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Landlord-tenant law regulates the rental of commercial and residential property. Rental agreements are often known to spur controversy within the landlord-tenant relationship. It is always important for both parties to understand the law and be aware of their legal rights.

Know the Law

Landlord-tenant law is mainly comprised of state statutory and common law. Several states have based their statutory law on either the Uniform Residential Landlord and Tenant Act (URLTA) or the Model Residential Landlord-Tenant Code.

The foundation of the legal relationship between a landlord and tenant is grounded in both contract and property law. The tenant has a property interest in the land for a given period of time, which is determined by the landlord-tenant agreement typically described in the lease. Though not strictly a contract, a lease may be subject to principles found in contract law.

Statutory law normally determines what provisions may be contained in a lease. Key to all leases is the implied covenant of quiet enjoyment, which ensures the tenant's possessions will not be disturbed by anyone with a superior legal title to the land, including the landlord.

Unless otherwise stated in the lease, it is always assumed that the tenant has an obligation to pay rent. In commercial leases, rent is often calculated as a percentage of the tenant's sales. There are times, however, in which a tenant may not be obligated to pay rent. Housing codes were established in order to make sure residential rental units were habitable at the time of rental and during the tenancy. Though it varies by state, housing code violations may permit the tenant to withhold rent.

Finally, federal law clearly forbids discrimination of any kind in the rental market.

Know Your Rights

Landlord-tenant agreements can spur endless legal conflicts. Knowing if your rights have been violated is necessary in determining whether or not you want to hire a lawyer to plead your case. Below are some common questions and answers involving landlord-tenant legal issues.

- Can a landlord terminate a tenant's right to possess the rental property?

Yes. The landlord retains the right to evict tenants for: failing to pay rent on time; committing property damage; possessing pets if doing so violates the terms of the lease; occupancy of the rental unit by persons not named on the lease; and material disturbances of other tenants, such as extreme noise disturbances.

However, before forcing a tenant out of a rental property, the landlord must provide written notice as well as a reasonable amount of time for the tenant to fix the problem. If the tenant does not comply, a formal eviction proceeding must be followed. The law does not condone “self-help” evictions, in which the landlord changes the locks on the tenant's doors or shuts off his/her water and/or electricity in an effort to force that tenant to leave.

- If you've already put a deposit down on an apartment, had your application approved, and are about to sign a lease, but at the last minute, are told the apartment is no longer available, is there any recourse you can take?

No. The bottom line is you do not have a lease until you've signed one. Unless the refusal was based upon prohibited grounds such as racial discrimination, you do not have a case.

- What happens when your landlord demands an astronomical rent increase?

First, check your state landlord tenant law on rent increases. There may be a chance that the law in your state limits the percentage increase a landlord may charge from month to month, in which case, you are in luck. Otherwise, you must either pay the increased rent or find a new place to live.

If you choose to stay put, you still want to be sure your landlord has provided you with adequate notice. He/she is essentially terminating your old month-to-month agreement with the new rent increase. Therefore, if state law requires the landlord to give thirty days notice to terminate the agreement, and he/she has given you less than that, the notice is not legally effective until the following month.

By Lindsay Rech           

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