Being a landlord can be a very lucrative and rewarding venture. That said, it’s not without risk – especially since you’ll be dealing with people on a day to day basis. While you may try your absolute best to get everything right, there may be occasional situations in which a tenant or one of their guests chooses to pursue legal action against you. Knowing the most common reasons why a landlord might be sued can help you avoid becoming a target yourself. Let’s take a look.
Security deposit issues.
Most states and provinces have very strict regulations surrounding security deposits. For instance, you are typically required to provide, in writing, an itemized list of what amount you are withholding and why. You are also likely required to have that list in the mail and postmarked within a specified timeframe (e.g. within 30 days of the tenant’s departure). Not abiding by these rules and regulations is one of the most common reasons for a tenant/landlord legal dispute.
To avoid this, be sure you are being fair about what you withhold (damages vs. normal wear and tear) and follow all requirements. Get to know the laws where your properties are located so you can ensure compliance. And always expedite the process to prevent delays and potential fuel for a lawsuit.
Maintenance and/or health concerns.
Tenants have a right to enjoy safe and healthy living conditions. When ongoing maintenance isn’t prioritized and/or repair requests are delayed or ignored, you could be setting yourself up for a potential lawsuit down the road. To avoid this, engage in preventative maintenance whenever possible and take requests from tenants seriously. This will ensure that the property remains in good condition and prevent hazards and other problems that could pose a risk to the health and safety of tenants and their guests.
Unfair fees and terms.
When landlords draft their own lease agreements without the guidance of a legal professional, they sometimes include terms and/or fees that are unreasonable and therefore unenforceable. Even if it’s unintentional, if your lease contains exorbitant fees or clauses that could be deemed unfair to your tenants, chances are you’re going to have to defend yourself in front of a judge at some point. And those cases are almost always decided in favor of the tenant. To avoid this, have your lease agreement reviewed to ensure it is compliant with all of the landlord/tenant laws in your area.
Just as your tenants have the right to live in a home or apartment that is safe and well-maintained, they also have the right to certain privacies. For instance, they shouldn’t have to worry about their landlord randomly dropping by unannounced. Your lease should specify a notice period for things like routine inspections, and with the exception of an emergency, you should adhere to those terms. Likewise, be careful with surveillance devices, like security cameras. Know the laws in your area and be sure to follow them closely. Otherwise, you could find yourself in a courtroom having to answer for your violations.
While there’s no way to guarantee that you’ll never have a problem with a tenant or one of their guests, there are proactive measures you can take to reduce these risks as much as possible. The tips above, along with good communication, should help keep you out of legal hot water, saving you time, money and lots of aggravation in the process.