Property management in Sacramento or anywhere else for that matter is a challenging task. From screening tenants and collecting rents to evicting problem tenants in extreme cases, a landlord has to deal with a variety of complex issues on a regular basis.
For newbie landlords, particularly those taking the DIY route, it’s quite easy to forget property management is fraught with legal risks. Tenants have certain legal rights and if you happen to violate them – even if accidentally, you can land in serious troubles.
Though you should hire either a real estate lawyer or an agency specializing in property management in Sacramento, let’s discuss some basic legal obligations you must always follow as a landlord:
Differences between tenant screening and discrimination
A basic landlord right is to screen a rental application towards deciding on a new tenant. A landlord can carry out a background check to know the following details about a rental applicant:
- Credit rating
- Criminal history
- Employment history
- Current financial situation
- History of eviction
- Rental history
- References from previous landlords
- Monthly income
- Reason behind renting the property
As a landlord, you should be thorough in these areas. A tenant with a good credit rating is more likely to pay the rent on time compared to someone who has a poor rating. A stable job and good feedback from previous landlords can also be signs of a good tenant. These are basic obligations that a landlord should follow in order to avoid renting to a problem tenant, and avoid the stress that the process of evicting a problem tenant can cause.
Many landlords however go to extremes when exercising their tenant screening rights, unaware of the fact that it can land them in serious legal troubles. You cannot discriminate a tenant on the following grounds:
- Physical attributes or handicap
- Marital status
You can create certain edibility criteria for some of these conditions, depending on the property type. For example, you can determine whether you will rent your property to a student and not a married couple – but you need to enforce these conditions for every applicant. These cannot be changed even if someone is not meeting your eligibility criteria, and offers you a higher rent. If you have different yardsticks for different rental applicants, you may be sued on discrimination grounds in extreme cases.
Meeting security and occupancy standards
Your rental property must meet all standards related to security and habitability laid down by the California government. Keep in mind that property management laws are state-specific, so you need to check with your local authorities what codes and regulations you need to follow. Here are some of the areas in which you may need to follow certain regulations:
- Fire safety equipment
- Security alarms,
- Basic habitability issues like heat and air conditioning, rodent and insect-free environment, structural and foundation issues
- Regular maintenance
- Reporting knowledge of criminal activities to law enforcement agencies
Right of access
Your tenants have certain rights related to giving you access to the units which you have rented to them. You may periodically inspect the units, but you either need to follow the schedule described in the lease agreement or need to give notice prior to entering the unit. You may have to enter a unit immediately to resolve maintenance and repair issues. To show the unit to a prospective new tenant, you will need to give the current one adequate notice. Consult with your lawyer about how and when you can enter the unit.
An eviction can be a nightmare situation for landlords. Keep in mind that tenants have certain legal rights. You should have a just cause before you can evict a tenant. You can’t evict a tenant just because you dislike them.
You can evict a tenant:
- If your tenant is in violation of any of the lease’s clauses
- If the tenant is not paying rent
- If the tenant has caused serious damage to the property voluntarily
- If a tenant is involved in any illegal activity on your premises
- In many places across North America, a landlord can evict a tenant even when they have committed none of the above-mentioned violations, provided the landlord has to give a 30 to 60 days eviction notice
Before taking any step, you should carefully evaluate if you have reasonable grounds to initiate the legal process of eviction against a tenant. Unless a tenant is involved in criminal activities, always try to find an amicable solution to the problem.
Under no circumstances, can you lock the tenant out of the unit, change locks, or vacate the tenant’s belongings without their permission. You should also have a basic understanding of the legal process – in other words, how an eviction lawsuit is handled in court.
Following rental agreement or lease
A landlord must have the tenants sign a rental agreement laying down all terms and conditions of the lease. It should specify when the landlord can increase the rent, the expiry date of the lease term and various policies related to parking, pets and number of visitors allowed etc. A detailed lease will help you impose the desired restrictions legally.
The most important thing you need to keep in mind that has already been mentioned in the article is that property management laws are state specific, so property management in Sacramento is governed by landlord-tenant law in California. If you do plan on handling your property yourself, we suggest contacting a lawyer to get a detailed explanation of the legal obligations of being a landlord. If you’d like more information about property management services in Sacramento, we’d be happy to provide a free consultation.