Landlord Liabilities: Pitfalls, Problems and Lawsuits to Avoid
A brief glance at a lease agreement usually appears as though the landlord wields all the power (which he does most of the time anyways). However, an overzealous landlord or a careless one could find himself with some serious legal liability problems if he doesn’t take caution. To save yourself from expensive mistakes, read on to learn more about landlord liabilities pitfalls to avoid.
Unconstitutional Terms Contained in the Lease Agreement
A landlord that subtly inserts in the lease agreement terms and conditions which are inconsistent with the constitution or any other law operating in the state or country, risks being liable in monetary and other damages. Illegal provisions like excluding certain classes, nationality or religion, sex or gender, family status or disability, races or color of people from taking up the lease, must not be contained in the lease agreement or potentially create very serious landlord problems. Other illegal provisions not allowed are waiving the tenant’s right to sue his landlord, waiving the tenant’s right to a refund or balance of his/her security deposit, giving shortened notices, etc.
Asking Discriminatory Questions
Every landlord has the right to ask a prospective tenant any question he deems relevant to ascertain the security and financial status of the tenant. However, these questions must not be discriminatory in nature. Most states have laws that protect a prospective client from suffering rejection or eviction on basis of class, nationality, religion, sex, gender, family status, disability or races. It’s surprising how many landlords fall victim to this liability due to their curiosity regarding other people’s personal matters. Control your curiosity, or else you may find yourself battling with a government investigation or a lawsuit. The usual tenant screening is to find out their financial, credit and reference status is a well known landlord’s right, but beyond that, it’s not allowed.
Not Providing a Safe Environment
One of the responsibilities of a landlord under a lease agreement is to keep it safe from all unwanted persons or elements and materials. Some states take this one step higher by providing that landlords must keep the house and environment safe from criminal activities or other dangerous conditions. The net of protection must cover safety of tenant from health hazards and other tenants, including putting in place basic security materials and appliances like locks, lightning and alarm system. On the other hand, he can discharge his liability by duly carrying out professional inspections and then providing the tenant with a copy of the report of the inspection which would’ve detailed any hazards that may be on the premises. A landlord who fails to adhere to this could find himself facing millions of dollars worth of lawsuits if a tenant sustains an injury from any of the hazards he was not previously informed about.
Incomplete or Zero Disclosures to Prospective Tenants
Landlords who think what you see is what you get (WYSIWYG) applies to rental properties are in for a rude shock. A landlord has the duty to make full disclosures to a prospective client of all relevant information, especially to those relating to matters that are not obvious. In some states, these disclosures are provided in statutes and are therefore a must. Some of these disclosures include giving tenant notice if to his knowledge, he is aware a sex offender lives nearby; giving tenant notice where property was built before 1978 and contains lead based paint; notice of deaths that occurred in the premises recently; and other matters he could be held liable for incomplete or zero disclosure.
Inappropriately Getting Rid of Property Abandoned by a Former Tenant
Most landlords assume they can do as they please to the properties left behind by a former tenant, especially one who was probably in default of rent. However, failing to handle the abandoned property in the appropriate manner could risk major landlord problems being sued by the tenant to recover the property or their worth. The appropriate manner an abandoned property is to be handled is to first notify the tenant of how and where he can claim it, the cost of keeping the properties in storage and the time within which to offer to claim will be valid. When the time provided has elapsed, the landlord then has two options on how to deal with the abandoned properties. Where the properties are worth more than $700, the landlord is free to sell them at a public sale which must have been first advertised in a local newspaper. But where the properties are less than $700, landlord can either keep or throw out the properties.
Most lease agreements do not expressly provide for the above points, but like they say, ignorance of the law is not an excuse. Save yourself from lawsuits and extra expenses by always keeping in mind these landlord liabilities pitfalls and problems to avoid.
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Filed under: Landlord Legal Issues