Landlord Best Practices: What You Need to Know to Avoid Legal Trouble With Tenants

Like any investment, owning a rental property (whether you own a second property or have converted a walk-in basement, for example) comes with costs. Although the initial purchase, conversion, or renovation will usually be the most expensive phase there will always be costs associated with maintaining that property.

Normal maintenance costs are to be expected but one thing you won’t want to hassle with is unexpected legal troubles. Most landlord-tenant legal disputes end in settlement or small claims court but either of those options will mean wasted time, wasted money, and extra stress for you as a property owner and/or landlord.

And most disputes are completely avoidable if you’ve covered your bases before asking the tenant to sign on the dotted line. While it is a good idea to use a qualified attorney to draft your lease agreements, you should be aware of a some of the most common and important legal aspects yourself.

Fair Housing

The federal Fair Housing Act of 1968, and the federal Fair Housing Act Amendments Act of 1988, prohibit discrimination on the basis of: race or color, religion, national origin, familial status or age (including families with children under the age of 18 and pregnant women), disability or handicap, and sex. In other words, it is illegal for you to profile or deny a prospective renter based on their belonging to any of these legally protected categories.

Most landlords have no trouble avoiding overt discrimination but you should be aware that more subtle actions can still land you in a sticky legal mess. Broadly referred to as “steering,” these actions include things like trying to convince a prospective tenant to look elsewhere even though your property’s features seem to fall within their search parameters or discouraging renters by exaggerating downsides to your property or failing to inform them about key upsides.

Likewise, something like suggesting that a prospective tenant might not feel comfortable in the neighborhood could lead to fair housing complaints.

For those with larger rental properties that include multiple units it is possible to be accused of steering even if you’ve agreed to rent a unit to the person in question. If a landlord rents to families with small children but only places those families in units on a certain floor then this might be deemed a form of steering because the landlord is imposing their own limits.

Although complaints about steering can be tough to legally penalize, particularly if it an isolated incident, it is still a situation you will want to avoid altogether.

Property Maintenance

As a property owner your rental spaces are obligated to meet certain habitability requirements. These requirements vary from state to state (and city to city in some cases) but generally include providing a structurally safe and sufficiently waterproofed premise with available heat, water, and electricity.

A landlord’s “right to enter” also varies from state to state – in Utah you have the right to enter your rental property to deal with an emergency or to make repairs, alterations, or improvements but you must obtain permission 24 hours in advance (unless the rental agreement specifies otherwise).

It’s important to be aware of the rights your tenant has in regards to repairs as well. If your tenant requests repairs to bring the property up to habitability requirements and you don’t make those repairs then they have several options such as withholding rent until the problem is fixed or making the repairs themselves and deducting the costs from the next month’s rent. In some cases they may be legally allowed to move out during the middle of a lease without the responsibility of paying any further rent.

Call J. Cutler Law Today

At J. Cutler Law, we offer free consultations for you and your business. We can draft and review landlord-tenant contracts to ensure you are entering into a fair and lawful agreement with your tenants. Call us today for a free consultation at (801) 618-4469 or contact us online.

What To Do With Your Neighbor's Tree

What to do with your neighbor's tree

One of the most common disputes between adjacent landowners involves trees. Neighbors often argue over who owns a tree or who is liable if a tree causes damage or is damaged. Chances are, if you ever have owned property you have experienced a tree problem with your neighbor.

So let's answer some of the most frequently asked questions regarding neighbors and their trees.

Can I trim branches or roots that extend over into my yard?

In most instances, yes. You have the right to trim a branch or root all the way up to the property line - with a few exceptions. You must be careful not to trim a branch that is producing fruit because the fruit is your neighbor's property. You also need to be careful not to go onto your neighbor's property without permission or injure the overall health of the tree. In Utah, if you injure your neighbor's tree, you are liable for three times the amount of damages. See Utah Code Ann. § 78B-6-1002.

A tree sits right on the property line, who owns it?

Both owners share responsibility and ownership of the tree if any part of the trunk is on the property line. Ownership is determined by the location of the trunk (regardless of where the branches or roots are) and the trunk must be entirely located on your property in order for it to be solely yours. If both neighbors share ownership of the tree then both neighbors must consent to its removal.

What happens if someone injures or kills my tree?

You are legally entitled to compensation of up to three times the value of the tree. See Utah Code Ann. § 78B-6-1002. Most trees cost anywhere from $50 to $5,000 to replace. So for that price range a court can award you anywhere from $150 to $15,000. Hopefully though, you can avoid a lawsuit by telling your neighbor the law and working together to come to a solution.

What rights do I have if my neighbor's tree damages my property?

It depends on how reasonably your neighbor acted. Courts use a reasonable care standard to determine liability. For example, if your neighbor's tree was obviously in a dangerous state (about to fall over) and your neighbor did nothing despite your requests, then it is very likely a court will require your neighbor to pay you for any damages the fallen tree caused. If you do notice a dangerous tree but your neighbor isn't willing to do anything about, then contact your local city government. Most city ordinances will require landowners to safely remove trees that are a danger to the public.

My neighbor's leaves fall into my yard, who's responsibility is it to rake them up?

Unfortunately it is your responsibility. The Utah Supreme Court said that the travel of leaves, needles, twigs, branches and other tree litter onto adjoining lots is a natural condition and that a tree owner is not responsible for leaves that naturally fall or are blown onto another's property. See Cannon v. Neuberger, 268 P.2d 425 (Utah 1954).

If you have a tree dispute with your neighbor, welcome to the club. It is a common occurrence and for that reason there are already laws in place to resolve these issues. If you are unsure about your tree problem, schedule a free consultation to go over your options.