The landlord tenant laws are part of common law which describes the duties and rights of tenants and landlords. It includes real property law and contract law elements.
The relations of landlord-tenant are defined by the leasehold estate. Traditional obligations of a U.S landlord is granting estate to a tenant. Today, the rights and duties of both parties include many obligations. For American landlords, refer to the Uniform Residential Landlord and Tenant Act.
Commercial and Residential Lease
Generally, the landlord-tenant law recognizes the difference in commercial and residential leases with the assumption of residential leases being higher risk than commercial lease.
Commercial leases are spaces used by businesses and usually have less consumer protection compared to residential leases due to more negotiations.
Residential leases are spaces for groups or individuals to live in. Generally, this type of lease has more right and protections compared to commercial leases. There is less room for negotiations.
The concept of modern landlord-tenant law includes more than a conveyance of lease:
Covenant of quiet enjoyment
This is included in modern American leases, meaning landlords are not to interfere with the possessory rights tenants have to the lease. Although landlords can forcibly enter with no notice in emergencies, this does not include the simple need of quick action.
Implied warranty of habitability
Landlords are required for shelter provided to be free of defects that could cause harm or safety concerns. Certain states allow tenants to cancel a lease and move if severe defects are not repaired. This action may require seeking counsel of a government or attorney agency to ensure the issue qualifies.
Tenants also have protections, such as:
Constructive eviction – When landlords take action against tenants for unpaid rent, tenants can offer constructive eviction. This means tenants were not physically evicted, but unable to occupy the lease.
Breach of covenant – In the event landlords do not perform their required duties, tenants may not be required to pay rent. Breach of covenants are usable during unpaid rent or eviction cases as an affirmative defense.
Retaliatory eviction – If a tenant reports safety code or health violations, landlords are unable to retaliate with an eviction. Not only is this an affirmative defense during evictions, it can be used for cause of action against landlords.
Money Damages – There are certain state that allow tenants the ability to recover money damages if administrative codes or state statutes are broken by the landlord.
There are duties by the tenant attached to possessory interests, including:
Duty of preserving premises – A lease commonly includes limited covenant for repairs. Most statutes require tenants to leave the property in the same or better condition upon moving to receive security deposits.
Duty to operate – With commercial lease, this may be part of the lease and means commercial tenants must operate the agreed business, and cannot leave the property vacant through the lease.
Duty to pay rent – Tenants are required to pay rent, unless landlord duties have not been fulfilled.
There are several ways landlords can reclaim unpaid rent or possession:
Forfeiture – A method prior to statutory eviction process which added condition subsequent terms to the lease.
Self-help – These evictions include tenants being removed without legal action, but are limited. This method is prohibited in most states.
Monetary damages – dictated by state statutes, landlords can recover unpaid rent.
Eviction – Landlords can take legal action to evict tenants. Normally, tenants receive an initial notice, then court proceedings where tenants can file counter-claims.