Landlord Rights and Responsibilities

Understand your legal rights as a landlord

By Canaan Suitt, J.D. | Last updated on August 1, 2022

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Landlords are individuals or businesses that rent property to tenants for payment. If you’re a landlord, you have several important rights as well as responsibilities towards your tenants.

Whether you’re planning to be a landlord for the first time or if you already have experience with renting real estate, it’s important to understand the landlord-tenant law governing your role.

Knowing your rights and responsibilities as a landlord can help prevent legal issues with your tenant from arising–and when legal problems do arise, understanding the law can help resolve them as smoothly as possible.

This article will cover important landlord rights and responsibilities and point to further legal help if you are dealing with a landlord-tenant dispute.

How is the Landlord-Tenant Relationship Formed?

Nevada real estate attorney Terry A. Moore says it is “not a simple question. As a [general rule], the landlord-tenant relationship is formed when the parties enter into a contract for the tenant to lease or rent the premises owned by the landlord.”

When it comes to “interests in land that exceed one year,” Moore says, contracts have to be in writing–a requirement known as the statute of frauds.

“So [in] the vast majority of cases, you have a written agreement,” says Moore.

However, “there are some cases where a written agreement is not necessary,” he says.  For example, consider what could happen if a homeowner let their son’s girlfriend live in their house:

“Say she’s fallen on hard times, and you’ve given her a room. If she doesn’t pay you anything and you don’t sign anything, but she’s there for a decent period of time, it’s not as easy as throwing her out [when you don’t want her living in your house anymore],” says Moore. “She could arguably have created what’s called a tenancy at will, which is a situation where you don’t necessarily have an agreement for a set period of time, and it’s just something that can be terminated at will, but it’s still a tenancy,” he says.

A “tenancy at will could also be created if someone has lived in your house and paid you money from month to month” without a written agreement, Moore says.

The bottom line with a tenancy at will is that even though there isn’t a written lease, some courts may still find a tenancy based on the circumstances. And this means you can’t simply throw the person out. You will have to follow the proper legal procedures to terminate the tenancy.

It’s best to speak with a lawyer about the best way to remove someone living in your house or property in this situation.

Landlord Rights

What rights do landlords have when renting their property to tenants? There are several important rights:

  • Set terms of the lease agreement. Landlords have control over lease terms, including which rental units are available, how long a tenancy will last, who pays the utility company for services, and the use of common areas.
  • Collect rent. Landlords are entitled to receive payment for renting their property. They can set the amount of rent, charge late fees for missed rent, and generally initiate rent increases (with notice, depending on the state)
  • Choose who you want to rent to. Insofar as landlords do not engage in discriminatory activity in selecting renters, landlords can control who they want to rent their premises.
  • Evict tenants who violate the lease. Eviction is a legal process for removing tenants who refuse to move out when their lease expires or who fail to pay rent or violate the terms of the lease agreement. For more on the eviction process, read this article and see the discussion below on handling landlord-tenant disputes.
  • Choose not to rent anymore. When a lease term is up, landlords are entitled to choose not to rent their property anymore.
  • Sell the rental property. Landlords are entitled to sell their apartment or rental housing property if they wish.

Landlord Responsibilities

Landlord responsibilities correspond to the rights renters have in the landlord-tenant relationship. Landlords should:

  • Follow the terms in the rental agreement
  • Comply with all federal and state laws, including fair housing anti-discrimination laws
  • Deal with tenants openly and honestly
  • Keep the property safe and ensure habitability by making necessary repairs and ensuring that hot water, air conditioning, plumbing, etc., comply with housing codes.
  • Notify tenants of any utility or water shut offs
  • Respect your tenants’ right to quiet enjoyment by only entering the premises at reasonable times or after giving notice
  • Not retaliate or wrongfully evict a tenant.
  • Not wrongfully keep a security deposit (saving it for unpaid rent or damage beyond normal wear and tear is legitimate)

Learn more about tenant rights and responsibilities by reading this article.

How to Handle a Landlord-Tenant Dispute

“One of the most important things any tenant can do is communicate with their landlord promptly, honestly, and consistently,” says Moore.  However, many people don’t do this, and as a result, “we do a lot of evictions,” he says.

Eviction is often “the only tool that landlords have” to protect their rights, says Moore. Eviction can be brought for a few reasons:

  • The tenant refuses to move out when their lease has expired
  • The tenant violates the terms of the lease
  • The tenant’s conduct creates a nuisance

Whatever the reason for eviction, the eviction process generally proceeds by the landlord serving the tenant with notice. Once this happens, tenants “have to take some action or they will be evicted,” says Moore. 

Using Nevada eviction law as an example, “If the tenant responds [to the landlord’s eviction notice] and files a tenant affidavit opposing it, the landlord will file their next document,” says Moore. 

From this initial phase, “you’ll go into the eviction proceeding. Almost all [eviction proceedings] go to a mediation phase. If you can’t resolve it in mediation, you go into an eviction hearing” where a judge determines the outcome and can issue a court order, he says.

No Cause Termination of Tenancy

Another option landlords have (depending on state law) is known as no-cause termination.

This option is available when tenancies have expired or been converted to a month-to-month basis. In this case, “a landlord can serve a tenant with a 30-day no-cause notice that [essentially says], ‘I don’t need a reason, I just want my property back,’” says Moore.

Before the Covid-19 pandemic, tenants “didn’t have much of an argument” in no cause termination actions, he says.  If tenants did contest it, the court would hold a “barely perfunctory hearing” to assess the situation.

“In Nevada, landlords don’t need a reason to terminate a month-to-month tenancy–they just have to give a 30-day notice. They’re entitled to get their property back,” says Moore.

An important caveat on no-cause termination determines landlords “can’t engage in [it] in a retaliatory of discriminatory fashion,” he says.  At the same time, “it’s a pretty high burden for the tenant to show that [termination] is in retaliation or for a discriminatory reason when landlords are simply saying they want their property back. There’s always a justification for why a landlord would want their property back at the end of a term,” says Moore.

Questions for a Landlord-Tenant Attorney

Getting legal advice from a landlord-tenant lawyer is essential if you plan to take legal action against your landlord.

Many attorneys give free consultations to prospective clients. These meetings are an excellent resource for both attorney and client because they allow the attorney to hear the facts of the case while the client can determine if the attorney meets their needs.

The best way to decide whether an attorney is the right fit is by asking informed questions. Here are some good questions to ask during your initial conversations:

  • What are your attorneys’ fees?
  • What billing options do you offer?
  • Should I take legal action to address my problem?
  • What is the likelihood of success in a lawsuit?
  • What kind of court should I sue in?
  • What legal services do you offer?
  • Are there alternatives to a lawsuit I should pursue?

Finding the Right Attorney For Your Needs

It is essential to approach the right type of attorney—someone who can give you legal help for your entire case. You can visit the Super Lawyers directory and use the search box to find a lawyer based on your legal issue or location. 

For legal advice in suing your landlord, consider looking for a lawyer practicing landlord-tenant law.

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