Landlords have many responsibilities, including duties to their tenants, the properties they own, the neighborhoods and communities where their properties are located, and to themselves. Most of these landlord duties fall within three main categories: fair housing laws and tenant-related matters, building and safety codes, and numerous financial obligations.
To help landlord’s juggle their responsibilities, there are resources like Avail to help landlords manage aspects of their responsibilities online. Avail can help you screen tenants, post vacancies, collect rents, and schedule maintenance repairs. You can start today with its 30-day free trial, and your first unit is always free.
Types of Landlord Responsibilities
Landlord responsibilities include obligations to their tenants, maintaining and keeping their property in a livable condition, and fulfilling financial obligations, including proper handling of security deposits in and paying any debts. Landlord responsibilities vary by state. You can find your state landlord/tenant laws through our landlord/tenant law article, which includes a state-by-state interactive map.
Landlord Responsibilities to Tenants
Landlords must follow the Fair Housing Act, which prohibits discrimination based on race, color, national origin, religion, sex, familial status, or disability, including if a tenant requires a service animal or needs to make a reasonable modification to their unit. Landlords should also act respectfully and ethically when handling a tenant’s personal or sensitive information.
In many states, there is no “self-help” for landlords. Self-help includes changing locks and moving out tenants’ belongings. If a tenant vacates the unit without notice, landlords must follow their state and local laws when handling abandoned property and taking back possession of the unit. Landlords also should give adequate notice before entering a tenant’s unit for nonemergencies. Around 24 hours is usually sufficient.
Have every tenant sign a lease or month-to-month tenancy-at-will (TAW) agreement. Skipping this critical step can cause problems later on. Make sure the language is clear and explains all the rental terms. Without these agreements, it is easy to forget which responsibilities belong to the landlord and tenants.
Your rental agreement should include the following:
- Names of all occupants you are renting to
- Your full name and contact information
- Length and type of tenancy, such as month-to-month or a 12-month lease
- Rent, which is how much the unit costs per month and when it is due
- Deposits and fees, which is how security deposits are handled, including late fees, cleaning fees, and so on
- Pet policy, including if you require a pet deposit, which varies by state
- Smoking policy: for example, if a nonsmoking building, give clear directions where tenants can smoke, such as 25 feet from the premises
- Occupancy limits: Only tenants on the lease can occupy the unit
- Entry and inspections: Typically give 24 hours’ notice
- Repairs and maintenance: What the landlord duties are and what is expected of tenants
- Restrictions: Covers illegal activity, moving others in, subletting, operating a business, and more
- Eviction policy
Not all disabilities are visible, so be mindful of the types of questions you ask.
To minimize confusion, your rental agreement should clearly state tenant and landlord responsibilities. Even with the most diligent screening process and iron-clad rental agreement, sometimes the tenant and landlord relationship fails, and you might have to evict. Evictions can be minimized by properly screening prospective tenants. Evictions can be handled by the landlord, a property management company, or an attorney. If you must evict, be sure to follow your state and local laws.
When buying a rental property that has existing tenants, conduct a thorough review of rental agreements, security deposits, and last month’s rent. Additionally, have each tenant provide an estoppel certificate. An estoppel certificate is a legal document that provides confirmation by the tenant of the amount of their rent, security deposit, and the expiration of the rental agreement.
When you inherit tenants, you also inherit any pre-existing problems or legal issues, so be sure to conduct a thorough examination. Interview the tenants. If available, review the Statement of Condition given to them when they first signed their lease. When existing tenants enter into a lease with you, have them complete this statement in addition to providing the mandatory lead paint notification, and a security deposit statement.
Building Codes and Landlord Responsibilities
Rental property maintenance is a key part of your landlord responsibilities. It is essential to understand what the law requires of you and which maintenance items you want to include in your landlord duties. A landlord is responsible for maintaining safe and livable conditions for all inhabitants of their rental properties.
Warranty of Habitability
A warranty of habitability is required in all residential leases. This law states that the premises are livable and will remain fit and habitable throughout the term of the lease. Some conditions vary by the state and municipality where the rental property is located.
Typically, a landlord can breach this warranty by failing to provide tenants access to:
- Heat during winter; tenants can pay for heat, but it must be accessible
- Smoke detectors and fire escapes
- Drinkable water and hot water; tenants can pay for hot water but must have access to it
- Functioning bathrooms
- Removal of pests
- Functioning and safe electricity; tenants can pay for it but must have access to it
- Other items tied to the state and local building codes
Lead Paint Notification
Federal law requires that landlords comply with lead paint laws. For properties built before 1978, it is a landlord’s responsibility to provide tenants with a United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)-approved lead paint disclosure form. The disclosure states that properties built before 1978 may contain lead paint and that tenants may be at risk of exposure. If a landlord is aware of lead paint on the interior or exterior of their property, they are required to abate it.
Under a 2010 federal law, lead paint abatement can only be done by contractors licensed to remove lead-based paint or the landlord must become certified to encapsulate the lead paint themselves.
The Fair Housing Act includes prohibiting discrimination based on familial status. Therefore, in most cases, a landlord cannot deny housing to a family with children. However, federal occupancy standards limit household size to two occupants per bedroom, and state and local occupancy standards could allow more. Responsible landlords want to be sure that the number of tenants they allow per unit does not cause health or safety issues, while not violating this law.
Normal Wear and Tear
Normal wear and tear happens in an investment property due to normal use and the property’s aging. It is not caused by abuse or neglect of the property. Landlord responsibilities include repairing normal wear and tear, but landlords are not responsible for fixing tenant-caused damage. Be sure your lease agreement explains normal wear and tear and which types of damage tenants are responsible for.
Routine and Preventative Maintenance
Landlords are responsible for routine and preventative maintenance and repairs to their rental properties to provide habitable conditions for their tenants. Performing regular property inspections can help landlords stay on top of any issues that may arise. Educating tenants to call as soon as possible when there are issues that can save landlords time and money.
In addition to routine maintenance, landlords are also responsible for these items:
- Smoke and carbon monoxide detectors, fire extinguishers and fire escapes must be accessible and functional.
- Pests need to be exterminated by setting bait, traps, or calling a pest control service.
- Utilities and appliances supplied by the landlord must work.
- Mold should be remediated as soon as it is noticed. If it is extensive, call a professional.
- Common areas need to be easily accessible, clear from hazards, and have adequate lighting.
- Snow and ice need to be plowed, shoveled, and sanded when necessary to avoid slip and fall hazards.
- Window guards are a good idea to install in second-story units and higher to prevent children from falling out.
If a tenant reports an issue or you encounter conditions that threaten the habitability of your rental property, it is a critical part of your landlord responsibilities to respond quickly. If the issue is severe, you may be required to provide separate housing for your tenants while remediating the problem. To prevent major issues, you want to perform routine inspections a few times a year in addition to when tenants move or out.
Landlord’s Financial Responsibilities
Landlords carry financial responsibilities in how they handle rent, fees, and security deposits. Landlords also need to pay their bills, mortgages, taxes, and municipal fees such as water, sewer, and rubbish removal. Be sure to specify in your lease any fees tenants will be responsible for such as late fees, fees to change locks, key replacement fees, and repairs from tenant-caused damage.
Security Deposits and Leases
Landlords are subject to state laws when handling security deposits. Landlords must hold security deposits in interest-bearing escrow accounts and keep these funds separate from business accounts. It’s required in some states to give tenants accrued interest on each anniversary of their tenancy. If a tenant damages a property and a portion of their deposit is withheld for repairs, it’s important to provide receipts of the paid work along with any balance of the deposit.
If you plan to increase the rent, notify tenants in writing 30 days before the expiration of their lease. For example, a lease that expires on January 1 would require notifying tenants by November 30. For each new lease, provide a new rental agreement. If you have tenants at will, you only need to provide a new lease if something changes but you still need to give 30-days written notice.
Liability and Insurance
Landlords should carry landlord insurance on their rental properties to protect themselves and their tenants if there is a fire or injury to a tenant or others visiting the property. Choose the right amount of coverage and limit potential hazards on the property such as swimming pools, swing sets, and trampolines. Maintain the grounds and common areas to reduce the risk of injuries.
Consider placing your rental property in a limited liability company (LLC) or other entity to provide a layer of protection for your personal assets if you are sued. If you own multiple rental properties and you self-manage them, consider starting a management company LLC in addition to placing each property in its own entity to further hedge against lawsuits. Don’t forget to file your annual reports with your secretary of state.
Part of your landlord responsibilities includes paying your bills on time to avoid late fees and possibly losing your rental property. Bills include mortgages, taxes, insurance, and municipal costs like town water, sewer, and trash removal. Bills also include property utilities, and outsourced maintenance and repairs. To save time, you can have property taxes and insurance payments escrowed with your mortgage.
Paying property taxes on time can prevent you from paying additional fees, accruing a larger expense, or losing the property to settle your tax debt. In addition to property taxes, you will pay taxes on your rental income. Include hiring a tax accountant or certified public accountant (CPA) in your landlord responsibilities to ensure you’re not overpaying taxes. The IRS allows you to take tax deductions for any legitimate expenses related to running a rental property.
Easing Landlord Duties
There are many landlord responsibilities, and all of these responsibilities have to be met. However, if you don’t have the time or ability to handle them all yourself, you can hire someone to help. With so many landlord responsibilities it can be a good idea to outsource them when you can. Three ways you can outsource landlord duties include hiring a property management company, hiring contractors, and using online software for things like screening tenants.
Hiring a Property Manager
Property management companies manage one or more rental properties for investors who want to outsource their landlord duties. They provide comprehensive and a la carte services that include everything from screening tenants, managing repairs and maintenance, to collecting rents and bill paying. A property management company may be right for you if you want to outsource your landlord responsibilities.
The best time to consider hiring a property management company is before you buy rental property. By doing so, you can be sure to budget for property management fees. If you already own rental property and are considering hiring a property manager, it’s not too late to review your property financial statements and decide if hiring makes sense for you.
If you choose to self-manage your rental properties, you will need to collaborate with contractors for some of your maintenance. Some landlords try to repair everything themselves and run into problems with poorly done work. While they may save money at first, this ends up costing more in the long run. A responsible landlord understands that they should leave complicated repairs to the experts who ultimately saves them time and money.
Some typical costs of local contractors include:
- Pest control: $100- $270 per job
- Plumbers: $45-$200 per hour
- Electricians: $50-$100 per hour
- Snow, rubbish, lawn & yard cleanup: $30-$80 per job
- Painters: $50-$70 per hour
- Cleaners: $25-$45 per hour
- Carpenters: $30-$50 per hour
- Heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC): $45-$50 per hour
- Appliance repair: $100-$200 per hour
- Carpet cleaners: Varies, but typically $35-$45 per hour
Using Online Software
Property management apps and software can save you time and money. Some online apps help you find renters, create leases, do background screening, manage routine and preventative maintenance, collect rent online, pay your bills, and market your property, whether you live near your property or out of town. They range in price from free to a few hundred dollars a year.
Be sure to check out Avail. Avail’s property management software allows you to book maintenance requests right within an app, including in-app instant messaging, photos uploads, and suggested contractors. It also enables landlords to sign & manage leases and accept payment online. Sign up today, and your first property is free.
Landlord Responsibilities by Property Type
Different types of properties carry different types of landlord responsibilities. For example, tenants living in single-family residential rental properties can typically be required to remove snow, rubbish, and perform routine and preventative maintenance, whereas in duplexes, townhouses, and multi-unit properties these fall under landlord duties.
For condominiums, landlord responsibilities include what is written in the homeowner’s association (HOA) guidelines while the owners of the individual condominiums are responsible for their own homes. Commercial and office rentals have both similar and different duties from residential properties.
In a commercial property, the tenant usually has more responsibilities than the landlord. A landlord is only responsible for repairs to the roof, exterior walls, and to provide tenant’s access to working utilities. If tenants need capital improvements for their businesses to operate in the rented space, they typically submit blueprints of the use changes to the landlord and pay for these renovations themselves.
While landlords carry the brunt of the responsibilities, tenants also have responsibilities as stewards of your rental property. This is why it is so important to thoroughly screen applicants for your vacant units. Screening for and renting to responsible tenants will save you from deliberate property damage, false litigation, and headaches later on. Make sure your lease is clear on what tenants are responsible for.
Here are some typical tenant responsibilities:
- Right to quiet enjoyment: Tenants are responsible for keeping noise at a reasonable level. Your lease agreement should contain a clause prohibiting any disruptive behavior, such as excessive and late-night noise or illegal activity.
- Tenant’s personal belongings: When you’re ready to sign a lease agreement, tell tenants about renter’s insurance and that their personal belongings are typically not covered under your policy.
- Changing locks: Tenants cannot change the locks. Be sure your lease states clearly that tenants cannot lock you out or prevent you from entering to perform routine landlord duties within reasonable notice.
- Subletting: Subletting is when a tenant leases to a subtenant. Some landlords allow it. If you do not want tenants to sublet your unit, you must have a clause in your lease prohibiting subletting.
- Moving others in: All adult tenants in the unit need to be named in your lease. Include a clause in your lease that any person over 18 must fill out a separate application and go through your screening process.
- Paying rent when due: Tenants are expected to pay rent by their due date. Make sure your lease clearly states when rent is due, whether there is a grace period, and any late fees charged if rent is late.
- Keeping the unit clean: Tenants are expected to keep their units clean, sanitary and to pay for any damages they cause. They’re also responsible for alerting you to any defective or dangerous conditions. Include that tenant repairs, and alterations require your permission.
- Escrowing rent payments: A tenant might withhold rent or make repairs and deduct it from the rent. Specify in your lease a reasonable timeframe to respond to maintenance calls. Require tenants to escrow rent, should they withhold, or get written confirmation to make repairs.
- Appropriate use of common areas: Tenants should respect common areas by not blocking entrances and exits, storing belongings, leaving trash, or causing damage or safety issues. Common areas are for the use and enjoyment of all tenants.
- Disconnecting smoke and carbon monoxide detectors and exterior lighting: If detectors are faulty, tenants should not remove batteries or disconnect alarms. Tenants should not turn off or alter exterior lighting in common areas such as hallways, stairs, entrances, and walkways.
What Landlords Are Not Responsible For
Owning and managing a rental property comes with numerous landlord responsibilities. However, there are some things that landlords are not responsible for. Make sure you know your state and local laws as these can vary by where your property is located.
Typically landlords are not responsible for damage caused by tenants. This includes holes in walls, broken windows, broken appliances, clogged drains, lawn care, and snow shoveling in single-family homes, replacing batteries and light bulbs in the unit, pest infestations caused by tenants, pet damage, or any damage beyond normal wear and tear.
Landlords are not responsible for the behavior of the tenant’s children. If you get a call from other tenants or neighbors about noisy or disruptive children, ask if they have first spoken to the parents, and if not, direct them to do so. If the issue is ongoing, you can remind your tenants about the clause in their lease that allows others the right to quiet enjoyment.
Nonlegal Landlord Responsibilities & Expectations
In addition to the responsibilities that landlords are legally required to fulfill, there are certain responsibilities landlords should perform even if they are not legally required to do so. Being an ethical landlord with proper boundaries is the best and most responsible choice. Ethical responsibilities include reporting all income when filing taxes, not looking for loopholes in the Fair Housing Act, and being honest in all their dealings.
Landlords also have responsibilities to themselves. Setting proper boundaries between their landlord duties and their personal lives is common sense. Being a landlord is demanding and carries a lot of responsibilities. Therefore, landlords need to make time for their personal lives. Also, landlords want to make sure they are fulfilling their dreams and the personal and financial goals they set when becoming a landlord.
Landlords also have responsibilities to the communities and neighborhoods where their properties are located. Keep the rental property grounds tidy and well-maintained and clean up seasonal debris, not only for the tenants but also for the neighbors. Respond quickly to noise complaints from neighbors. Work with the local municipalities and get to know the building inspectors, the board of health, and housing department staff you will deal with.
Landlord Responsibilities When Buying & Selling Rentals
While most landlord responsibilities occur during rental property ownership, landlords want to consider their responsibilities when buying and selling rental properties. When buying rental properties, an investor needs to do their due diligence to make sure the property is not deficient in any way and to run a cash flow forecast to ensure profitability. When selling a property, you will need to disclose any deficiencies.
Landlord Responsibilities When Buying Rental Property
In addition to doing your due diligence and creating cash flow projections for the rental properties you buy, you also want to execute your responsibilities toward your purchase in a timely manner such as signing purchase and sales agreements, providing escrow deposits, conducting property inspections, submitting mortgage application documents, and providing proof of funds. Additionally, be sure to review rent rolls, security deposit statements, and get estoppel certificates from tenants.
You also want to decide in advance if you will self-manage your rental property or outsource to a property management company. If you decide to outsource, make sure to interview several property managers and be sure you can afford to do so. If you choose to self-manage, consider using online property management software to make your landlord duties more efficient.
Landlord Responsibilities When Selling Rental Property
Real estate investors should create an exit strategy before they buy their first rental property, even if they plan to hold the property for many years. An exit strategy is when an investor decides to sell his or her rental properties for a profit and decides how the proceeds will be used such as rolling over profits into a 1031 Exchange (1031E) or buying additional investment properties.
When selling rental property, landlords have a legal and ethical obligation to disclose information about their property and the tenants to the incoming landlord. If landlords are aware of lead-based paint or other hazards, they are required to disclose these to an incoming landlord. Landlords should report accurate rental income and expenses to prospective buyers but can exclude expenses that will not transfer with the property such as mortgages and insurance expenses.
As part of their due diligence, incoming landlords need to verify current rental income, and if they decide to keep the existing tenants, will need to review other information. Existing landlords should assist in transferring existing tenants to new landlords by providing copies of rental agreements, proof of security deposits, facilitating the new landlord receiving estoppel certificates, and working with existing tenants to ease the rental property transfer.
When a landlord sells, it can create anxiety in tenants since they don’t know what their future tenancy will look like. Landlords should prepare their tenants when they plan to sell their rental property and minimize disruption to tenant’s lives by giving ample notice for showings, grouping them when possible.
Landlords have many legal and ethical responsibilities to their tenants, their properties, and to themselves. They also are responsible for their rental property financial obligations and to the communities and neighborhoods where their properties are located. Landlord responsibilities begin before they even buy rental property through when they sell, including deciding how to handle profits.
The bulk of landlord duties occurs during the ownership of their rental properties, so outsourcing some duties can save landlords time and money. If you’re considering outsourcing tenant screening, consider using Avail. Avail can help you screen tenants, post vacancies, collect rents, and schedule maintenance repairs. You can start today with its 30-day free trial, and your first unit is always free.