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Landlord/Tenant Law

What Are Evictions?

An eviction is a legal process to remove someone from residential or commercial property. In most situations an eviction requires the involvement of the courts. If a landlord wishes to evict a tenant, she must follow the very strict procedural rules of the state and, if in a rent controlled market, the city. Some common types of eviction notices are:

Pay or Quit: A pay or quit notice is used where the tenant has not paid rent. The landlord then warns the tenant that if he does not pay, he will be required to leave.
Cure or Quit: A cure or quit notice is used where the tenant has violated another term of the lease. The landlord warns the tenant that if he does not fix the violation, he will be required to leave.
Unconditional Quit: A tenant is ordered to move out within a certain period of time under the unconditional quit notice. The tenant is not offered the opportunity to fix any problems.

Self Help Evictions

Regardless of why the landlord wants the tenant to leave, under most state laws, the landlord cannot physically throw the tenant out. The landlord is also prohibited from changing the locks while the tenant is out or other activities that will prevent the tenant from physically possessing the premises.

Unlawful Detainer

If a tenant will not leave the premises willingly, the landlord must go to court and file an unlawful detainer lawsuit. An unlawful detainer lawsuit is a speedy action and will determine whether the tenant is required to vacate the premises.

Tenant Selection

Many evictions can be prevented by selecting the right tenant from the start. Asking the tenant the right questions can help the landlord make an informed choice. Legally, a landlord may inquire about a tenant's:

Past credit and bank accounts
Previous landlords and ask for references
Past criminal history
Length of time the tenant wishes to stay

Discrimination Law

There are some questions that are not permitted under the Fair Housing Act, and a landlord cannot base her decision on certain characteristics protected by the statute. For more information see Housing Discrimination.

Residential leases

A lease or rental agreement is a contract that sets the terms of the relationship between the landlord and tenant. These agreements vary in terms and time commitments. Some common types of leases are:

A term of years: A term of years is where a landlord and tenant agree to a specific length of time for the tenant to live in the unit and for the landlord to perform duties as a landlord. At the end of the term of years, the tenant generally must vacate the premises.
A periodic tenancy: Most commonly, a periodic tenancy is a month-to-month agreement. In the periodic tenancy, the terms of the agreement automatically renew at the end of each period unless either the landlord or tenant gives notice of termination.

Duties of the Landlord: Repairs and Maintenance

Generally, a landlord is required to keep the unit habitable for the tenant. A landlord is also generally liable for any repairs she agreed to under the terms of the lease, or verbally, or any repairs she undertook during the tenancy. A landlord must also maintain the premises so they comply with building code regulations.

Local Rent Control Ordinances

Normally, a landlord can increase the amount of rent by any amount they wish. Many metropolitan areas, however, have enacted local rent control ordinances which place a limit on the amount a landlord can increase the rent. The rent control ordinances also limit the reasons for which a landlord may evict a tenant. Be certain to check with your local rent control board because rent control ordinances are very different depending on the locality.

Should I Consult a Real Estate Attorney?

A real estate attorney will be able to help you identify the law that applies to your landlord-tenant relationship and help you achieve a beneficial result. A real estate attorney will also be able to review the terms of a lease and help you discover what you will be bound to do under the lease. Additionally, a real estate lawyer can help you if there may be defects on the premise or if you must deal with an eviction.