One of the most famous stories about the fabled King Solomon’s wisdom involves two women who come before him in dispute over who is the true mother of an infant. As all followers of the great King’s wisdom know, Solomon proposed to solve the dispute by chopping the child in two, a strategy that exposed the identity of the real mother. Today, property owners and tenants locked in disputes major and minor, real and imagined, could use a bit of Solomon’s wisdom to negotiate the complicated world of landlord-tenant law.
The wording and provisions vary from state to state and even from landlord to landlord, but in general, the requirements of a landlord/tenant agreement are pretty simple. A landlord/owner’s obligation is to keep a property in safe and habitable conditions a defined by local codes. Landlords are expected to repair anything broken or worn promptly and remove all safety hazards. For their part, tenants are expected to keep properties clam and damage free and comply with any lawful provisions in the rental agreement or lease.
But that doesn’t stop the flood of lawsuits filed every year by landlords trying to evict tenants or get back rent, and tenants filing for a wide range of actions (or lack thereof) on the part of owners. Common complaints landlord/investors face include:
Landlords/owners can be sued if a resident is injured on the premises – but only if that injury can be traced to a problem for which the landlord is responsible. For example, a tenant can’t sue for falling on the sidewalk if they tripped over a visiting child’s toy, but they might have a case if they’d complained to the landlord about cracked pavement that was never fixed.
A rapidly growing area of tenant lawsuits involves allergens and toxins such as mold, lead or s=asbestos. Tenants who complain but receive no response or action from the landlord may take the complaint to court.
Bug and rodent problems that aren’t addressed to the tenants’ satisfaction are ripe for litigation too. A recent spate of suits involving bedbug infestations brought attention to the responsibilities of both landlords and tenants to keep the properties clean and pest-free.
Tenants may also sue I their property was damaged by something the landlord did or didn’t do. If a garage roof collapses and smashed a tenant’s new car, for example, the landlord may well be found liable The key, though, is that the landlord has to be found negligent in responding to tenant complaints about the problem.
It can be hard to press cases against slumlords — landlord/owners who fail to do any needed upkeep with an indifference to tenant welfare. In extreme cases, it’s not just tenants but also local authorities who press legal action. In general, though, landlord/investors can avoid being taken to court – and the cleaners – by irate tenants by simply doing regular upkeep and maintenance and responding to tenant complaints professionally. Staying aware of owners’ rights and obligations, as Jason Hartman advises,can keep investors out of court –and their money in their pockets. (Top image:Flickr/JBarr)
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The Solomon Success Team