to waive their right to a refund of their security deposit or waive their right to sue the landlord. Illegal terms and provisions in a lease could end with the legal system finding the landlord/property owner liable for monetary damages.
- Refusal to Complete Repairs: Responsibility for various repairs on the property should be designated within the lease agreement. Regardless of the terms of the agreement, landlords must make some repairs even if they did not agree in writing to do so because a landlord has the duty to provide a rental that is fit to live in. A "habitable" rental unit is defined by law as providing: heating, plumbing, gas, clean water, electricity and structurally sound roof and flooring. If a landlord allows a property that is under lease to remain in disrepair, a tenant could choose to have the problems fixed and deduct the costs from their lease payment. They could also choose to break the lease and move out or report the landlord's violation to a state building inspector. Failure to make repairs that would create a "habitable" living space can result in a lawsuit.
- Ignore a Tenant's Right to Privacy: Tenants have the right to privacy. Landlords must not enter a leased rental unit without providing 24-hour notice to the tenant. The only time it is appropriate for a landlord to enter without 24-hour notice is in the event of an emergency.
If you have additional questions about common legal mistakes landlords should avoid, contact one of the experienced real estate attorneys at southern California's The Law Office of Retz & Aldover LLP.