In the United States, people are entitled to be treated fairly when they are trying to rent a place to live, without regard to their race, color, national origin, religion, sex, familial status, or handicap (disability). Title VIII of the Civil Rights Act of 1968 (Fair Housing Act) guarantees protections against discrimination in housing. If you have been discriminated against in your search for housing, contact an experienced real estate attorney today to discuss your rights.
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Duties and Rights of Landlords and Tenants
In any rental situation, both a landlord and a tenant have rights and responsibilities that should be maintained and respected in order to allow for a smooth relationship. Often, disputes arise about who is responsible for what or who has a right that has been violated. In these situations, an experienced real estate law attorney, such as those at Kenneth L. Baritz & Associates, P.C. in Philadelphia, PA, can be a crucial advisor and negotiator.
Landlord duties and rights
Generally speaking, a landlord is required to provide a tenant with a safe and habitable dwelling. Unfortunately, these terms are open to subjective interpretation. In most situations, "habitable" means that the property is protected from the elements (no missing windows or holes in the roof), is free from hazardous situations (such as chemical fumes), and that it has an adequate amount of heat and hot water. Whether a rental unit is "safe" is also subject to dispute, particularly for items not located within a common area.
In most states, a landlord is not required to continually make repairs to items damaged by the tenant, the tenant's family, or the tenant's guests. In other words, a tenant cannot continually allow friends to punch holes in the windows and then expect the landlord to repair them. In other situations, a landlord is required to make repairs to maintain a level of safety or health. Examples may include replacing burnt out light bulbs in common areas, maintaining smoke or carbon monoxide detectors in common areas, dealing with insect and rodent populations, dealing with leaking water (which is not caused by any intentional or negligent act of the tenant), and removing snow from sidewalks and building parking lots.
A landlord may not be required to make repairs or maintain the property through snow removal from non-common areas (such as immediately around your car) or through aesthetic changes such as replacement of unattractive items (like dated but safe linoleum, tiling, or paint colors). Nor will they be required to pay for items such as insect removal if you find a den of cockroaches on the leftover pizza you left under your couch one night.
A landlord may also be responsible for injuries sustained by tenants or their guests. Typically, this includes situations in which a landlord had control over the problem or unsafe condition that caused the injury, an accident was reasonably foreseeable, and fixing the problem or condition would not have been unreasonably expensive or difficult. Of course, it must be also proven that the presence of these factors led to the injury in question. For example, if a tenant slips and falls on an icy patch of sidewalk created by run-off from a broken rain gutter on a building, a landlord could be liable for the tenant's injuries. If, however, a tenant slips and falls on their kitchen floor because of orange juice they spilt, the landlord would not be at fault because the spill was not within the landlord's control.
In situations where a tenant is not paying rent, where they are intentionally damaging property, or where they are engaging in illegal activity on or near a property, a landlord may have a right to terminate a lease or rental agreement and thereafter commence eviction proceedings if the tenant does not comply.
In any situation, both a landlord and a tenant should keep in mind that the lease or rental agreement itself, local building and housing codes, and state landlord/tenant laws could govern the responsibilities and rights of the parties.
Tenant duties and rights
If a tenant notices repairs that are needed inside a rental unit, they have a responsibility to inform the landlord of the problem and request that it be fixed. In most situations a simple phone call will do. If a phone call does not result in a resolution, a tenant may need to make a repeated request. It is a good idea to make the repeated requests in writing or to make a record of attempted phone calls. If, after repeated requests by telephone or in writing, the situation has still not been resolved, it is likely time to engage an attorney's services. The laws in these situations are different from state to state but may include a tenant's right to make a repair himself or herself and deduct the cost from the next month's rent, the right to withhold rent until the matter is fixed, or the right to terminate the lease.
Other duties of a tenant include keeping his or her unit in good shape, keeping his or her property clean and sanitary, respecting neighbors' privacy and rights, respecting common areas, and paying rent in a timely manner.
A tenant in a rental unit also has privacy rights that must be respected by the landlord. A typical rental agreement or lease should contain a provision governing the right of a landlord to enter a property and the notice that must be given to a tenant before entry. In an emergency situation, a landlord may have a right to simply enter a unit. Similarly, if the landlords is entering the rental unit to make repairs, particularly repairs that a tenant requested, they may have a right to simply knock and enter. A specific state law often governs the notice required in these types of circumstances.
Speak to a landlord-tenant lawyer
Situations where a landlord or a tenant has a duty that is not being fulfilled or a right that is being ignored often result in larger disputes and disagreements, sometimes ending in termination of rental agreements or even eviction. When you are caught in the midst of such a situation, the advice of a knowledgeable real estate attorney at Kenneth L. Baritz & Associates, P.C. in Philadelphia, PA, is necessary to protect your rights and to re-establish your duties.
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