Understanding landlord and tenant rights and responsibilities is critical for a successful relationship between two parties, whether in a residential or commercial environment. Both the landlord and the tenant have specific rights and also specific responsibilities.
To understand the landlord – tenant relationship one must first understand the roles of each party and understand how the relationship is defined. The landlord, or lessor, is the owner of real property who willingly gives up his right to possess the property in exchange for a monetary gain. The tenant, or lessee, agrees to pay the landlord for use of the property. The lease is the actual document that lists the rights and duties of the two parties. It is the actual agreement that spells out the terms and conditions that the two parties agree too.
After an agreement is reached between the two parties the landlord has two responsibilities. The first responsibility is to deliver possession of the property to the tenant at the beginning of the lease. This forces the landlord to prepare the property and insure that any wrongful holdovers are evicted from the property. The second responsibility that he landlord has is the warranty of habitability (Liuzzo and Bonnice, page 349). Basically, the landlord must provide premises that are fit for occupancy. It must be safe, reasonably fit, and free from defects. The third landlord responsibility is to allow the tenant use of the property with quiet enjoyment. Basically, the landlord cannot interfere with the tenant’s right to use the property as spelled out in the lease (AZLawhelp.org).
The landlord has a fourth responsibility if the tenant chooses to relinquish use of the property. The landlord has a duty to mitigate damages, or make reasonable efforts to find a new tenant. If the landlord is successful in finding a new tenant, the original tenant would no longer be responsible to pay the rent that is stipulated in the lease. For example, if a tenant abandons a residence with eight months remaining on the lease, the landlord must attempt to find a replacement tenant. If an acceptable tenant is found after one month, and the new tenant agrees to pay the same rent as the old tenant, the old tenant is only responsible for the month that the unit was vacant. Thus, the original tenant is relieved from paying rent for the other seven months of the lease.
The landlord has several rights to go along with his or her responsibilities. The first right is to collect rent from the tenant at the agreed upon rate. If the two parties agreed upon a $1,000 per month rate, the landlord has the right to collect that money, and the tenant has a responsibility to pay it. The landlord also has the right to regain possession of the property in good condition at the expiration of the lease. Should the premises be damaged by the tenant or returned in a poor condition, the landlord has the right to seek payment for the damages.
If the tenant does not pay the rent, or violates other terms of the lease, the landlord has the right to evict the tenant. For example, if the tenant is to pay $1,000 per month rent to the landlord on the first of each month, and as of the 15th of the month the landlord has not received the rent, the landlord can evict the tenant for non-payment. Also, if the tenant violates the terms of the lease, such as having pets when the lease states that no pets are allowed, the landlord can evict the tenant.
One example of landlord taking back possession of his property after the lease had expired was in Texas. The tenant, Johnny Sanchez, gave notice to the landlord that he had purchased a home and was moving from the leased premises. The tenant gave notice that he would abandon the property on August 16th and no rent was paid for time after August 16th. Several days later, on August 21st, the landlord went to the property to determine if it was habitable and make any necessary repairs prior to renting the property to a new tenant. During this inspection the landlord discovered illegal drugs and notified the police. The police arrested Johnny Sanchez for illegal possession of a controlled substance and he was sentenced to seven tears in prison and was forced to pay monetary fines.
In defending himself, the former tenant claimed that the landlord did not have the right to allow the police into the house. He claimed it was still in his possession and since no search warrant was issued all evidence was obtained illegally. The judge threw out this defense. Since Sanchez had abandoned the property and quit paying rent, the landlord had the right to regain possession of the property. The landlord exercised his right to take his property back and did not need the former tenant’s approval to grant access to the police. The evidence was allowed in the trial and Mr. Sanchez was convicted (2010 WL 4237307).
As stated above, the landlord has the responsibility to provide quiet enjoyment to the tenant, and the tenant has the right to quiet enjoyment. This enjoyment includes the use of the premises without unreasonable interference from the landlord or third parties (Liuzzo and Bonnice, page 349). An example of this would be the case of Classens vs. Aiello in the state of Massachusetts. In this case the tenant, John Classens, claims that the landlord failed to provide him with his right to quiet enjoyment. In the case, the tenant claims that the landlord, who was responsible for paying the utility expenses at the property, intentionally set the heat at allow temperature during the cold winter months.
The tenant requested on several occasions that the heat be increased so that he and his family could more comfortable enjoy the property that they were renting. The landlord failed to act on these requests and the tenant pursued legal action. The courts agreed with the tenant that the heat was set at an unreasonably low temperature and thus the tenant and his family could not reasonably enjoy the premises they were paying for. The court ruled that the landlord failed provide the tenant quiet enjoyment and forced the landlord to pay the tenant’s legal fees and remedy the heating issue within seven days.
The tenant also has the right to take possession of the property on the date the two parties agree upon in the lease. If the two parties agree that the tenant will take possession on December 1, 2010, the tenant has the right to take possession that day, and the landlord a responsibility to insure the property is ready and available on that day. The tenant also has the right to maintain possession of the property for the duration of the lease.
Thirdly, the tenant has the right to transfer their interest in the property to a third party, so long as the landlord agrees to the transfer of the interests. This may allow a tenant to vacate the property if necessary. If a tenant must move to a different city with eight months remaining on the lease, transferring the rights of possession to a third party may be a good thing for both the tenant and the landlord. It allows the tenant to vacate the property without penalty, and it helps the landlord maintain an uninterrupted stream of income from the property.
The tenant has responsibilities as well. First off, the tenet has the duty to pay rent regardless of whether the landlord fulfilled his or her responsibilities. The tenant also has the duty preserve the premises. Basically, the tenant has a duty to return the property to the landlord in the same condition as it was when they took possession of the property. If the lease is a commercial lease, the tenant may have an obligation to operate a business on the premises that is being leased.
Landlord – tenant laws provides protection for both the tenant and the landlord. If the tenant can no longer use the property with quiet enjoyment, or the property becomes uninhabitable, a constructive eviction results. When a tenant claims constructive eviction they can stop paying rent and abandon the premises. This recourse allows the tenant to leave the property without penalty if the landlord does not meet his responsibilities. If the landlord doe not provide a habitable property, or fails to repair damages that result in a poor condition for the tenant, the tenant can consider that the landlord is in breach of covenant (Uniform Residential Landlord and Tenant Act).
As stated above, landlords also have protections as dictated by the landlord-tenant laws. The landlord has the right to evict a tenant if the conditions of the lease are not upheld. As previously stated an eviction may be due to non-payment of rent or another lease violation. If the landlord evicts the tenant he has the right to regain possession of the property for his own use.
The landlord – tenant relationship can be mutually beneficial when both parties uphold the lease agreement. The tenant has the right to enjoy the property and the landlord has the right to collect rent for giving up his right to possess the property. On the other hand, if one or more of the parties fails to uphold their responsibilities the lease agreement can become a nightmare. The rights of each party can be put in jeopardy and the landlord – tenant relationship becomes damaged. This damage will likely lead to eviction, either the landlord evicting the tenant for non-payment, or the tenant claiming constructive eviction.
AZ Law Help. Landlord and Tenant Rights and Responsibilities. Retrieved Nov 8, 2010. http://www.azlawhelp.org/articles_info.cfm?mc=3&sc=24&articleid=46
2010 WL 4237307 (Tex.App – Amarillo)
Retrieved from Westlaw website on 11/22/2010.
Universal Residential Landlord and Tenant Act. National Conference of Commissioners of Uniform State Laws. Drafed August 11, 1972
78Mass.app.ct.1104, 2010 WL 4137451 (Mass.App.Ct)
Retrieved from Westlaw website on 11/22/2010.