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Legal Grind® presents

The Little Law Book

by Miriam Kurtzig Freedman, J.D
Illustrations by Daphne San Jose

More Key Concepts in Civil and Criminal Law

CHAPTER 13

Landlord and Tenant Law

Landlord-tenant law varies from state to state and city to city. So beware! This is also a fast-changing area of the law. Here are some of the terms youíll need to know.

BEFORE THE TENANCY

Lease:
A lease is an agreement between the landlord and tenant. The landlord gives up possession of the property in exchange for the payment of rent by the tenant. The tenant gets possession of the premises. Note that the landlord keeps the ownership of the property. Possession is the right to use the property for the term of the lease only. Other terms for leasing property include ... to let, to rent, to demise.

  1. The parties
    Lessor is the landlord. Lessee is the tenant.
    The lease may include these words: 'Joint and several liability.' If more than one-tenant signs the lease, each is responsible for the entire amount of rent. Thus, if one tenant fails to pay his share, the lessor can seek payment from the other tenant for the entire amount.
  2. Leased property:
    The land and/or building(s), which are the subject of the lease.
  3. Term:
    Specifies the amount of time the property is leased. Several types of leases include:
    1. Periodic tenancy:
      Also called 'tenancy for years' (though it may be for weeks or months). This form of tenancy continues from month to month or week to week, whatever its terms. Generally it is automatically renewed for the same time period unless the lessor or lessee gives notice that it should end when that period ends.
    2. Tenancy for years:
      This form of tenancy is for a specific time period. It is not automatically renewed. When the lease is up, the lessee is supposed to move out (vacate the premises) without any action by either the lessor or the lessee. That is, notice is generally not required. Of course, the parties may agree to enter into a new lease.
    3. Tenancy at will:
      This tenancy is for an undetermined time period. It can end by either lessor or lessee notifying the other. Note that in many states the landlord is required to give the tenant a thirty-day notice. Thus - the tenant at will is, in actuality, a periodic tenant for thirty days!
    4. Tenancy at sufferance:
      If a tenant remains on the, property after his tenancy without the landlord's consent, he becomes a 'holdover tenant,' a tenant at sufferance.
  4. Rent . . . is rent.
    Usually, money. The lessee's payment for the right to occupy the premises. Rents may also include expenses for taxes, utilities (heat and light), and other necessities.

DURING THE TENANCY
Certain warranties or covenants may apply.

Warranty:
An assurance by one party that certain facts exist on which the other party can rely.

Covenant:
A written agreement that specifies promises and obligations.

Some examples:

  1. Warrant (or Covenant) of Quiet Enjoyment:
    The lessor provides the lessee with the right of unimpaired use and enjoyment of the premises. This means that no one with a better title to the property than the landlord has will disturb the lease. For example, if a building is sold during the tenancy, and the tenant is ordered to move out, that would breach this warranty. No, this warranty is not for a quiet place (without noise!) unless the noise or other nuisance (a tort) is so bad that the premises become uninhabitable.
  2. Warrant (or Covenant) of Habitability:
    Promises that there is no latent, or hidden, defects in the premises that would make it unfit for use. If warranties are breached, some possible remedies by lessees in different jurisdictions include the following. (Check local laws! These differ greatly from jurisdiction to jurisdiction.)
  3. Abatement:
    A decrease, reduction. Paying less than the full amount of rent.
  4. Repair and deduct:
    The tenant repairs the defects in the premises (which he had reported to the landlord) and deducts the repair cost from the rent.

Rent strike:
A group of tenants withholds rent payments, placing the money in a special bank account (usually under court supervision), while awaiting the landlord's repair of the premises. As with the aforementioned remedies, check local laws and consult an attorney before taking any action on this, as most states limit tenant rights.

Rent Strike drawing
AFTER THE TENANCY

Termination:
The end of the lease period. The tenant leaves the premises.

Sublet:
If it's in the lease, a sublet permits the lessee to lease part of his interests in the property to someone else (ìthe sublesseeî). However, if the sublessee breaches the lease (as in not paying rent), the lessee remains responsible for it.

Assignment:
When the lease permits, the lessee can transfer his interest in the property to someone else ('the assignee'). In this case the assignee is primarily responsible for the rent, although the original lessor can still recover from the assignor (the original lessee) if the assignee breaches (fails to pay the rent).

Abandonment:
Occurs if the tenant leaves the premises before the end of the lease without the landlordís consent. The tenant still owes the rent payments until the landlord accepts the abandonment, as in re-renting the property.

Dispossession:
The tenant's losing possession of the premises, whether by legal means (eviction) or wrongfully (by self-help).

Eviction:
The act of removing the tenant from the property through a court order.

Summary process:
A court procedure that is quicker than most civil actions because the rights of discovery are limited. This is usually used in eviction procedures.

Self-Help:
When a landlord removes a tenant without court action. It is illegal.

Constructive eviction:
'Constructive' is something that is not actual but is treated as if it were. Thus, constructive eviction occurs if the landlord does something to the property that makes it uninhabitable and that force the tenant to leave.

Retaliatory eviction:
Is illegal. It occurs when the lessor attempts to evict a lessee for asserting his rights, as in abating his rent, promoting a rent strike, etc.

AGAIN, SEE LOCAL LAW AND YOUR ATTORNEY!

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