Getting a Lawyer for Rental Properties: Do You Need One?

Rental relationships sometimes go sour, whether you're the tenant or landlord. This article covers how a lawyer for rental properties can guide both parties through messy rental disputes. Understand the benefits for tenants and landlords in working with a lawyer to protect rights and business interests when dealing with tricky housing situations.

By
Nichole Stohler
|
Last Updated
February 29, 2024
Getting a Lawyer for Rental Properties: Do You Need One?

Getting stuck in a legal dispute with your landlord or tenant likely generates more than a little anxiety. Considering local laws around housing combined with unfamiliar court processes, the situation can seem utterly overwhelming.

But take heart — specialized lawyers exist for this very purpose. Seasoned tenant attorneys and landlord lawyers guide their clients through these scenarios all the time. So don't go it alone!

This article spells out typical scenarios where legal representation makes all the difference for renters and property owners alike. We'll cover finding the ideal counsel for your dilemma and smart ways to vet any attorney before agreeing to work together.

Whether you’re a renter dealing with an unfair eviction notice or a landlord with an unruly tenant trashing your property, you’ll gain confidence that your rights remain protected when backed by the right lawyer on your team. Strong legal guidance helps empower both landlords and tenants to resolve conflicts effectively.

What is a landlord-tenant lawyer?

A landlord-tenant lawyer specializes in the laws and regulations surrounding rental properties and the relationships between tenants and landlords. These lawyers handle a wide variety of issues that can happen when renting or leasing real estate.

They assist property owners and renters in understanding rights and obligations under housing laws, and their goal is to settle disputes through negotiation, mediation, or court if necessary.

When to hire an attorney

In some situations, tenants and landlords benefit from having a knowledgeable landlord-tenant lawyer in their corner. Legal guidance can help protect their rental rights or properties. It can also help avoid pricey legal issues that may crop up.

Tenant legal issues requiring a lawyer

Even responsible tenants trying to follow all rental policies can end up in legal trouble. Scenarios where tenants need a competent lawyer include:

Evictions

Getting kicked out of your rental home involves several steps, which can differ depending on where you live. Usually, it starts with your landlord giving you a written notice saying you broke the lease somehow. If you don't fix the problem or leave on your own, your landlord might take you to court.

Common reasons for eviction include:

  • Not paying rent.
  • Having people live with you without permission.
  • Causing a lot of damage to the property.

If you get an eviction notice, respond by the deadline and talk to a lawyer immediately. They can help you communicate with your landlord or get ready for the court hearing if you have to.

Discrimination complaints

It's against the law for landlords to treat you differently because of things like your race, religion, gender, disability, or family status. They can't kick you out, make unfair rules, or refuse to rent to you because of these reasons.

Landlords also have to make reasonable changes for tenants with disabilities. But proving that your landlord discriminated against you can be hard without a lawyer.

If something happens that seems like discrimination, keep good records and take pictures as proof. Your lawyer will need this information to help you prove what happened and show that the landlord violated your rights.

Failure to make repairs

All landlords have to keep their rental properties in good shape. This means ensuring you have hot water, heat, air conditioning, pest control, and that the rental unit is well-kept.

If you ask your landlord to make repairs and they fail to do so in a reasonable amount of time, you might be able to argue that they're creating an uninhabitable living environment. This can help you if your landlord tries to evict you for not paying rent because of the problems.

Lawyers can help you gather evidence to show that your place isn't safe or healthy to live in. As mentioned before, its always a great idea to take lots of pictures and keep records of all the times you submit maintenance requests. This will help your lawyer make a strong case for you.

Landlord legal issues calling for attorneys

Landlords also deal with plenty of headaches from problem tenants, often leading to legal action requiring counsel. Here are the common situations where hiring a lawyer is needed to help navigate legal issues surrounding landlord situations:

Breach of the lease by the tenant

When tenants violate clearly stated policies outlined in the lease agreement, they become responsible for the consequences. This could include failing to pay rent, causing property damage beyond normal wear and tear that exceeds the security deposits, hosting unauthorized guests, or not providing proper notice before moving out early.

A lawyer ensures that you provide appropriate notices and that any court filings comply with relevant housing laws if eviction becomes necessary. Be proactive in contacting a lawyer to protect your rights as a rental property owner when a potential lease violation occurs.

Property damage by tenant

Extensive damage, such as broken walls, damaged fixtures, or permanent stains, usually exceeds the amount covered by the security deposit. In such cases, landlords may need to sue the tenant separately in civil court to recover repair costs.

Lawyers handle tasks such as gathering evidence, documenting damages, and pursuing a judgment. Take pictures and estimate all repairs due to tenant damages immediately to build the strongest case possible.

Injuries on property

Accidents like slip-and-falls that result in tenant injuries on rental property can lead to premises liability claims, alleging that the landlord failed to address hazards.

An experienced attorney is invaluable for investigating claims, working through insurance policies, and defending against exaggerated demands in the event of a lawsuit. Immediately notify your insurance company and lawyer if a tenant is injured on your property before you agree to any settlement.

Why have a lawyer for landlord-tenant issues?

Resolving disputes related to housing almost always requires sound legal advice for both landlords and tenants, given complicated laws governing rental agreements and the significant financial interests at stake. Here's why skilled lawyers can help:

Experience with different issues

Lawyers specializing in landlord-tenant matters regularly handle a wide range of cases, from drafting leases to managing eviction processes. This familiarity gives them a deep understanding that other lawyers may lack, ultimately saving clients time and money compared to navigating complex regulations and court proceedings alone.

Experienced landlord-tenant lawyers can often negotiate issues before more expensive legal action becomes necessary. 

Local expertise

Laws concerning housing, rent control, and legal procedures can vary greatly between cities and states. Local landlord-tenant lawyers have a detailed understanding of their jurisdiction's specific rules and processes, which out-of-town attorneys may not fully grasp.

This local knowledge helps achieve faster and more favorable outcomes for clients. Ensure you check the license of any lawyer you consider in your city and state.

Long-term savings

While attempting a do-it-yourself legal approach may seem cost-effective initially, it often leads to larger expenses in the future. Landlord lawyers help establish solid lease frameworks to prevent future problems, while tenant attorneys defend against harmful evictions.

The fees they charge are minor compared to the possible losses that could occur without proper guidance. A small investment in an experienced lawyer can prevent much greater costs from legal mistakes.

Tips for choosing the right landlord-tenant attorney

How do you find the perfect lawyer for landlord-tenant disputes? It does require some research and asking the right questions. Here are some helpful tips to guide you:

1. Use state and local resources

Your state bar association likely has an online service to help you find licensed attorneys in your area who specialize in handling landlord-tenant disputes. You can search by location and practice area on the state bar website.

Your local county courthouse might also provide information about mediation or alternative dispute resolution programs for landlord-tenant issues. This approach can help resolve problems without going through lengthy court processes. 

Checking online testimonials and reviews from past clients can give you a good idea about a lawyer's communication skills, responsiveness, and success rate in resolving cases.

2. Consider online landlord-tenant attorney services

Platforms like RocketLawyer and LegalZoom make it easy to find licensed lawyers based on your location and their expertise. They offer subscription-based legal services that let you access experienced landlord-tenant attorneys for a monthly fee, which is often more affordable than hiring a traditional law firm.

Before subscribing, make sure to carefully read the terms and conditions to understand what services are included, what's excluded, and any limitations.

3. Ask for referrals from other lawyers

Even if they don't specialize in landlord-tenant law, talking to lawyers you already know can be helpful. They might be able to recommend landlord-tenant attorneys they know personally or through their professional network.

Getting a referral from someone within the legal community can give you confidence in the lawyer's reputation and abilities.

4. Schedule appointments with each attorney on your shortlist

Once you've narrowed your options, take advantage of the free consultations most lawyers offer in person or over the phone. This lets you explain your situation and hear how they plan to approach it.

Pay close attention to their legal strategy, how clearly they communicate, and how responsive they are. It's helpful to take notes during these consultations to compare each lawyer afterward.

5. Ask plenty of questions

During these initial consultations, don't hesitate to ask the lawyer about their experience handling similar cases. Ask about the expected timeline for your case and how much of the work they'll handle personally versus delegating to assistants or paralegals. 

Finally, find out about their preferred method of communication with clients. If something isn't clear, be sure to ask for clarification.

6. Understand fee structures and billing procedures

Make sure you're clear on their hourly rates and the typical upfront retainer fees they require. Find out what payment options they accept and how often they'll send you invoices. It's important to verify that their fees are flexible and tailored to the complexity of your case. 

You can also ask for an estimate of the total cost of handling your specific situation.

7. Don’t hesitate to switch lawyers if necessary

You don't have to stick with the first lawyer you choose. If you're unsatisfied with their service, don't hesitate to look for someone else.

Watch out for warning signs like disorganization, difficulty answering questions, slow response times, or unexpected bill increases. Do not waste time and resources with a lawyer who isn't the right fit for you.

8. Know when to ask for advice from your attorney

While you don't need to involve your lawyer in every minor issue, contacting them immediately if you face significant problems is important. Examples include receiving an eviction notice, threats of lawsuits from tenants, or warnings from housing authorities.

Acting promptly can help prevent issues from escalating into costly legal battles.

9. Hire an attorney to draft your lease agreement

Although it may seem unnecessary initially, investing in a lawyer to review your rental agreements can save you a lot of trouble if a tenant initiates a dispute. Well-drafted leases, such as those offered by Azibo, clearly outline rules and penalties for violations, protecting your interests as a landlord.

Consider reviewing your lease or rental agreement annually with an attorney to ensure it stays up-to-date and legally sound.

The unique value of a tenant-landlord attorney

Dealing with legal matters between landlords and tenants can quickly become overwhelming without proper legal support. Tenant-landlord attorneys guide their clients through housing disputes while navigating local laws and court procedures.

Conduct thorough research to find an affordable landlord-tenant lawyer with positive reviews and relevant experience in your area. This approach helps you achieve the best possible outcomes for rental property conflicts. If you are a tenant facing eviction threats or a landlord dealing with problematic tenants, having an attorney on standby assures you that your rights will be safeguarded when rental situations become challenging.

With a trustworthy lawyer by your side, landlords and tenants can confidently approach housing issues, knowing they have the support they need to resolve conflicts effectively, whether through negotiation or legal action.

Lawyer for rental properties FAQs

How soon should I contact my lawyer when a rental issue arises?

You should contact your rental property lawyer right away if a major issue comes up, like an eviction notice, a lawsuit threat from tenants, or warnings from housing authorities. Notify your lawyer immediately to prevent serious problems from escalating.

What if I cannot afford a rental property lawyer?

There are a few options if you cannot afford a lawyer for your rental property. You could try negotiating with the landlord yourself or look into legal aid services that offer free or low-cost help. You can also try to find a lawyer who will provide a free consultation or discounted rates.

The key is being prepared with information on landlord-tenant laws and your rights as a tenant before you begin any discussions.

How quickly do lawyers resolve rental disputes?

The timeline for resolving a rental dispute through legal channels depends on factors like the complexity of the case and court schedules. An experienced lawyer will work as swiftly as possible, usually resolving issues within a few months.

Nichole Stohler

Nichole co-founded Gateway Private Equity Group, with a history of investments in single-family and multi-family properties, and now a specialization in hotel real estate investments. She is also the creator of NicsGuide.com, a blog dedicated to real estate investing.

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