Landlord Responsibilities: The Property Checklist
The extent of responsibilities that you must undertake as a landlord can feel overwhelming. It’s fair to say there are many to manage, so the key is to understand them fully and work on an optimal organizational strategy to stay ahead of any avoidable issues.
As a landlord, you are a business owner. Your rental property is an asset, and your tenants are your clients. Therefore, it is your responsibility to care for and protect your asset by maintaining the property and any applicable payments and accounting requirements.
While it is a tenant’s responsibility to make regular rent payments, it is the landlord’s responsibility to stay up-to-date with any mortgage repayments. Failing to pay your mortgage on time risks you being subject to late fees, poor credit, and eventually foreclosure, which compromises the security of your tenant’s living arrangements.
Legally, as the property is in your name as the landlord, so are the associated tax obligations. Bear in mind that not only can banks foreclose on properties, but so too can towns or cities based on unpaid taxes.
Once again, each state upholds its own specific rules regarding how security deposits are to be managed, so be sure to check your state’s policies. Each state also outlines security deposit limits, so make sure you do not overcharge your new tenants. Typically the most you can request for a security deposit is two times the set rental amount but check for your local guidelines.
If you choose to include utilities in your tenant’s monthly rental repayments, then they should remain in your name. If, however, your agreement stipulates that your tenants pay the utility bills, it’s essential that they are not in your name to avoid any unnecessary unpaid disputes.
Most mortgage lenders will insist on you providing proof of insurance before securing your rental property loan. It’s also a good idea to advise your tenants to put some renter’s insurance in place to cover their possessions.
Other valuable insurance protections include water, fire, and flood damage coverage.
Property maintenance responsibilities and safety code regulations
Tenants have the right to receive what is known as a ‘warranty of habitability.’ This means that it is the responsibility of a landlord to maintain the property to an inhabitable standard by keeping up with repairs and safety code regulations.
Backed-up gutters, clogged drains, peeling paint, and faulty fixtures are some examples of what must be addressed to ensure that the property is habitable.
Warrant of Habitability
Every tenant has the right to be provided with a clean, safe rental property. The warranty of habitability covers the livability and quality of the property. Factors such as the necessity for functioning heating and hot water are included, as is the right for the tenant to live in an infestation-free property. Other minimum standards include:
- Supplying trash receptacles
- Maintaining the structural integrity of the property to keep it safe
- Drinkable water
- Working electricity
- Functioning bathroom and toilet
- Smoke and carbon monoxide detectors
- Disclosing any property history of environmental hazards, such as asbestos or lead paint
- Adequate ventilation system
- Security protections such as locks and window guards
- Up-to-date building code conformities
Rental property types will differ somewhat as to which relevant safety codes must be followed, and different cities and states uphold their own set of regulations. Therefore, you will need to visit your local jurisdiction’s website for specific information about your particular property and area. Nevertheless, here are some of the most common safety code considerations to meet as a landlord.
It’s essential to understand and adhere to your local occupancy standards when renting your property out, and each state sets its own standards. For example, New York State’s occupancy standard is 70 sq ft for the first occupant in a bedroom and 50 sq ft for each additional occupant for the same room; dining and living rooms can count towards occupancy rooms.
Landlords must ensure that any mold found in a rental dwelling is cleaned and removed, and the underlying factors causing the damp conditions are remedied.
If your rental property was constructed prior to 1978, you must provide a lead paint disclosure form. In addition, any new tenants should also be given a lead paint pamphlet explaining the risks associated with lead paint.
Smoke and carbon monoxide detectors
Your local laws will stipulate how many smoke and carbon monoxide detectors are required for each room and floor of the property. The rules may also vary depending upon what appliances are included in each room.
Again, rules differ between states, but a landlord is often required by law to install window guards when requested by a tenant who occupies the property with a child aged ten or less.
Common area safety
As a landlord, it is your responsibility to maintain any common areas to ensure basic safety standards are met. This includes replacing light bulbs, installing adequate handrails for staircases, and keeping the area free of any other hazards.
In some states, significant snowfall is a yearly challenge to contend with. Landlords are typically equally responsible alongside the tenant for ensuring that sidewalks are clear of hazardous ice and snow. In addition, both are usually equally responsible for any resulting damages. Therefore, it’s important to understand the local and state laws.
The Fair Housing Act (FHA)
The Fair Housing Act of 1968 prohibits discrimination regarding the sale, rent, and financing of housing based on religion, race, gender, handicap, national origin, and family status.
It is vital that landlords do not discriminate when deciding whom they choose as a tenant. This includes avoiding stating any discriminatory preferences in your advertisements. For example, ‘Looking for female tenants only’ or ‘single tenants preferred’ would both be considered discriminatory.
If a landlord is found to be guilty of violating the terms of the FHA, the fines can be steep; first-time offenders can still be fined as much as $19,787.
The Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA)
The FCRA promotes fairness, accuracy, and privacy of any consumer information contained within the files of consumer reporting agencies.
While this may not seem directly related to landlords, when you collect and store sensitive tenant information, you become legally responsible for how this information is managed.
Make sure that you keep all rental applications and associated information in a secure environment and ensure that you receive written consent before running any background checks on prospective tenants.
Your tenants are entitled to their privacy while in your rental property.
Landlord’s right to enter
As a landlord, you are only permitted to enter your occupied rental property for the following reasons:
- In the case of an emergency
- To carry out repair work or assess the requirement for repair work
- To hold viewings for prospective new tenants or owners
As with most landlord rules and regulations, right-to-enter rules also differ from state to state. However, most states do stipulate that a landlord must notify their tenant before entering the property, with typical time frames being between 24 and 48 hours.
Typically, it is considered good practice to provide your tenant with a minimum of 60 days notice should you intend to end their lease. Check your state’s policies for this, too.
Pets and emotional support animals
A tenant’s right to have a pet is a contentious issue. Currently, as a landlord, while there are benefits to providing a pet-friendly rental, you have the right to uphold a ‘no pet policy’ for your property. However, this policy does not apply to Emotional Support Animals (ESA) or Service Animals.
If your tenant provides you with a letter from a health professional that designates their pet as an ESA, then you are legally obliged to allow it. Failure to do so could result in a liability suit on the basis of discrimination.
The list of responsibilities that landlords must undertake are unarguably extensive. That said, with sufficient research and organization coupled with good intentions and integrity, landlords can keep their rental properties up to code and maintain healthy working relationships with the right tenants. Be sure to always check your local and state guidelines for the specific rules and regulations that relate to your properties.