6 Legal Mistakes Landlords Can Avoid
1. Asking Discriminating Questions
Renting to the right tenant is key, but asking questions that lead to denying a person based on race or color, national origin, marital status, familial status, disability, age, sex, sexual orientation or gender identity is illegal. You can base your decision on credit history, employment history, and income.
Don’t rent to anyone before doing a thorough investigation. Use a rental application to adequately screen potential tenants and apply the same application procedures to all tenants.
2. Not Making Complete Disclosures to Tenants
Federal law requires landlords to disclose lead-based paint hazards to tenants and individual states have lists of required disclosures. These are some of the common ones:
tenants’ rights to move-in checklists that lists existing damages to the rental property
tenants’ rights to be present at a move-out inspection of the rental property
shared utility arrangements – such as if a tenant pays part of a master metered utility
information on installation and maintenance of smoke detectors and alarms
the presence of environmental and health hazards, including mold, radon, and bedbugs
recent flooding in the rental unit or if the location is in a flood zone
planned condo/co-op conversions, intention to demolish the rental unit, or in-process foreclosure proceedings
3. Putting Illegal Provisions in the Rental Agreement
Use a written lease or month-to-month rental agreement to document the important facts of the relationship. Typical residential lease agreements specify important rental terms that structure the landlord/tenant relationship.
The most important provisions include the following:
names of the tenants
length of the tenancy
the amount of the security deposit
who is responsible for specific repairs
if pets may live in the rental unit
the amount of rent
A residential lease agreement should not contain provisions that violate state or federal law. A landlord may not put conditions in the rental agreement that require the tenant to waive the right to a refund of a security deposit or the right to sue the landlord.
4. Failure to Provide a Safe Environment
Landlords can be sued by tenants and their guests for negligence when injury occurs on a property and there is evidence of owner neglect. It is important to maintain the property and remove dangerous environmental risks such as lead-based paint, asbestos, mold, carbon monoxide, and radon. The landlord must install carbon monoxide detectors, repair water leaks, and comply with asbestos regulations.
Keep up with maintenance and repairs in a timely manner. If the property is not kept in good repair tenants may have the right to withhold rent, repair the problem and deduct the cost from the rent. They may also be able to sue for injuries caused by defective conditions, and/or move out without needing to give notice.
5. Disregard of the Tenant’s Rights to Privacy
Landlords must notify tenants whenever they plan to enter their rental unit, and they should provide as much notice as possible. Notice can be verbal or in writing. If the request for entry is unreasonable in time or date (on a holiday or late at night) the tenants may refuse. If the landlord proceeds with the entry without the permission of the tenant, he may be subject to legal consequences.
A landlord can only enter a rental unit for a few specific purposes such as to make repairs, inspect the property, show the property to prospective tenants, or in the case of an emergency. If it is an emergency, (gas or water leak) notice is not required.
6. Not Handling Security Deposits Correctly
New Jersey allows a landlord to hold a tenant’s security deposit for up to 1.5 times the amount of monthly rent. The security must be held in a segregated account for that tenant in a bank, with interest paid to the tenant. The landlord also must notify the tenant of the name of the bank where the security deposit is being held.
I am happy to discuss your case in detail with you via email or phone. Please don’t hesitate to call me at (973) 509-8500 x213 or email me at: LFarber@LFarberLaw.com
The contents of this writing are intended for general information purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice or opinion in any specific facts or circumstances.