Landlord Tenant Basics

Landlord Tenant Basics


The relationship between landlord and tenant is one of the most common legal relationships that nearly every person is involved in at one time or another in their life.  This article is designed to outline the basic elements of the landlord tenant relationship, how it is established and the basic components of the legal relationship. Most states have landlord tenant statutes that include provision there are provisions that govern how long a written lease agreement may last for a consumer rental agreement, what provisions may be included in rental agreements involving consumer tenants and basic rules that provide how the relationship may be terminated, including what notices are required and how they must be given.  In addition, some state laws or local ordinances also place limits on the amount of rent that can be charged for certain rental agreements, the amount that may be charged for a rental deposit and how the deposit may be used.  In general, most state laws concerning landlord-tenant relationships generally favor tenants and as such, landlords have to be very careful about complying with any applicable laws, rules and regulations.

A. How a Landlord Tenant Relationship is Established:

Under most state laws, the legal relationship between a landlord and tenant can be established in a variety of ways.  Among those are the execution of a written lease or rental agreement, an oral rental agreement or a tenancy at will, which can be created simply the conduct of the parties.  These different options are discussed below. 

Execution of a Written Rental Agreement with a Lease for a Definite Term

The most common way that a landlord tenant relationship is created is by the execution of a written lease agreement which specifies the length of term of the lease.  For example, a lease with a term of six months creates a tenancy with a definite term. 

Creation of a Tenancy at Will

A tenancy at will can be created by express words or it can arise based upon the conduct of the parties.  If the landlord and tenant expressly agree that the tenant can occupy the premises as long as it is agreeable to both parties, that is an example of a tenancy at will.  In addition, if the landlord and tenant allow the tenant to move in, without an express agreement, that conduct between the parties can also create a tenancy at will.

Periodic Tenancy

A landlord and tenant may also establish what is known as a periodic tenancy which automatically renews for successive periods if the tenancy is not terminated by either party by providing proper and timely notice of termination.  An example of this type of tenancy would be a month to month rental agreement whereby the landlord and tenant agree that the tenancy can be renewed on a monthly basis as agreed between the parties.

B. Basic Obligations of Landlords and Tenants:

Once a legal relationship has been established between landlord and tenant, each party to that relationship has certain obligations that they must meet in order to discharge their legal duties that exist because of the relationship.  The specific legal obligations of each party to this relationship vary from state to state and may vary based upon local ordinances.  However, the information below provides some general guidelines that describe each party’s responsibilities. 

 Obligations of Landlords

When landlords make rental property available to tenants, they generally must ensure that the rental properties are safe and habitable and that they meet applicable building codes and other regulations applicable to landlords.  Many states require inspections of rental properties that must be undertaken before the properties can be rented to the public.  In addition, for landlords that participate in special rental programs such as low income housing and other more regulated housing types, there are often many additional requirements that are imposed upon landlords.  Landlords are also generally required to provide basic services such as water, sewer, gas, electric, garbage, heating and similar items.  Although tenants may be required to pay the utility costs associated with these services, landlords must ensure that the proper equipment is in place so those services are available and that the equipment operates property.  In general, landlords are required to provide a safe, habitable premises that is suitable for a tenant to occupy.

Obligations of Tenants

The most basic obligation of a tenant is to timely pay the rent for the leased premises.  In addition to paying the rent, tenants must make sure not to unduly damage the leased premises or to take any actions that cause risk to the health or safety of themselves or other tenants who reside in the leased premises.  Most landlords have basic rules that tenants must follow in terms of care for the premises, conduct that would affect the ability of other tenants to enjoy their use of the premises and similar items.  The list of rules and obligations for tenants may also vary depending on the type of property as well and landlords are generally free to draft rules that they see fit for their rental properties.  In addition, if the rental property is a single family home, tenants may have obligations for items such as lawn care and snow removal and they also may have fewer rules that relate to noise and how they use the property.  Thus, the obligations of tenants may vary depending on the type of rental property being rented.

C. Other Legal Considerations

In addition to landlord-tenant statutes that are enacted in most states, there are also federal and state anti-discrimination laws that also apply in the context of housing.  Among these laws are the Fair Housing Act as well as similar state law versions of this act.  The Fair Housing Act makes it unlawful for landlords to discriminate in the provision of housing or to provide different terms and conditions to a tenant as it relates to housing, based on the tenant’s status in a legally protected category such as race, gender, familial status, religion, disability and in some localities items such as sexual orientation and/or gender identity.  Landlords may also have obligations to provide reasonable accommodations to tenants under the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Fair Housing Act and state law versions of these statutes.  Reasonable accommodations may include items such as modifications to a rental unit to accommodate a physical disability.  Landlords may also be required to accommodate mental disabilities and other similar conditions by doing things such as allowing a tenant to have an emotional support animal live in the rental premises with the tenant.  The statutes that may apply to a particular landlord tenant relationship will vary depending on the location of the rental property and the type of property.  Thus, it is of great importance for landlords to seek proper legal advice from a qualified attorney to ensure that the landlord is property discharging his or her legal obligations.


The landlord tenant relationship involves a careful understanding of how the relationship is created and the basic requirements and obligation of each party to the agreement.  Both landlords and tenants can benefit from a basic understanding of the legal components of this relationship.

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