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Landlord and Tenant - Tips from Move-in through the End of the Lease

  1. The Term of the Lease: Keeping One Eye Open

After the tenant has moved in and starts paying rent, landlords often feel that there work is done and that all they have to do is wait for the rent to arrive. Though a landlord who has thus far dotted every "i" and crossed every "t" should sleep more soundly at night than one whose efforts have been lacking, a good landlord should not hibernate through the middle of a lease. He or she should continue to take steps to ensure the relationship remains stable and the property is being maintained.

Routine inspections--which should be provided for in the rental agreement--are very important. This task is so often neglected by landlords because they are reluctant to intrude upon what has become the tenant's home. However, landlords should remember that, so long as they give adequate notice as required by law, they have a right to check in on their property. Landlords who are afraid of making their tenants uncomfortable can diminish this by giving the tenant ample notice (the parties can set a time aside in the rental agreement), by arranging the visit at a time that is convenient for the tenant (some would prefer to be gone during the inspection), and by approaching the task with a pleasant, helpful demeanor (the landlord should let the tenant know that he or she wants to make sure all the appliances and other mechanicals are functioning for the tenant).

These functions are important to you as the owner of the property and will create a bond of respect with your tenant.

These inspections are not just formalities; they are for the landlord's protection. Inspections give the landlord a chance to alert him or herself to any problems with the property. If there is damage or if the tenant is maintaining the property in violation of the rental agreement, the landlord should document accordingly. After the inspection, the landlord should send a summary of the inspection to the tenant in writing and, if necessary, request repairs to be done or changes to be made.

Aside from routine inspections, it is sound practice for landlords to be dutifully attentive to the needs of their tenants. If a tenant reports a problem, the landlord should investigate and address it, documenting correspondences and repairs every step of the way. Ignoring tenants often frustrates them into withholding rent or terminating the rental agreement entirely, and, depending on the severity and duration of the problem, a neglectful landlord may be surprised to find that the tenant is legally justified in doing either. And sometimes that frustration could cause the tenant to engage in self help in repairing the problem, which could make things much worse.

  1. Parting Ways: The Security Deposit and Friendly Goodbyes

Landlords can help assure a smooth transition by preparing for the expiration of a lease long before it comes. If the landlord wants to keep the tenant, he or she should ask the tenant about his or her plans well in advance. If the parties want to extend the rental agreement, they should do so in writing with any desired modifications rather than simply continuing on a month-to-month basis; otherwise either party could abandon the rental agreement with relatively short notice.

If either party wants to part ways with the other, the landlord should have an exit plan. As was the case when the tenancy began, a checklist can be extremely beneficial to make sure all the necessary tasks get done. The landlord should give the tenant adequate notice before showing the property to prospective tenants, and let the tenant know what is expected of him or her upon move-out. The landlord should be sure to get the tenant's new address so that he or she can return the security deposit and, if the tenant is responsible for damages or unpaid rent beyond what the security deposit would cover, so that the landlord knows where to find the tenant in the future.

The most common dispute between a landlord and tenant surrounds the return of the security deposit. This is also an area where landlords must be especially cautious of making inadvertent missteps. The law places stringent restrictions on landlord's use of the security deposit: there are limits on the amount that can be kept, requirements as to where the funds must be kept, and how they can be used. Though the security deposit can be used to repair damages caused by a former tenant, there is a procedure that must be strictly followed and time limits that must be met. It is usually a good idea to contact an attorney licensed in your state to ensure that you are adhering to the law.

  1. When Things Get Messy: Evictions and Early Termination of the Rental Agreement

In a landlord's paradise, tenants would leave at the expiration of the rental agreement; take all their property with them, leave the premises as clean as they found it, and pay the full amount of rent owned. Unfortunately, any landlord who has been in business for any significant time will tell you that this paradise is illusive. It is not at all uncommon for tenants to fall behind in rent, refuse to leave when the rental agreement expires, leave behind personal property or costly damage, or try to terminate the lease agreement prematurely. As a result, landlords are put in the unenviable position of having to foot the cost of unpaid bills and expenses left by a tenant who has skipped town.

If you are a landlord, you should contact an attorney as soon as it appears that the landlord-tenant relationship is about to go sour. Landlords who do not take early steps to protect themselves may find that it becomes difficult or practically impossible to recover damages or unpaid rent from their delinquent tenants. Though eviction is always a last resort, landlords who do not know how the eviction process works or are hesitant to pursue evictions simply because they do not know how to perform them deprive themselves of a powerful tool. Landlords who know their rights and are familiar with the eviction process can better protect themselves and their property.

A consultation with an attorney can be extremely beneficial for landlords who sense that a dispute with a tenant might arise. An attorney can advise the landlord on their right to evict, responsible handling of a security deposit or abandoned property, and pursuing money for damages or unpaid rent. A modest legal fee can buy landlords the assurance that their practices are legally sound, and the confidence that they can effectively manage their property.

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