Landlord-Tenant Relationships

The relationship between a landlord and a tenant is characterized by contractual obligations between them. Therefore, the tenant-landlord relationship is premised on the obligations imposed by the provisions of the lease, common law or a prescription of the statutory law.

A lease is a deal that provides the tenant the use of the property. Therefore, a tenant cannot be disturbed from the peaceful use and enjoyment of the property under lease by anyone with a higher title to the property, unless otherwise stated by the terms of the lease. The tenant is assumed to be obligated to pay rent. The relationship between the tenant and the landlord has synergetic attributes; the landlord provides the property for use to the tenant for a specified period of time, whereas, the landlord is paid on a periodical or lump sum basis a stipulated financial compensation. Therefore, the each has an inherent responsibility to the other on the basis of lease. A landlord under the law is defined as an owner, or any person having the actual authority over property, rental agencies acting on behalf of the owner.

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A landlord is responsible for ensuring that the rental property is in reasonable state; hence functions like water, electricity, plumbing and any other repairs to the rental unit are adequate. The landlord ensures that essential utilities like smoke detectors, locks, emergency protocols and other equipment are operational (Portman and Marcia 132). However, despite the structural or physical integrity of the rental unit, it is critical to ensure that the property does not pose health hazards through unclean and infested rental units. While the tenant has the right to use the property, the landlord has the right to inspect his property. However, inspections must not infringe the tenants’ privacy or use of the property.

The tenant has the responsibility to use the rental unit as stipulated by the lease agreement, maintain and clean the unit, pay rent and return the rental unit in similar conditions as the tenant received it, apart from reasonable tear and wear (Winkle 3). Therefore, the tenant has the right to repair some minor defects and may seek to be reimbursed by the landlord. This may apply when due notice is given to the landlord concerning the repairs through a written request, and he does not respond within seven days. However, the landlord can designate the party to make the repairs based on the reasonableness of repair and impact on the tenant’s rights. The landlord reserves the right to accept or reject a lease application.

However, the landlord has a duty to exercise due diligence towards all potential tenants. Therefore, a landlord may charge screening fees to mitigate the cost of acquisition of applicant information as the application is processed for the lease agreement (Portman and Marcia 27). The screening fees may not exceed the actual costs incurred by the landlord; hence the obligation to notify the potential tenants in writing that such a fee will be charged in advance. If the lease agreement provides additional fees then the landlord has the right to charge such amount; the agreement provides the basis in which the additional fees will be computed, due date for rent payment and due date for additional fees to be paid. The tenant has the responsibility to make all payments in due time as provided in the lease agreement for the rental unit.

However, increments in rent should be preceded by a thirty days notification of the impending increments; based on the provisions of the lease. In instances of changes in property ownership, where there is a change of landlords, the new landlord cannot make substantial changes to the lease without the consultation and consent of the tenant. A landlord may enter a rental unit after giving due notice to the tenant, but, in extenuating circumstances, such a notice is not required in instances of emergency cases or requests made by the tenant for repairs. These factors are asserted by case number 00-034, Houle v. Quenneville, held at the Supreme Court of Vermont (Fidlaw).

In their appeal, the tenants contended that given the provisions of their lease, the landlord’s duty was to make repairs in a defective rental unit, and to give due notice of non renewal to the lease; they were pleaded innocent of the charges brought against them, hence the facts demonstrated that the landlords violated the lease agreement and failed his responsibility to make repairs to structural defects of the rental unit even after being given twenty four hour written notice. The tenants argued that according to paragraph 13 of the Vermont State Housing Authority (VSHA) Owner Occupant Lease, the landlord must give the tenants sufficient notice specifying the basis for the termination of the lease; however, these must be given before or at the execution of the eviction. Therefore, owner eviction is a complaint or a notice to vacate or any pleading made under local or state law to begin an eviction procedure. The law requires that any property owner wishing to rent his property, like housing property, must apply for a rental license. The local authority or city is required to send inspectors to perform compliance tests in lieu of the Housing Code before a license is issued. On issuance of a license, the landlord is expected to exercise fairness and equity in accepting lease applications.

The landlord should not discriminate against potential tenants on the basis of their race, ethnicity, gender, religion, social status or sexual orientation (City of Boulder Community Mediation Service). Discrimination may also affect existing tenants where the landlord charges different rent, deposit, lease duration or lease conditions. It is critical to enforce rent payment rates that are justifiable and are not exploitative in their enforcement. Rent controls offer a remedy to tenants by placing a limit to the rent charged by landlords. Rent control forms a basis for the protection of individuals with a relatively limited and fixed income from exploitation and disruption of their living standards through exorbitant rent rates (McDonough 364).

Rent control is critical in placing ceilings or limits on the rent charged by a landlord. The enforcement of rent controls under the law provides for landlords to request for rent increment; however, such request is examined to ascertain whether the rent increment is excessive or reasonable; hence the determination of whether it is in violation of the rent control laws. While making the rent increment examination, the effect to the tenant’s hardship in respect of the increment is analyzed factoring the tenant’s ability to service the rent payments; therefore, determining whether the rent increase is objectively reasonable (Tucker 15). The objective of rent control is not to subject property owners to unfair regulation, but it is a unilateral action in mitigating social problems caused by exorbitant and excessively high rent. However, the imposition of rent controls in safeguarding the lower income groups against exploitation must achieve its intended purpose.

If its application has failed then it is essential that it will be done away with since the landlords do not contribute to the low income status of their tenants. Hence, individuals should rent property according to their ability to pay (McDonough 367). Rent controls are characterized by failure to accomplish their purpose of providing the low income groups with affordable housing. Hence, the burden imposed by the rent control regulations impacts disproportionately and unfairly the property owners; therefore, to a significant extent its unacceptable government regulation. A lease is enforced on the basis of a legal, binding agreement between the landlord and the tenant; therefore, in all aspects, a lease has the attributes of a contract.

A lease provides the terms of the lease as agreed upon between the landlord and tenant. These are applicable for the period that extends the lease where the tenant uses or occupies the property (Baritz 1). The lease agreement stipulates the amount of rent, the tenant’s possession of the property, security deposits, and the maintenance obligations, while describing the responsibilities and rights of the tenant and the landlord (Bruce 121). Instances arise when the rental unit is leased by more than one tenant; hence, the lease may provide for a several and joint liability where each co-tenant has individual responsibility and duty towards the leased property. The lease should provide the reasonable legal fees incurred as a result of a legal action brought against either party.

However, in cases where such a provision is not provided for in the lease agreement, any legal fees incurred cannot be recovered.Though the law may not require it, reasonable notice to access rented property by the landlord should be reflected in the lease. This provides the landlord with access to the property through the issuance of a reasonable notice to the tenant at a reasonable time. This enables the landlord to make inspections and repairs adequately without inconveniencing the tenant (Warner et al. 199). However, under emergency circumstances, the landlord has the right to enter the property without the notice, implied or written consent of the tenant; however, the property is used exclusively by the tenant.

In the event that the tenant does not allow the landlord to enter the property, the lease should provide for tenant’s absolute liability in all damages, repairs and consequential damages to other rental units. Ordinarily, the lease agreement does not provide for compensation towards damage to a tenants personal property; however, if the lease agreement requires a landlord to compensate the tenant for damages to personal property, then the landlord is obligated to make compensations to the extent of the damage as per the lease agreement. While, in most cases, this does not happen, it is essential that the tenant acquire a renter’s insurance policy. Damages to property are prone to occur; therefore, the lease agreement should stipulate the amount of security deposit payable by the tenant, in lieu of possible damages to the rental unit that the tenant might make. Security deposits are critical in covering expected future violations to the lease agreements; these include damages to the property beyond wear and tear or rent payment defaults. The lease agreement may prohibit or allow assignment or subleasing of the rental unit; therefore, assignments or subleasing can only be conducted by the express permission of the landlord in written form (Warner et al.

76). In instances of subleasing the property, the original tenant is responsible for any damages incurred by the secondary tenant. The sublease term is characteristically shorter than the initial lease term. While assignments are characterized by transference of rental rights and obligations to a third party for a given period of time, third parties are liable for rent payments releasing the original tenant from liability in relation to the rental unit. The lease agreement stipulates the nature of the lease, the period of the lease and renewal or non renewal terms of the lease.

Therefore, a lease could be for a defined period of time with a definite expiry date; hence a term lease. Under a term lease, the landlord has the obligation to rent the rental unit to the tenant for the defined time frame and charge a defined amount of rent; the tenant is expeccted to pay the rent fees while adhering the requirements and conditions of the lease for the defined timeframe of the lease. On the other hand, the lease agreement could be on a month to month basis, where the lease is renwed automatically at the end of every month until either party terminates the lease agreement. However, under a month to month lease agreement, the landlord can make alterations to the terms of the lease agreement, raise the rent or terminate the agreement. In either case, a written notice must be issued ten days prior the end of the rental period by either party intending to change the lease agreement.

On the other hand, changes or additions to a lease agreement can be done verbally. Although verbal agreements are legally enforceable, their application may cause redundancy in determining the original terms of the lease in the event of a dispute over the verbal terms of the lease agreement (Maryland Attorney Generals Office 3). Therefore, written lease agreements should include any changes or additions to the agreement where signatures are appended by all parties. In the event if a lease is terminated voluntarily, the tenant gives the landlord adequate notice as per the lease agreement, or as provided by law. However, if the tenant vacates the rental unit before the expiry of the lease period, he may be liable for rent payments for the overtiming period of the lease (Stewart et al. 304).

Therefore, a tenant can be removed involuntarily prior to the expiry of the lease through an eviction action; where the landlord institutes formal eviction proceedings in court. The lease can also be terminated if all parties of the lease make a written agreement to end the lease prematurely. Term lease is voluntarily terminated at the end of the defined lease period; hence the rental unit reverts to the landlord on expiry of the lease. Term lease does not require notification of lease termination since the lease stipulates that it expires at the end of the defined time period; therefore, the tenant is obligated to vacate or return the rental unit to the owner without the necessity of a lease termination notice (Baritz 12). However, a thirty days notice is given by the tenant of his intention to vacate the rental unit on expiry of the lease period, if no such notice is issued; the lease becomes a month to month lease. In this type of lease, notice of termination is given ten days prior to the termination of the lease; however, where a written lease agreement exists, a thirty days notice is preferable.

Where tenants vacate the rental unit before the expiry of the lease, they remain liable for rent until the unit is re-rented or the lease expires (Burrell 250), unless otherwise agreed with the landlord. The tenant assumes liability for any reasonable costs incurred by the landlord in the effort to re-rent the unit. The lease may provide that where a tenant vacates the unit before the lease expires, the tenant is required to find a new tenant for the property, if a new tenant pays a lesser amount of rent; the original tenant is obligated to compensate the difference to the landlord. In some cases, the lease termination is characterized by involuntary termination where the tenant is evicted; through a Forced Entry and Detainer legal action, where a court order for the tenant’s eviction is sought (Brown 66). A tenant may be evicted as a result of eviction action being taken against him by the landlord, based on the tenant’s failure to provide rent payments, or if the lease agreement has been violated, if the tenant commits violations like violence or criminal acts while in the rented unit or commits acts that endanger other tenants or the landlord; if the tenant refuses to vacate the rental unit after the expiry of the lease and the tenant was given due notice of the nonrenewal of the lease (Stewart et al. 34).

When the tenant violates the terms of the lease, the landlord should communicate with the tenant regarding the violation; however, in instances where the tenant refuses to comply or rectify his actions then the landlord should issue a written 3 day notice informing the tenant of the landlord’s intention to exercise eviction action against the tenant (Baritz 14). The tenant is required to amend the violation or leave the property within a period of three days. In the event that the tenant complies with the demands stipulated by the 3 day period notice, then the tenant cannot be evicted from the rental unit. However, if the tenant does not comply with the 3 day period notice, the landlord initiates a Forced Entry and Detainer action or an eviction (Brown 66). Evictions must be legally enforceable; therefore, a landlord cannot employ unlawful methods to evict a tenant.

Hence, any clause in the lease agreement that gives the landlord a right to the tenant’s personal possessions, change locks on a rental unit or remove a tenant from the rental unit is illegal and unenforceable by law. Hence, after the termination of the lease, tenants are entitled to their security deposits. However, the landlord may withhold the deposit if the tenant has outstanding rent and utility payments, payment for damages and restoration costs incurred in returning the rental unit to its initial condition prior to occupation by the tenant (DCPHD 19). However, if the tenant has met all the terms, duties and obligations of the lease, while not incurring any damages exceeding normal wear and tear, then the tenant is refunded the entire deposit amount. Therefore, the landlord-tenant relationship is characterized by the contractual obligations existing between them.

The parameters of the landlord-tenant relationship are described and enforced by the lease agreement and the law.