The Responsibilities of a Rental Property Owner

Owning a commercial or residential rental property comes with responsibilities. The most basic responsibility is proper upkeep and maintenance, to ensure the tenants can use the property as intended. Additional responsibilities are defined by federal, state, and local laws.

Following is a general overview of landlord responsibilities (landlords may wish to consult an attorney to make sure they’re up to date on specific laws in their city or county).

Disclosures Required by Law

Buildings constructed before 1978 may contain lead-based paint, which is known to cause serious health problems, especially for children. Federal law requires owners of buildings built before 1978 to give prospective tenants a lead-based paint disclosure before they sign a lease. Maryland’s Reduction of Lead Risk in Housing law also requires property owners to register applicable properties with the state and to have their property inspected for lead prior to every change in occupancy, unless the property has been certified limited lead free or lead free, in which case different inspection and registration rules apply.

Maryland law requires landlords to disclose any defects or damages existing prior to the tenant’s occupancy. Tenants have a right to a walk-through with landlords prior to signing the lease, at which time both parties should make note of existing defects.

Federal Disability Laws

The Federal Fair Housing Act requires landlords to make “reasonable accommodations” for tenants with disabilities, if they request them. “Reasonable” means the landlord’s business would not suffer as a result of making the accommodation.

Some requests tenants may have include:

  • A visual smoke alarm (for tenants with hearing loss)
  • Permission to have a service animal on the property
  • A wheelchair ramp
  • Special door handles that are easier to reach/manipulate.

Reasonable accommodations are not required if the landlord lives in the building and the building has fewer than five residential units.

Warranty of Fitness

A lease is presumed to guarantee to the tenant that the property is fit for human habitation. That means it’s free of rodent infestation and has proper sanitation and utility capabilities. If tenants take occupancy and find the property is unfit for habitation, they must notify the landlord. They are then entitled to bring a breach of contract action against the landlord (within 30 days of signing the lease) or to make an action to rescind the lease and recover all funds paid to the landlord (for any period during which the property was not habitable).

Duty to Abate Nuisances

Most leases describe the penalties for misuse of rental property and establish the grounds for eviction. Criminal use of the property, for example, is typically grounds for immediate eviction. But occasionally, tenants violate terms of their lease for some time before landlords take any action.

If a tenant complains multiple times to a landlord that the neighbors are creating a nuisance – such as loud noise all night long – and the landlord takes no action, a landlord may be in violation of the covenant of quiet enjoyment.

The covenant of quiet enjoyment is an implied guarantee that the property’s conditions/other tenants will not interfere with one’s ability to occupy the property undisturbed. When landlords fail to abate a reported nuisance, tenants may be able to vacate the property without penalty.

Lusk Law, LLC, focuses on helping landlords understand their legal responsibilities and how to avoid litigation when possible. Please call us at 443-535-9715 or fill out our contact form if you have any questions about this topic.

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