What You Need to Know About Landlord Liability

Does the word liability make you cringe? You may be surprised by what you as a landlord can be held accountable for. Luckily, most liabilities can be avoided with good property management and tenant screening.

Here are 5 major landlord liabilities to stay on top of:

This is a relatively obvious one and should fall under common sense. The responsibility of the landlord is to provide a safe and well maintained property. It is the landlord’s duty to repair or remove hazard as soon as possible. You can be held accountable for hazards reported by a tenant and not repaired, such as a loose running board on the stairs.

Best practice: Stay on top of tenant maintenance requests and visit the property regularly to inspect the exterior.

Criminal Activity
As a property owner you can be held liable for criminal activity on your property, especially if you are aware of the situation. For instance, if you visit the property and find drug paraphernalia and don’t further investigate the issue, you may be held responsible in the future.

Best practice: Screen every tenant and don’t allow those convicted of crimes to live on the property.

Fair Housing
The Fair Housing Act of 1968 requires landlords and property managers to allow housing to anyone regardless of race, color, national origin, religion, sex, familial status or disability. Your selection criteria needs to be set and consistent. For instance, you are allowed to deny an application for someone who doesn’t make enough or who has a criminal history.

Best practice: It’s important is to be consistent. Potential tenants can make claims against you for discrimination even when you turned them down for legitimate reasons. In cases such as this you need to show a history of consistent screening criteria for tenants.

It is up to you as an owner to decide if animals are allowed to reside on the property or not, but be warned. Animals who have a known history of injuring humans can end up being a liability to you in the event of an incident. Talk to the pet owner about the animal’s behavior to ensure the animal has no history of malicious acts.

Best practice: To thoroughly cover yourself from liability, call animal control to see if there have been any incidents reported involving the animal. Do your due diligence in regards to service animals as well. Through the American Disability Act you are not allowed to discriminate against service animals. However, there is plenty of fraud in the industry so be thorough in vetting the animal’s qualifications.

Access to Utilities
This is another common sense one, but landlords are required to provide tenants with access to utilities. To be clear this does not mean covering the cost of said utilities. Tenants need to have access to electric, gas, water, sewer and garbage unless explicitly stated in the lease. Other optional utilities include: phone, cable and internet. Your rental agreement needs to state all policies regarding utility service and building, including potential late fees.

Best practice: Frequently inspect and maintain all furnaces, pipes and other mechanics of the properties.

If you have any questions about landlord liability or are looking to take away the pressure by hiring a top-notch property manager, contact us today!

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