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Landlord-tenant law governs the rental of commercial and residential
property. It is composed primarily of state statutory and common
law. A number of states have based their statutory law on either
the Uniform Residential Landlord And Tenant Act (URLTA) or the
Model Residential Landlord-Tenant Code. Federal statutory law
may be a factor in times of national/regional emergencies and
in preventing forms of discrimination.
The basis of the legal relationship between a landlord and tenant
is grounded in both contract and property law. The tenant has
a property interest in the land (historically a non-freehold estate)
for a given period of time. See Real Property. The length of the
tenancy may be for a given period of time, for an indefinite period
of time, (e.g., renewable/cancelable on a month to month basis),
terminable at any time by either party (at will), or at sufferance
if the agreement has been terminated and the tenant refuses to
leave (holds over). See Restatement of The Law 2d Property: Landlord
and Tenant § § 1.4-1.8. If the tenancy is tenancy for
years or periodic the tenant has the right to possess the land,
to restrict others (including the landlord) from entering upon
it, and to sublease or assign the property. The landlord-tenant
agreement may eliminate or limit these rights. The landlord-tenant
agreement is normally embodied in a lease. The lease, though not
historically or strictly a contract, may be subject to concepts
embodied in contract law. See Contracts; § 1.103 of the URLTA.
The landlord-tenant relationship is founded on duties proscribed
by either statutory law , the common law, or the individual lease.
What provisions may be contained in a lease is normally regulated
by statutory law. See § 1.403 of the URLTA. Basic to all
leases is the implied covenant of quiet enjoyment. This covenant
ensure the tenant that his possession will not be disturbed by
someone with a superior legal title to the land including the
landlord. See Restatement 2d § 4.1-4.3. A breach of the covenant
of quiet enjoyment may be actual or constructive. A constructive
eviction occurs when the landlord causes the premises to become
Housing codes were established to ensure that residential rental
units were habitable at the time of rental and during the tenancy.
Depending on the state, housing code violations may lead to administrative
action or to the tenant being allowed to withhold rent. The habitability
of a residential rental unit is also ensured by warranties of
habitability which are prescribed by common and/or statutory law.
See § 2.104 of the URLTA. A breach of the warranty of habitability
or a covenant within the lease may constitute constructive eviction,
allow the tenant to withhold rent, repair the problem and deduct
the cost from the rent, or recover damages. See URLTA § §
4.101 & 4.104 & 4.105.
Unless the lease states otherwise there is an assumption that
the tenant has a duty to pay rent. State statutes may provide
for a reasonable rental value to be paid absent a rental price
provision. See URLTA § 1.401(b). In commercial leases rent
is commonly calculated in part or whole as a percentage of the
tenants sales. Rent acceleration clauses that cause all the rent
to become due if the tenant breaches a provision of the lease
are common in both residential and commercial leases. Summary
eviction statutes commonly allow a landlord to quickly evict a
tenant who breaches statutorily specified lease provisions. Self-help
as a method of eviction is generally restricted. Some states do
not even allow it for tenants who have held over after the end
of a lease. See URLTA § 4.207 & Restatement 2d. §
14.2. Landlords are also restricted from evicting tenants in retaliation
of action the tenant took in regards to enforcing a provision
of the lease or applicable law. See URLTA § §. 4.197
Federal law prohibits discrimination in housing and the rental
market. See Civil Rights Act of 1866 & 42 U.S. Code, Chapter
45, Federal Fair Housing Act.
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