Landlord and Tenant Law



What is Landlord Tenant Law?

Landlord Tenant Laws regulate the relationship between one who owns real property (i.e., land, houses, buildings, etc.) and those to whom he or she gives certain rights of use and possession. Landlord tenant laws grew out of the English Common Law, and contains elements of both real property law and contracts, though most jurisdictions have added a number of more modern considerations, as well.

Residential and Commercial Leases

Many jurisdictions vary widely in their application of landlord tenant law based on the type of tenant. A residential tenant is one who seeks to take up personal occupancy in the premises for purposes of using it as a home. A commercial tenant is usually a business that takes up possession of the property for purposes of carrying on some form of commercial, retail, or industrial pursuit. Given the different values associated with each type of tenancy, the laws vary to meet these interests. For example, residential tenancies are usually given more protections against unannounced entry by the landlord (to protect privacy), greater habitability requirements (to ensure one can actually live in the property), and more protections against wrongful taking of deposits. Commercial tenancies, on the other hand, are granted more protections against activities that would harm a business interest or impede its operations, but have fewer considerations for privacy and habitability.

Eviction and Back Rent

In either type of tenancy, the usual tools for a landlord to enforce its right to collect rent is through the use of evictions. An eviction is a legal proceeding, usually with an expedited procedural calendar, that allows a landlord to put a tenant on notice of the failure to pay, file a lawsuit, and obtain a court order requiring the tenant to vacate the premises, often within a matter of weeks. Most states also provide a mechanism for recovering unpaid rent from the tenant in the event of a default, including, in some instances, rent that would have been due through the end of the lease term. Note, while jurisdictions vary, a landlord is typically not obliged to take any extraordinary measures to find a new tenant in the event one vacates early and breaks the lease, meaning the original tenant remains contractually liable for the full amount of the lease all the way to its original end date. As a result, it is rarely wise for a tenant to simply abandon a leased property, even if they know they are about to default.

Landlord Obligations

A tenant has a number of rights, as well, and chief among them are certain implied warranties of habitability. If a leased property becomes uninhabitable, due to structural damage, mold, water leaks, fire, vermin infestation, or any number of other circumstances, the tenant may have a right to withhold rents or even vacate the property without penalty. Failure to provide a habitable property is the equivalent of a tenant failing to pay the rent: it amounts to a breach of the essential terms of the lease agreement, often excusing the tenant from further performance. Therefore, landlords typically have all maintenance and repair obligations associated with a leased property.

Landlords are also obligated, in many jurisdictions, to disclose how they will hold and use deposit money. If money is taken on deposit, the landlord must disclose whether the deposit is refundable or not and, in some jurisdictions, must disclose in which bank the money will be held, whether it will draw interest or not, and under what circumstances the money may be withheld from return upon the termination of the lease.

More Information

If you would like more information on Landlord Tenant Law, please visit the resources below. Additionally, since landlord tenant laws vary greatly by state and are always changing, should you have a specific question or issue, you may wish to contact a local attorney. You can find a list of attorneys in your area that focus their practices on landlord tenant law by visiting our Law Firms page.

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Landlord and Tenant Law by State

Landlord and Tenant Law - US

  • ABA - Real Property, Trust and Estate Law Section

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  • Landlord and Tenant Law - Overview

    Landlord-tenant law governs the rental of commercial and residential property. It is composed primarily of state statutory and common law. A number of states have based their statutory law on either the Uniform Residential Landlord And Tenant Act (URLTA) or the Model Residential Landlord-Tenant Code. Federal statutory law may be a factor in times of national/regional emergencies and in preventing forms of discrimination.

  • The National Landlord Tenant Guides

    Landlord Tenant Law for all 50 states. Summary of Tenant Landlord Laws, Articles and Landlord Tenant Discussion Board.

  • Uniform Residential Landlord Tenant Act

    In the 1960s, at the time of the civil rights movement and heightened concerns about the legal rights of the poor, the federal government funded a legal aid project to write a model landlord and tenant act. The model code drafted at that time was given to the National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws, who drafted the Uniform Residential Landlord and Tenant Act (URLTA) in 1972.

  • US Department of Housing and Urban Development

    HUDís mission is to create strong, sustainable, inclusive communities and quality affordable homes for all. HUD is working to strengthen the housing market to bolster the economy and protect consumers; meet the need for quality affordable rental homes: utilize housing as a platform for improving quality of life; build inclusive and sustainable communities free from discrimination; and transform the way HUD does business.

  • USDOJ - Fair Housing Act

    In the United States, the fair housing (also open housing) policies date largely from the 1960s. Originally, the terms fair housing and open housing came from a political movement of the time to outlaw discrimination in the rental or purchase of homes and a broad range of other housing-related transactions, such as advertising, mortgage lending, homeowner's insurance and zoning. Later, the same language was used in laws. At the urging of President Lyndon Baines Johnson, Congress passed the federal Fair Housing Act (Title VIII of the Civil Rights Act of 1968) in April 1968, only one week after the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr..

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  • National Housing Institute (NHI)

    NHI is a nonprofit organization that examines the issues causing the crisis in housing and community in America. Tenants may seek the assistance of NHI, which provides information and referral to local tenant organizations.

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