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Legal Issues: Unpaid Rent

written by: •edited by: Donna Cosmato•updated: 7/9/2011

Landlord tenant disputes are nearly always based around unpaid rent. Using our sample notice of eviction for nonpayment can help landlords begin the legal process of eviction. This notice will help begin the legal process to remove a deadbeat tenant from a property.

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    Landlord Tenant Legal Rights

    Property Lease There are two distinct types of laws that govern rental properties, federal law and state law. Federal laws prohibit discrimination in rental policies of any property. Federal statutes also help protect tenants from being evicted during times of declared emergencies, govern minimum rules of habitability and rights of a tenant to occupy a property they have paid for. State laws cover many of these same statutes and are generally more restrictive on landlords than the federal laws. State laws are also put into place to help protect tenant and landlord rights over disputes for unpaid rent.

    Tenants have specific rights regarding withholding rental payments if a landlord fails to keep a property habitable. Outside of the legal reasons for withholding rent for habitability, tenants are bound to pay rent based on agreements with the property owner. This is generally governed by a lease agreement which is often in writing.

    Lease agreements typically contain information that includes the rights of the tenant, the length that the agreement will be in effect and what amount of rent is to be paid by the tenant. In addition, the lease may also include the date that payments are due, the landlord's requirement of providing notice to end the lease, and the rights of access by the landlord.

    All lease agreements must be in compliance with local laws including notices to vacate property for any reason, including nonpayment of rent. It is also important to mention that tenants at will (e.g., those tenants who have no written lease agreement) are still protected under the basic laws of their individual state.

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    Legal Rights and Eviction

    While there are laws in place that protect tenants from landlords who just wish to have them out of their property (for any reason or no reason) there are laws that govern eviction. In most states, the landlord must notify the renter that their rent is in arrears and provide them with time to cure the deficiency.

    Depending on the individual state laws, the time to cure is between three (3) and five (5) days. In addition, this notification must be made in writing. This generic eviction notification may be helpful for landlords to begin the legal process. It is important that the landlord understand the state laws regarding eviction; they should be reviewed carefully.

    Filling out the eviction notice

    Eviction notices are considered legal documents. Depending on individual state law, the eviction process for late rent begins with serving notice to the tenant that they are in arrears.

    At a minimum, the notification should include the property address, the date the rent was due as well as the number of days that are being allowed to correct the deficiency. It is important to keep in mind that in most cases, more information is better as this document may be needed if the tenant does not pay the arrears.

    Additional information that will help a landlord should they need to file a court case (included in this template) includes the last date that a payment will be accepted, whether or not a partial payment will be accepted, and a notification to the tenant that additional legal action may be impending. It is important to note that a landlord is under no legal obligation to accept partial payment to cure a default. However, if the landlord does accept a partial payment, it will result in the eviction notice being negated.

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    Delivery of Eviction Notices

    Landlords must ensure that an eviction notice is received in a timely manner allowing the tenant the full time specified in the notification to cure the late payment. This may be done by attaching the notification to the door of the property or by hand delivery. Under most state laws, either method will be considered valid.

    While the landlord may elect to deliver the notification by mail, they would have to be certain that it was delivered in a timely manner and this could only be guaranteed by return receipt. It is typically better to hand deliver the notice or attach it to the door of the property.

    Once the landlord has delivered the notice, they have no options left except to allow the time period specified in the notice (required by law) to pass. Only then can the landlord take additional steps if the tenant has failed to pay their rent.

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    Lack of Tenant Follow-Up

    If the tenant has not complied by either paying the past due amount or vacating the premises, the landlord must then continue with the legal process. Depending on the municipality, the landlord may file for relief at their local court. Landlords should review their state law and determine what the legal requirements are in their municipality for the process that must be followed.

    In some states, the eviction process may be very short (as little as thirty days) while in other states it may stretch on for several months. Landlords who are not certain what legal rights they have available to them may need to seek a qualified real estate attorney. Landlords have many rights but the tenant also has rights. By law, landlords are not allowed to lock tenants out, disconnect utilities, or remove the tenant's belongings from the property to force them to vacate.

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    Resources

    Added Landlord Resources:

    Rent Law

    1. Complete list by state http://www.rentlaw.com/statelist.htm
    2. Evicting Tenants http://www.rentlaw.com/eviction.htm

    Sources:

    Cornell University Law School

    1. Notice to quit http://topics.law.cornell.edu/wex/Notice_to_Quit
    2. Landlord Tenant Law: http://topics.law.cornell.edu/wex/landlord-tenant_law

    Real Estate Law

    1. Free Advice: Landlord Tenant Eviction Notice Process http://real-estate-law.freeadvice.com/landlord_tenant/eviction-notice-process.htm

    Image credits:

    Rent Contract via freedigitalphotos.net/Jeroen van Oostrom