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Make Sure You Follow Local Laws About Renting Your Property

Renting out a home isn't as simple as handing the keys to someone followed by them giving you money. That might be obvious, but the depth to which laws will affect what you can and can't do can be easy to miss when you start trying to rent out a place. Here are some things to look out for to make sure you don't come out on the wrong side of local laws about renting.

Finding the laws

For a starting point, you'll want to check out this link, listing many state laws that apply to landlords. Also check with the Department of Housing and Urban Development's state information. There's always more to find, but these are a good starting point.

Get a good lawyer

This is going to be the most important step. You need someone who can give you actual legal advice, not just what you read on blogs about renting. Having a good lawyer will be crucial for making sure that you don't run into issues and have someone you can turn to for information on what you can and can't do.

Know the Fair Housing Act and similar local laws

Under the Fair Housing Act, there are several criteria you can't use to decide who to rent to or not. It even goes into the advertising process, where you can't discriminate about who you advertise to. Take a look for similar local laws, as well. There are many groups that aren't protected federally but are in state and local laws, so make sure you're aware of what you have to do and that you don't accidentally discriminate against anyone in the advertising and leasing process. To help with this, keep a record of every application you rejected and why so you can show it wasn't discrimination.

You have to provide a safe, habitable environment

If something makes the unit unsafe to live in, you can be sued and, in some cases, the resident can withhold rent. This is the most basic thing that you can do, and anything that makes it unsafe or uninhabitable has to be resolved as quickly as possible. How responsible you are for accommodation for the tenant while resolving the issue varies from place to place, so make sure you know what you have to do if it comes up.

You must repair things that are broken

Similar to providing a safe environment, if something is broken, you're required to fix it. The exact nature of what you need to do and if you can charge the tenant for it can vary, but if they notify you of something in writing, you need to fix it. Not doing so can mean that you're liable for damages related to not making repairs, such as flooding from not fixing damaged pipes.

Respect your tenant's privacy

You own the building, but your tenants live there. In most places, you have to give at least 24 hour notice to enter the premises unless there's a case of emergency. Make sure you know what the laws are about entering a tenant's home; it's not just that it might be illegal, but that it also comes off as unprofessional and gives you a bad reputation.

Check local laws on rent control

How much can you raise the rent when the leasing period is up? In many places, it's up to you, but not everywhere. If your city or state has rent control laws, it can limit just how much you can raise the rent.

How are utility costs passed along?

How can you charge the residents for utilities that you provide? Did you even think that was a thing that would be regulated? It very well could be, so make sure to do your research. Make sure to do the same for amenity fees.

Ignorance is no defense

Not knowing the law is no reason not to follow it. You can be sued or face other legal action regardless of if you knew you were breaking the law, so keep a good lawyer on hand and be careful to know what's legal.

This is just a starting point. It's hard to follow local laws when renting, but it's just a part of the job. With a good lawyer and time spent learning the laws it can be done.

Categories: Renters

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About the Author

Rebecca Green is a content editor and writer for RentPath. She enjoys interior design, dogs and can tell you where to find the best pizza in Brooklyn. You can see some of her other published work on Apartment Guide and rent.com