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Friday February 27, 2015

Rachel T. Caudel

Landlord / Tenant Rights And Duties: Q & A

Determining your rights and responsibilities as a landlord or a tenant can be difficult and confusing. This Q & A will help you navigate and understand your rights and duties in Louisville / Jefferson county and other cities and counties that have adopted Kentucky’s Uniform Residential Landlord-Tenant Act (URLTA). If you live in a different area, your rights and responsibilities will be different.

What are my duties as a tenant?
            As a tenant you must:

1. Pay rent on time.

2. Keep the rental unit clean and safe.

3. Keep the rental unit free of trash and garbage.

4. Use all electrical, heating, ventilating, plumbing, and air conditioning equipment properly and as it was intended.

5. Be responsible for any damages done to the rental unit.

6. Not disturb neighbors.

7. Give proper notice to your landlord when ending the lease or repairing the rental unit.

8. Let your landlord come in when needed, after 2 days’ notice, or without notice in emergencies.

What are my duties as a landlord?

            As a landlord you must:

                        1. Keep the rental unit clean, livable, and safe.

2. Make needed repairs on the rental unit and obey the housing, health, and building codes.

3. Keep common areas, like halls and stairways, clean and safe.

4. Keep all electrical, plumbing, heating, ventilating, and air conditioning equipment in the building in good working order.

5. Provide tenants with hot and cold running water at all times. Provide heat between October 1 and May 1 (when rent includes heat).

6. Give the tenant in writing: the manager’s name; the name of the person who handles notices or complaints; and/or the owner’s name.

7. Keep all security deposits in a separate bank account. The landlord must tell the tenant where the account is held and the account number.

8. Make lists of damages before the tenant moves in and after the tenant moves out, with the estimated costs of repairing them.

What if there isn’t a written lease?

An oral (unwritten) lease is good for the amount of time paid for in rent. For example, if the tenant pays rent by the month, s/he has the right to stay for only that month s/he’s paid for in rent. In all other ways, this oral lease is just like a written one. If the tenant doesn’t make an agreement with the landlord as to when rent is due, s/he should pay rent on the first of the month.

How do you end an oral lease?

It depends on the living situation of the tenant. If the tenant shares a bathroom, kitchen, refrigerator or stove with other tenants, and s/he lives in the same building as the landlord, s/he is a boarder or roomer. Either the boarder or the landlord must give 7 days’ written notice to move. If the tenant is not a boarder or roomer, and rents by the month, s/he or the landlord must give 30 days’ written notice to move. If the tenant pays rent by the week, s/he or the landlord must give 7 days’ written notice to move.

Can a landlord give a tenant new rules and requirements for living in the rental unit after s/he has moved in?

Yes, but only if the rules aren’t changed in an important or signifcant way. The rules must be reasonable, applied equally to all tenants, and made to protect the rental unit, the tenant’s well-being, or the welfare of other tenants. Tenants should ask for a copy of existing and new rules in writing.

Can a landlord make significant changes to the lease after the tenant has signed and / or moved in?

            Yes, but only if the tenant agrees in writing.

What happens when a lease ends?

After the written lease has come to an end, if either the landlord or the tenant wants to totally end the lease, s/he must give 10 days’ notice. Otherwise the landlord and tenant should consult with one another to determine if they wish to enter into another lease. If not, a month-to-month oral lease will occur.

What is a security deposit?

It is the money paid in advance to cover any damages (except normal wear and tear) caused by the tenant, his family or friends. The tenant will get this money back minus the cost of damages to the rental unit. If there are no damages, the tenant should get all of the money back.

What are the landlord and tenant’s rights and duties when there is a security deposit?

The landlord must give the tenant a list of damages already in the rental unit and an estimate of the cost of repairing them.  The tenant has a right before moving in to inspect the rental unit and make sure s/he agrees with the landlord’s list of damages. If the tenant and landlord agree on the list, they must both sign it.

When the tenant is ready to leave, the landlord must give the tenant a second list of damages caused by the tenant, his family or friends when the tenant leaves. The tenant will get back the deposit minus the charges for any damages. This should not include charges for normal wear and tear.

What if the tenant disagrees with the landlord’s list of damages?

If the tenant disagrees with the landlord’s list of damages at move in, the tenant should not sign the list. S/he should list in writing items with which s/he disagrees and sign that list, then give the list to the landlord.

If the tenant disagrees with the landlord’s list of damages at move out, the tenant should list in writing those items he disagrees with and give a copy of the list to the landlord. The tenant has the right to bring the landlord to court. Only those items with which the tenant disagrees will be looked at by the court. Anything in the landlord’s list that the tenant doesn’t disagree with will be accepted by the court as damages he will have to pay.

What if the landlord doesn’t give the tenant a list of damages?

In this case, the landlord has no legal right to keep any part of the security deposit. If the tenant still decides to move in, it would be a good idea for him to sign his own list and give the landlord a copy.

What should a landlord do with the security deposit?

The landlord must place all security deposits in a separate bank account. The landlord must tell the tenant the name of the bank and the number of the account.

If the tenant owes back rent when s/he leaves, can the landlord keep the security deposit?

After 30 days, if the rent remains unpaid, the landlord can apply the security deposit towards the rent owed.

When can a landlord enter a rental unit?

S/he may enter the rental unit: to inspect it; to make repairs; to show it to future tenants; to show it to possible buyers.

In case of emergency (fire, broken water pipe, etc.), the landlord can enter without notice. In any case except emergency, the landlord must give the tenant 2 days notice of his/her desire to visit the rental unit, and then can only ask to visit at reasonable times. The time should be agreeable to both landlord and tenant.

Can a landlord charge a tenant for the cost of repairs for damages caused by the tenant?

Yes. The tenant is responsible for damages s/he caused or cause by his/her family or friends. If the damages affect health and safety, and they can be fixed by repairs, cleaning, or replacing damaged items, the tenant must do the work. If he doesn’t make the repairs within 14 days after getting the landlord’s notice, or as soon as he should in an emergency, the landlord can enter the rental unit and have the work done. The landlord can give the tenant a bill for all the things done and add the bill to the next rent. If the lease has ended, the tenant must pay right away.

Can a tenant be evicted for not paying for damages s/he caused?

            Yes, the landlord can end the lease with 14 days notice.

What can a tenant do if the unit needs health and safety repairs?

If the tenant, his/her family or friends didn’t cause the damages, and they affect health and safety, s/he can take several actions. The tenant should first ask the landlord in writing to make the needed repairs. If s/he won’t do it, the tenant should report this to the city housing inspectors. They will tell the landlord to fix up the rental unit. The tenant can’t be evicted just for complaining to the landlord or to the City.

Can a tenant end the lease if the landlord won’t make repairs for health and safety?

Yes. The tenant should first send the landlord a certified letter return receipt requested, telling what needs to be repaired. The letter should also say if the repairs aren’t made within 14 days, the tenant has a right to end the lease and move out after 30 days.

If the tenant doesn’t want to move can s/he make health and safety repairs himself?

Maybe. Another way to solve repair problems the tenant didn’t cause is for him to make the repairs himself and take a 10 certain amount of the cost out of the rent, after giving proper notice. The tenant should be very careful about this-he could be evicted if it’s not done right.

What if emergency repairs are needed?

If the tenant is without an important service which the landlord agreed to provide, such as hot and cold running water, electricity, gas, etc., and it’s not the tenant’s fault, s/he should give the landlord a written notice of the problem as soon as possible. The landlord should fix the problem right away. If s/he purposely fails to get the needed service, the tenant has several options. The tenant could: have the service turned on or fixed, and take the cost out of the rent; get the rent reduced to the lower value of the rental unit without the services; rent another rental unit, without paying rent on the unit without services until they’re turned on or fixed; end the lease, with 30 days’ notice, if the landlord doesn’t turn on or fix the services within 14 days.

What if the rental unit is damaged by a natural disaster?

If the rental unit is damaged by fire, tornado, flood, explosion, or some other disaster, the tenant or the landlord can end the lease with 14 days’ written notice. If the unit is dangerous, the tenant should leave right away. The landlord must give the tenant the leftover rent for the days after the disaster happened.

Can the landlord legally evict a tenant without a court hearing?

No. The landlord cannot lock out the tenant, throw out his property, or cut off his water, gas, or electricity, unless he first goes through the court eviction procedure and gets a legal order.

Can a tenant be evicted for not paying rent on time?

Yes. The landlord must send the tenant a letter saying the lease will end if he doesn’t pay rent within 7 days. This notice can lead to eviction. The landlord may not want to give the tenant a second chance, but may want the tenant to leave even if s/he pays rent after this notice. In this case, the landlord must give the tenant 30 days’ notice if s/he pays rent by the month, or 7 days’ notice if he pays rent by the week or is a boarder.

Can the landlord keep the tenant’s belongings to cover unpaid rent?

No.  The landlord can’t take any of the tenant’s belonging’s, as payment for rent (unless the tenant expressly agrees to this). However, the landlord can keep or dispose of the tenant’s belongings if s/he leaves them behind when he moves out.

Can a landlord evict a tenant for reasons other than unpaid rent?

A landlord can evict a tenant for violating the terms of the lease. This can include breaking rules about pets, repairs, disturbances, criminal activity, etc. The tenant must be given proper notice, and s/he can’t be evicted for illegal reasons, such as complaining to the City about housing code violations.

What happens if the landlord takes a tenant’s rent money after starting the eviction process?

If the landlord accepts rent even though he is aware at the time that the tenant has violated the lease, s/he can’t evict him later for the same violation. But s/he may be able to evict the tenant for another violation or a subsequent violation of the same rule. For example: The landlord complains because the tenant has a dog in the apartment in violation of a rule that said the rental unit was a no pet unit. The landlord then accepts rent from the tenant. This stops the landlord from evicting the tenant because of the dog being in the apartment. By accepting the tenant’s rent, the landlord has chosen to ignore the violation. However, the landlord can evict the tenant if s/he continues to keep the dog in the apartment and the landlord doesn’t accept the next rent payment. This would be considered a new violation

What happens if a tenant stays in the rental unit after s/he has been given notice to vacate?

If the tenant does not leave, the landlord can take him to court to evict him from the property. If the tenant owes rent, the landlord can also sue him for the amount of rent owed.

If you have an issue regarding your rights as a tenant or landlord in Kentucky, it is important to consult with a lawyer who is knowledgeable about the various rules, requirements, and resources available. If you have further questions or need assistance, please contact our office and ask for Rachel Caudel.