Landlord-Tenant Law Basics

The landlord-tenant relationship is essentially a contractual relationship in which a tenant leases property for either a specific period, for life, or “at will.” Basically, a landlord-tenant relationship exists anytime a person occupies and has possession of premises owned by someone else with the owner’s permission.

Renting an apartment or house

For many young adults, renting an apartment or house may be the only means of finding affordable housing.

Landlord-tenant relationships are governed by concepts of both contract law and property law. A lease is a contract between the lessor (landlord) and the lessee (tenant) that imposes responsibilities and obligations on both parties. The obligations under contract law are generally determined by the lease’s terms.

Because a lease transfers an interest in real estate, principles of property law may also apply. A lease typically transfers to the tenant the right to exclusive possession of the premises in exchange for the tenant’s obligation to pay rent.

Historically, property laws didn’t excuse a tenant from the obligation to pay rent if the landlord failed to maintain the premises or otherwise breached the lease. This was true even if the premises were destroyed. This situation has been changed in many states, and residential tenants now generally receive an “implied warranty of habitability” tied to the obligation to pay rent. This means the landlord has an implied obligation to provide an apartment that is safe and void of health problems. If the landlord fails to fulfill this obligation after being notified of problems that are serious enough to make the dwelling uninhabitable, the tenant may have the option of withholding rent, withholding part of the rent and using it to make repairs, or simply vacating the premises.

Security deposits

It’s common in both residential and commercial leases for the landlord to require that the tenant pay a security deposit. The security deposit ensures that the landlord is paid if the tenant breaks a lease or damages the rental property.