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Landlord–tenant law is a part of the common law that details the rights and duties of landlords and tenants. It includes elements of both real property law (specifically conveyances) and contract law.
- 1 History
- 2 Residential and commercial leases
- 3 Landlord duties
- 4 Tenant remedies
- 5 Tenant duties
- 6 Landlord remedies
- 7 See also
- 8 References
The landlord-tenant relationship is defined by existence of a leasehold estate. Traditionally, the only obligation of the landlord in the United States was to grant the estate to the tenant, although in England and Wales, it has been clear since 1829 that a Landlord must put a tenant into possession. Modern landlord-tenant law includes a number of other rights and duties held by both landlords and tenants.
The modern interpretation of the tenant-landlord relationship has hinged on the view that leases include many elements of contract law in addition to a simple conveyancing. In American landlord-tenant law, many of these rights and duties have been codified in the Uniform Residential Landlord and Tenant Act.
Residential and commercial leases
Landlord–tenant law generally recognizes differences between residential and commercial leases on the assumption that residential leases present much more of a risk of unequal bargaining power than commercial leases.
Residential leases are contracts that are designed for individuals or groups to live, or reside, in the leased space. Most governmental entities have "recognized the sanctity of the home." Therefore, lessees of residential spaces are generally afforded more rights and protections than commercial leases. It is also because of the presumption of unequal bargaining power that residential spaces are afforded more protections. States, counties, and cities have different laws, and likewise, varying levels of protections for the tenants and landlords of commercial spaces.
Commercial leases are leases for spaces that are for business uses, such as industrial, office, retail, and manufacturing. Commercial leases generally have less consumer protections than residential leases because they are subject to much more negotiation.
The modern concept of landlord-tenant law includes duties beyond simple conveyancing of the lease:
Duty to deliver possession
In England and according to the Uniform Residential Landlord and Tenant Act in America, the landlord has a duty to deliver possession to the tenant at the beginning of a lease. The justification for placing this burden on the landlord is the idea that the landlord has more resources than the new tenants to pursue legal remedies against wrongful holdovers (former tenants that will not give up possession of the lease).
Covenant of quiet enjoyment
By virtue of the contractual aspects of a lease, modern leases in America include an implied covenant of quiet enjoyment. This means that the landlord will not interfere with the tenant's possessory rights to the lease. Though a landord may forcibly enter without required notice during an emergency, generally a mere necessity for quick action does not constitute an emergency within the doctrine of imminent peril, where the situation calling for the action is one which should reasonably have been anticipated and which the person whose action is called for should have been prepared to meet; the doctrine of imminent peril does not excuse one who has brought about the peril by her own negligence.
Implied warranty of habitability
A landlord must provide shelter free of serious defects which might harm heath or safety. In some states, the tenant has the right to cancel the lease and move out if the defects are severe enough and the landlord has not made repairs in a reasonable amount of time. Tenants who want to cancel their leases should seek the counsel of an attorney or a governmental agency devoted to landlord tenant issues to ensure that the conditions are severe enough to cancel the lease.
Landlord–tenant law also includes protections for tenants:
In an action for unpaid rent brought by a landlord against a tenant, a tenant can offer constructive eviction as an affirmative defense. A constructive eviction means that the tenant is no longer able to occupy the lease, but that the tenant was not physically evicted by the landlord. This is often used in conjunction with a breach of the implied covenant of habitability.
Breach of covenant
Leases include dependent covenants - if the landlord fails to perform their duties, the tenant will be relieved of paying rent. The breach of these covenants can be used as an affirmative defense by the tenant in an action for unpaid rent or eviction. These covenants include the warrant of habitability (keeping the premises habitable) and the covenant to repair (requiring the landlord to repair damage to the premises). In American law, the warrant of habitability was established by the D.C. Circuit case Javins v. First National Realty Corp.
also see: Retaliatory eviction
A landlord cannot evict a tenant in retaliation for reporting health and safety code violations. A tenant can use retaliatory eviction as both an affirmative defense against an eviction and as a cause of action against a landlord. The defense of retaliatory eviction was first recognized in the D.C. Circuit case Edwards v. Habib.
In California, retaliatory eviction is considered an affirmative defense and can be used to defend a case. The California code 1942.5 defines the legal aspects of its use and further goes on to prohibit Retaliatory eviction, for no less than 180 days, after a series of triggering events. Some form of protection for tenants against retaliatory eviction is available in 42 State statutes and the District of Columbia laws. The only eight states without this protection are Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Louisiana, Missouri, North Dakota, Oklahoma, and Wyoming.
Some states, such as Wisconsin, allow for the tenant to recover money damages if the landlord breaks the state statutes or administrative codes. The tenant has the duty to prove that the landlord owes money to the tenant for damages. If the tenant can prove that an Agriculture, Trade, and Consumer Protection Code rule was violated, they are entitled to double the damages under Wisconsin Law 
Tenants also have duties attached to their possessory interests:
Duty to preserve the premises
Leases usually include a limited covenant to repair for the tenants, and this essentially equates to refraining from committing waste. When tenants move from the premises, if they want to get their security deposit returned to them, most statutes require the premises to be returned to the landlord in the same condition that it was in when they moved in.
Duty to operate
In commercial leases, a duty to operate may be written into the lease. This means that a commercial tenant cannot leave a rented property vacant without operating the business for which the lease was made. A duty to operate does not exist unless written into the lease or obviously in line with the intent of the lease.
Duty to pay rent
A tenant's duty to pay rent was traditionally thought of as an independent covenant, meaning that the tenant was required to pay rent regardless of whether the landlord fulfilled their duties of performance. Now the duty of a tenant to pay rent is considered to be a dependent covenant, and the tenant can be freed from the duty to pay rent if the landlord breaches the covenant of repair or warranty of habitability.
Landlords also have a variety of available remedies to reclaim possession or claim unpaid rent:
Before statutory eviction processes, landlords could use the common law remedy of forfeiture to reclaim possession of a lease. Forfeiture was generally achieved by adding a condition subsequent to the terms of the lease.
Landlord self-help remedies are evictions where "the landlord takes active steps to remove the tenant from the property without initiating legal action." Self-help remedies have been limited by forcible entry and detainer (FED) statutes. Most states have prohibited self-help eviction.
Landlords can also recover monetary damages for unpaid rent, and the methods of obtaining the rent and the amount that can be obtained are dictated by state statutes.
- Casner, A.J. et al. Cases and Text on Property, Fifth Edition. Apsen Publishers, New York, NY: 2004, p. 403
- Teitelbaum v. Direct Realty Co., 13 N.Y.S.2d 886 (NY 1939)
- Coe v. Clay (1829) 5 Bing. 440; Woodfall Landlord & Tenant Sweet & Maxwell, 11.269
- Glendon, M.A. The Transformation of American Landlord-Tenant Law, 23 B.C. L. Rev. 503-05 (1982)
- Rabin, E.H. The Revolution in Residential Landlord-Tenant Law: Causes and Consequences, 69 Cornell L. Rev. 517 (1984)
- Schoshinski, R. American Law of Landlord and Tenant §3.1 (1980)
- Glendon, p. 511-14
- Kuist v. Curran, 116 Cal. App. 2d 404
- Warren v. Sullivan, 188 Cal. App. 2d 150
- Green v. Superior Court, 10 Cal.3d 616, Supreme Court of California, 1974
- Schloshinski, §§3.3-3.8
- Casner, p. 422
- Casner, p. 504
- "ATCP 134: Residential Trade Practices" (PDF). WI Gov. Retrieved July 1, 2015.
- John A. Glenn, J.D. (1971). "Lease of store as requiring active operation of store". American Law Reports 3d (Westlaw) 40. 971.
- Schoshinski, §10.7
- Casner, A.J., et al. p. 483
- Casner, A.J., et al. pp. 490-491
- Casner, A.J. et al. pp. 492-493
- Schoschinski, §6.1