9 Real Estate Laws Every Landlord Should Know

While real estate laws differ by state, these key issues are relevant no matter where you own property.

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Last Updated
May 25, 2023
9 Real Estate Laws Every Landlord Should Know

For many entrepreneurs, rental properties are a profitable investment strategy. But before taking on the responsibility of owning and renting property, investors should be aware of the real estate laws in their area. Property owners who fail to understand and follow these regulations can find themselves facing lawsuits, monetary fines, or other legal challenges. 

In this article, we will explore the intricate interplay between federal and local real estate laws, highlighting key areas that landlords need to be aware of to ensure legal compliance and successful property management.

By understanding these laws comprehensively, landlords can confidently navigate the ever-evolving real estate landscape and protect their interests while providing tenants a safe and fair rental experience.

Federal vs. local real estate laws

There are two main federal laws in the U.S. that landlords must keep in mind: the Fair Housing Act and the Fair Credit Reporting Act. The former prevents landlords from discriminating against tenants based on race, gender, disability, and nationality, while the latter lays out the proper ways a landlord can screen tenants using their credit history. 

At the local level, each U.S. state and city has its own real estate laws that dictate the responsibilities and rights of landlords and tenants in their jurisdiction. These laws can range from legislating how security deposits can be used to how a tenant can ensure their privacy is maintained while they stay on a property they do not own. 

While each jurisdiction's laws differ, a number of issues are relevant no matter where you own property. Here is a brief overview of nine regulations landlords should understand before purchasing a rental property. 

Key real estate laws for landlords

1. Anti-discrimination and fair housing laws 

Navigating the rental landscape as a landlord demands a comprehensive understanding of anti-discrimination laws. From the moment a property is advertised to prospective tenants, landlords must ensure their marketing efforts are free from discriminatory undertones. This commitment to equality means that the language and imagery used to promote the property should not express a preference for tenants of a specific demographic profile, as outlined by the Fair Housing Act.

This federal legislation offers guidance for landlords to ensure their outreach methods, tenant screening procedures, and property rules are void of discriminatory practices. It's essential to respect these guidelines not only as a legal obligation but also as a testament to fairness and equality in providing housing opportunities.

Nevertheless, real estate laws vary across jurisdictions, and landlords should know that state and local laws may impose additional restrictions on their practices. For instance, in Oakland, California, it's against the law for landlords to inquire about an applicant's criminal history or carry out a criminal background check.

2. Lease agreements 

Lease agreements are key documents that outline the roles, rights, and responsibilities of landlords and tenants in a rental property relationship. Landlords are responsible for ensuring their lease agreements align with local and state laws. This includes compliance with regulations pertaining to security deposit returns, late fees, rent increases, and renters insurance requirements.

The lease agreement provides a platform for landlords to communicate their expectations on various property-related matters. This can range from subletting stipulations and pet policies to maintenance obligations such as landscaping and rules around smoking.

Understanding the legal nuances of lease agreements is fundamental for landlords to manage their properties effectively. Azibo offers a lease creation service tailored to the needs of landlords. With state-specific rental lease agreements, Azibo ensures your leasing practices remain compliant and up-to-date. Our integrated platform simplifies the process of drafting custom lease agreements and facilitates online signatures, reducing the time and potential errors associated with traditional methods.

Azibo provides a centralized space for landlords to create, store, and access all lease agreements, ensuring efficient management of rental properties. What's more, Azibo provides real-time status alerts, notifying landlords when signatures are received, and countersignatures are due.

3. Required disclosures

In accordance with federal law, landlords are obligated to disclose certain information to tenants, such as the presence of lead-based paint hazards in the property. In addition, state and local laws often require landlords to inform tenants about specific regional regulations that both parties must adhere to. These might encompass smoking policies, the presence of environmental hazards, or other pertinent local laws.

For landlords, understanding these disclosure requirements is key to managing real estate transactions and maintaining transparency with tenants. This includes conveying all necessary information to their tenants clearly and timely. However, these disclosure requirements can vary widely between jurisdictions. For instance, landlords are not obligated to make any such disclosures in states like Pennsylvania, Idaho, and Mississippi.

4. Safety requirements and tenant protection

The safety and well-being of tenants rest primarily on the shoulders of the landlord once they opt to reside in a particular property. This responsibility is underscored by state and local laws, which enforce regulations ensuring landlords maintain their residential and commercial properties in safe and habitable conditions for all occupants.

Landlords may need to certify that their properties are devoid of significant damage, that light fixtures and locks are functional, and that the premises are free from pest infestations. In some jurisdictions, landlords can delegate pest control responsibility to the renter, but the lease agreement must clearly state this stipulation.

5. Legal use of security deposits

The collection of security deposits from tenants is a common practice among landlords, and each state has explicit regulations outlining how these funds can be utilized during the tenancy. Security deposits serve as a financial safeguard for landlords, meant to cover expenses incurred due to property damage beyond normal wear-and-tear or missed rent payments by tenants.

It is incumbent on landlords to maintain a comprehensive, itemized record of any deductions made from the security deposit. This is a critical aspect of real estate transactions and property management. Non-compliance with these record-keeping requirements can lead to legal challenges, including disputes with tenants or substantial monetary penalties, which could potentially exceed the amount of the original deposit.

6. Respect for tenant privacy

Respecting tenant privacy is a fundamental requirement for landlords, underscored by laws in every state. These laws stipulate that during the lease period, landlords can only enter the premises under certain conditions, typically requiring proper notice and a valid reason. Legitimate reasons for entry could include carrying out necessary repairs, showcasing the property to prospective buyers or renters, or conducting property inspections.

However, landlords may be allowed to access the property without advance notice in emergencies such as a fire, flood, or crime. Understanding and respecting these privacy laws are crucial for maintaining a healthy landlord-tenant relationship.

7. Handling of abandoned property 

Upon the conclusion of a lease agreement, tenants may inadvertently leave behind some personal property in the residential or commercial property. Irrespective of the monetary value of these items, real estate laws mandate that landlords notify tenants about abandoned personal property and specify a time frame within which they can reclaim their belongings.

The duration for which landlords are required to store a tenant's abandoned property varies by jurisdiction. Some states like Ohio, Massachusetts, and others have no required wait period, others have a minimum period of a week, while landlords in Vermont and Texas must store tenants’ abandoned property for 60 days. Upon the claim period's expiration, landlords are at liberty to retain, sell, or discard the items.

8. Rent control

As the real estate market continues to see an upward trend in rental prices nationwide, landlords must be particularly aware of rent control laws. To mitigate escalating rental costs, numerous states such as New Jersey, Colorado, and Florida are contemplating legislative proposals restricting annual rent increases from 2% to 10%.

In the evolving landscape of real estate law, landlords must monitor such potential legislative changes in their local governments and state jurisdictions. This vigilance ensures legal compliance and profitability, especially if inflation continues to affect the costs associated with property management and real estate transactions.

9. Legalities of evictions

Evictions are a significant aspect of real estate law. Tenants who violate lease agreement terms can be legally evicted from the residential or commercial property. However, the specifics of what constitutes a violation can vary considerably among different state and local laws.

Typically, terms lawfully stipulated in real estate contracts, such as lease agreements, can be enforced via eviction procedures should the need arise. However, landlords must be cautious to avoid retaliatory evictions, where a property owner refuses lease renewal as a response to a tenant exercising their legal rights. Examples include the tenant joining a tenant's organization or reporting health and safety violations to local authorities.

Instead of resorting to drastic measures, landlords should prioritize resolving disputes through open communication, thorough documentation, and, only when necessary, legal action. Unlawful eviction methods — like disconnecting electricity or changing locks without tenant consent — will likely result in legal repercussions in most jurisdictions.

How landlords can keep up with evolving real estate laws

Due to limited supply and escalating demand, the real estate market continues to be a magnet for savvy investors. Nevertheless, managing the complexities of rental property management — such as insurance, rent collection, tenant screening, and more — can be daunting, especially as you’re trying to build a profitable business.

Staying abreast of the evolving state and local laws is fundamental for every property owner to avoid potential legal issues. Landlords should consult with a real estate attorney in case of any uncertainties to ensure they comply with federal and state requirements. Such compliance safeguards landlords from potential legal issues and fosters a transparent relationship with their tenants.

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