What are the basics of the landlord and tenant relationship?

The relationship a landlord and a tenant is governed by a contract. That contract is referred to as the lease, A lease is an agreement between the landlord and the tenant in which the landlord agrees to allow tenant to occupy a building or a piece of property owned by the landlord generally in return for payment of periodic rent. Any issues relating to landlord/tenant law must initially be looked at in terms of what the lease calls for as to the respective rights and obligations of the two parties.

The specific terms of the lease may be superseded by either local, state, or federal law. Federal law only comes into play regarding discrimination. The Fed­eral housing laws are designed to pro­vide housing to all people without regard to classification. Many local and state governments have enacted landlord/tenant legislation. Landlord/tenant laws normally only apply to residential leases.

A residential lease is a lease between a landlord and an indi­vidual who intends to occupy that space as his or her residence, A commercial lease, on the other hand, is a lease between a landlord and a tenant who occupies space for business or commercial reasons.

Landlord/tenant laws may come in a variety of different forms involving things such as rent control, the obligation of the in dealing with security deposits, the obligations of the landlord to maintain the premises in a habitable condition, and a multitude of other such issues. A frequent source of controversy between landlord and tenant is the return of the security deposit at the end of the lease. Either state or local law or the lease itself governs how the security deposit is handled.

In order to fully ascertain the respective rights and obligations of the parties to a lease, you must first look at the lease itself and then determine whether there are any local or state statutory pro­visions that may override or supersede any provisions within the lease. For instance, if a landlord, in renewing a residential lease, chooses to increase the rent, but the pertinent rent control law pre­cludes such an increase in rent, that law will supersede the terms of the lease. The landlord may obtain no more rent than what the law allows, even if agreed to by the tenant.

Likewise, if the lease provides that the landlord is not respon­sible for maintenance of the premises, that too may be super­seded by the landlord/tenant law that applies in that jurisdiction. It may expressly impose the obligation upon the landlord to maintain the entire premises in a reasonably habitable condi­tion. Indeed many such landlord/tenant laws not only impose that obligation on the landlord, but also give the tenant the right to abate or reduce the rent if the tenant to incur expenses in order to make the premises reasonably habitable.

Evictions of tenants by landlords are a frequent source of litigation, In residential leases. A landlord is generally barred from evicting a tenant without first obtaining a court order. The purpose of requiring the court's involvement is to provide some degree of neutrality and oversight of the eviction process so that the landlord does not wrongfully evict the tenant.

The scope of the law governing the landlord/tenant relation­ship may be further expanded by case law interpreting the land­lord/tenant law of that jurisdiction.

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