BUSINESS | Landlord and Tenant

In residential leasing, landlords must be careful to avoid discriminating against renters on the basis of race, color, national origin, religion, sex, family status or disability. Federal and state laws prohibit the following practices when done for any of those reasons:

  1. Refusing to rent or sell housing or negotiate for housing
  2. Making housing unavailable
  3. Setting different terms or conditions for renting or buying or different privileges
  4. Provision of different housing services or facilities
  5. Falsely denying that housing is available to inspect or rent
  6. Denying anyone access to or membership in a facility or service related to rental housing
  7. Threats, coercion, intimidation or interference with the exercise of a fair housing right

The landlord-tenant relationship

A written lease is not necessary but you should have tenants sign one for your own protection. Without it, your tenant can vacate at any time.

Be sure to give each tenant a copy of the lease and insist that they read it carefully before agreeing to rent the premises. Give them a reasonable opportunity to ask questions about any of its terms.

Be sure to include these important terms and do what you can to make sure your tenants understand them:

  1. The amount of late fees and the date by which rent must be paid to avoid late fees
  2. Amounts of security and pet deposits and what portion is nonrefundable, if any
  3. What utilities, if any, are included in the rent and who is responsible for starting service
  4. Landlord’s right to enter the premises
  5. Repair obligations
  6. Limitations on occupants and visitors
  7. Duration of the lease and transition to month-to-month lease at the end of lease term
  8. “House rules”
  9. Name, address and contact information of the owner

Be sure to give each tenant a copy of the signed lease before he or she leaves the office after signing it and be sure to give the tenant a number to call for emergencies. It is a good practice to post this information at a convenient location in the dwelling.

Basic obligations of renters and their landlords

Renter’s Obligations
  1. Security and other deposits
  2. Pay rent for the duration of the lease, even if you move out before it expires
  3. Maintenance and upkeep
  4. Insure your personal property with renter’s insurance
  5. Report any defects, accidents or malfunctions to your landlord immediately
  6. Follow any “house rules” that apply to the premises
  7. Comply with the lease. If a tenant breaches any provision of the lease, the landlord can terminate the lease and evict the tenant.
Landlord’s Obligations
  1. Perform repairs as called for by the lease
  2. Keep the tenants' security deposits and keep accurate records of all security deposits
  3. Install locks and other security devices; landlord must re-key the exterior doors between tenants
  4. Make accommodations for disabled residents
  5. Return deposit within thirty days (be sure to ask the tenant for a forwarding address)

Don’t delay to seek legal advice if the a tenant engages in conduct that may render the premises unsafe or unhealthy. Your obligation to other tenants requires you to prevent and correct potentially unsafe conditions, regardless of who created them.

Moving in

Be sure to thoroughly inspect the premises, note any defects and items requiring repair and have them taken care of before a tenant moves in. Failure to do so merely invites trouble. Give your tenants a move-in inventory so they can record the condition at the time of move-in. This will protect you and your tenants. Be sure to keep a copy for your file and give one to the tenants. Take photographs, if possible.

Maintenance and repairs

Your lease will set forth what you and your tenant have to do to maintain the property, so be sure your tenant understands what it says about his or her maintenance obligations.


You and your tenant have certain rights and obligations if it becomes necessary to evict a tenant. If you believe that a tenant’s acts or omissions justify eviction, seek legal advice if you are uncertain about your grounds.

Moving out

Communicate with your tenant when you receive notice that he or she will vacate and promptly schedule a mutual inspection of the premises.

A landlord is obligated to return a tenant’s security deposit within thirty days.

Home safety and security

Locks and other security devices—A landlord is only required to provide locks for exterior doors and windows.

Smoke detectors—A landlord is required to install some smoke detectors and inspect and test them at the beginning of a tenant’s occupancy, but a tenant is obligated to report any malfunctions to you and if a tenant disables any of them, you may still face liability for any resulting injury or loss if you do not take steps to prevent such occurrences.

When others are injured

Make sure you have comprehensive general liability insurance and, if it’s feasible, insist that your tenants carry their own liability coverage. You should encourage them to also carry coverage for loss of their property and be sure to clearly communicate to them that you will not provide such coverage.

Encourage tenants to report any injuries to you as soon as possible, after medical assistance is requested. Make it easy for them by ensuring that they have names and phone numbers for more than one person to call and have some way for them to report serious problems 24 hours a day.

Report any accident to your insurance company immediately. Your insurance company has a duty to defend you if you are sued but your failure to notify it in accordance with your policy may void your coverage for the accident.