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View Full Version : A Few Legal Questions About Being a Landlord



jallenecs
01-07-2011, 08:22 AM
I have been sort of a landlord before. People around here rent farmland from one another all the time. Even now, my neighbor fields his horses on part of my land, and there are agreements in place about who maintains the fences, what are my responsibilities if his horses get out, etc. But these are very loose things worked out without lawyers (generally called "handshake agreements" around here; I don't know what they're called elsewhere). I've never had to deal with tenants, so I'm a little lost on how my MC in my current WIP would deal with them.

Hypothesis: I am the owner of a trailer park. I own all the land, all the foundations. Maybe half the trailers in the park are mine and I rent them out to my tenants. The rest of the mobile homes are owned by their occupants, and I only rent them the land, foundations, hook-ups.

I am pretty sure, since I own the property that all the trailers stand on -- and this is, in a sense, a privately formed community under my leadership, kind of a gated community for the Jerry Springer set -- that I can dictate SOME rules: no large or dangerous pets, no loud music after X time of night, no operating a business on the premises, etc. I know that I can even vet my potential tenants, refusing those with criminal records, or refusing tenants with children, if I so wished.

However, how far do those rules go? Can I refuse to rent (either a home or a foundation) to somebody if they own guns? If a tenant purchases a gun after he moves in, can I demand he get rid of it or move out? What if they build/purchase an "attractive nuisance"?

What exactly IS an an attractive nuisance?

BTW: I would assume, if I had rules like this, they would have to be spelled out in the lease agreement. I can't just change the rules mid-stream. I also know that I have responsibilities as well, to maintain the properties to a certain standard, stuff like that.

One more quick question. the land is mine, plain and simple. But my tenants are renting that land from me, either home and lot, or just the lot on which to place their own home. How far can they modify that land before I get to say stop? I wouldn't see a problem if they wanted to put in a flower or vegetable garden. But what about planting a tree? Cutting down an existing tree? Don't those belong to me?

alleycat
01-07-2011, 08:29 AM
I can't answer most of your questions, but an attractive nuisance is anything that would tend to draw children into a dangerous situation; the classics being a swimming pool, an old refrigerator (which has not made safe by removing the door or chaining it so it can't be opened), a trampoline, and things like that.

jallenecs
01-07-2011, 08:34 AM
I do have a swimming pool in my setting. It has a kraken living in the bottom of it. Or at least most of the tenants THINK it's a kraken; nobody's seen more than a tentacle or two, and lots of algae.

They call him Bob.

mscelina
01-07-2011, 08:40 AM
Well, then you're dealing with a fantasy world and you get to make up the rules.

jallenecs
01-07-2011, 08:48 AM
Fantasy setting in supposedly our world. I want to get the legal stuff as right as I can.

alleycat
01-07-2011, 08:50 AM
I do have a swimming pool in my setting. It has a kraken living in the bottom of it. Or at least most of the tenants THINK it's a kraken; nobody's seen more than a tentacle or two, and lots of algae.

They call him Bob.

People can still have swimming pools or trampolines or whatever, they just have to make them safe. Someone can get into legal trouble (civil or criminal) if they don't make an attractive nuisance safe (such as removing the door of an old fridge so a child couldn't lock himself in). I'm not an attorney or rental expert, but I think some of your questions are going to vary by state and local laws, although many things can be modified by contract. I think some contracts of this sort can be modified during the lease with a certain amount of notice if that's stated in the original lease agreement. Again, I don't claim to be an expert on rental laws or contracts.

jallenecs
01-07-2011, 08:54 AM
Then it would be in my best interests to speak to my preacher's wife (who is a lawyer)? She and the preacher are very supportive of my writing; hell, they think I"m going to be the next Stephen King and asking what I'm going to do when I get famous. I keep trying to tell them it doesn't work like that, but they don't get it. Bless their hearts.

They've answered stranger questions, even blasphemous ones about my last story. She could probably help me quite happily.

alleycat
01-07-2011, 08:57 AM
There are a couple of lawyers who are members here. They might see your questions and reply.

Keyan
01-07-2011, 04:03 PM
I think a lot of this is local.

I have some clue about a house in north carolina... the Home-Owners' Association has a lot of freedom to make rules (this one has things like all trees planted must be approved by the landscaping committee, removal of trees ditto, lawn maintenance standards specified, fence designs specified, banners prohibited, outdoor bells forbidden... and so on). And that's a situation where the HOA imposes the rules on *home-owners* who in turn impose them on tenants.

I imagine that as landlord, you could make rules about vegetation, external structures, etc.

However: You cannot discriminate on the basis of age, race, religion, disability, marital status. You can't prohibit kids unless you specifiy that your community is only for seniors. You can prohibit all pets except service animals. Not sure about guns; you may fall afoul of that bare-arm thing.

You need to fence that swimming pool so kids can't fall in.

It doesn't have to be kraken-proof unless you know it's there and that it's dangerous. If you do, you have to take reasonable precautions for public safety. (I've just been watch Jurassic Park 3, so I'm not sure how reasonable is defined in this context.)

It's a good idea to talk to yr lawyer friends.
Also there may be stuff online for you.


I have been sort of a landlord before. People around here rent farmland from one another all the time. Even now, my neighbor fields his horses on part of my land, and there are agreements in place about who maintains the fences, what are my responsibilities if his horses get out, etc. But these are very loose things worked out without lawyers (generally called "handshake agreements" around here; I don't know what they're called elsewhere). I've never had to deal with tenants, so I'm a little lost on how my MC in my current WIP would deal with them.

Hypothesis: I am the owner of a trailer park. I own all the land, all the foundations. Maybe half the trailers in the park are mine and I rent them out to my tenants. The rest of the mobile homes are owned by their occupants, and I only rent them the land, foundations, hook-ups.

I am pretty sure, since I own the property that all the trailers stand on -- and this is, in a sense, a privately formed community under my leadership, kind of a gated community for the Jerry Springer set -- that I can dictate SOME rules: no large or dangerous pets, no loud music after X time of night, no operating a business on the premises, etc. I know that I can even vet my potential tenants, refusing those with criminal records, or refusing tenants with children, if I so wished.

However, how far do those rules go? Can I refuse to rent (either a home or a foundation) to somebody if they own guns? If a tenant purchases a gun after he moves in, can I demand he get rid of it or move out? What if they build/purchase an "attractive nuisance"?

What exactly IS an an attractive nuisance?

BTW: I would assume, if I had rules like this, they would have to be spelled out in the lease agreement. I can't just change the rules mid-stream. I also know that I have responsibilities as well, to maintain the properties to a certain standard, stuff like that.

One more quick question. the land is mine, plain and simple. But my tenants are renting that land from me, either home and lot, or just the lot on which to place their own home. How far can they modify that land before I get to say stop? I wouldn't see a problem if they wanted to put in a flower or vegetable garden. But what about planting a tree? Cutting down an existing tree? Don't those belong to me?

jclarkdawe
01-07-2011, 06:36 PM
I have been sort of a landlord before. People around here rent farmland from one another all the time. Even now, my neighbor fields his horses on part of my land, and there are agreements in place about who maintains the fences, what are my responsibilities if his horses get out, etc. But these are very loose things worked out without lawyers (generally called "handshake agreements" around here; I don't know what they're called elsewhere). I've never had to deal with tenants, so I'm a little lost on how my MC in my current WIP would deal with them.

Hypothesis: I am the owner of a trailer park. I own all the land, all the foundations. Maybe half the trailers in the park are mine and I rent them out to my tenants. The rest of the mobile homes are owned by their occupants, and I only rent them the land, foundations, hook-ups.

I am pretty sure, since I own the property that all the trailers stand on -- and this is, in a sense, a privately formed community under my leadership, kind of a gated community for the Jerry Springer set -- that I can dictate SOME rules: no large or dangerous pets, no loud music after X time of night, no operating a business on the premises, etc. I know that I can even vet my potential tenants, refusing those with criminal records, or refusing tenants with children, if I so wished. You can dictate a lot of rules, other than rules that violate statutes such as discriminating on race. However, you could discriminate and not allow redheaded people to move in.

However, how far do those rules go? As long as you don't run afoul of any laws, pretty much as far as you want. I don't know that you'd get anyone to move in, but if you insisted that everyone had to wear only yellow, you could. People don't have to buy into your place. Can I refuse to rent (either a home or a foundation) to somebody if they own guns? Yes. If a tenant purchases a gun after he moves in, can I demand he get rid of it or move out? Yes. What if they build/purchase an "attractive nuisance"? Yes.

What exactly IS an an attractive nuisance? An attractive nuisance is something that attracts children who don't know better. Classic is a pool. Landowners have a higher obligation to protect children from being injured, and with a pool, the standard is to require a fence sufficient to prevent children from entering.

BTW: I would assume, if I had rules like this, they would have to be spelled out in the lease agreement. I can't just change the rules mid-stream. The lease is the lease. Whatever it defines is the rule. Changing the rules requires the consent of all parties. And this would have to be a written lease. I also know that I have responsibilities as well, to maintain the properties to a certain standard, stuff like that. Again, defined in the lease.

One more quick question. the land is mine, plain and simple. But my tenants are renting that land from me, either home and lot, or just the lot on which to place their own home. How far can they modify that land before I get to say stop? Not at all, unless defined differently in the lease. I wouldn't see a problem if they wanted to put in a flower or vegetable garden. But if you wanted it to be a problem, it could be. But what about planting a tree? They couldn't do it. Cutting down an existing tree? They couldn't do it. Don't those belong to me? Yes.

Special communities can be very restrictive, but with a careful drafting of the lease agreement, possible. Some of these leases run into the thousands of dollars for the writing of them.

Best of luck,

Jim Clark-Dawe

milly
01-07-2011, 07:02 PM
okay...to address your legal questions, let me see if I can help...

1. if you are the landlord, you can pretty much include whatever restrictions you want in your lease...if your lease says no pets or no guns or that modifications can't be made, then, that's that...

BUT...in many states, at least it is the case in Florida, despite your lease, the landlord has certain duties to keep the rented premises in a "habitable" condition...I would imagine this is the same in most states, landlord/tenant laws do not vary greatly on the basic premise of what is called the "warranty of habitability"

what this means is that a landlord can't just rent out a home with a rotten floor or without running water...by virtue or renting, he is warranting that the home can be lived in and, if there comes a time during the course of the lease period, that the home becomes "uninhabitable" because of repairs that need to be made, then it is on the landlord to make such corrections...or else, in many cases, the tenant can withhold rent until the repairs are made

:)

now...that being said, if a landlord says no pets or no guns, and a tenant violates the agreement by bringing those onto the property, well, the landlord can seek to evict the tenant but even then, there are strict time deadlines in many states as to when such notices of eviction can be served, how long the landlord has to give the tenant to vacate, etc...

if this is a fantasy world, you could at least hit the high points of the generallly accepted landlord/tenant principals...maingly, the warranty of habitability

:)

now, as to your question about attractive nuisances...this is really separate from any landlord/tenant issue...

if you own a piece of property, a house, anything...you are bound to have "nuisances" on your property...the thing is, as the owner, you don't have to get rid of those things, you simply have a duty to either keep others from the danger OR warn of a potentially dangerous condition

there were lots of cases where kids were injured in pools when they were not surrounded by fences, open wells without covers that kids would crawl into...junkyards without fences, you name it...again, this is different by state though...in your fantasy world, it's probably best to simply know what it means and then skew your laws or rules around your fact scenario perhaps

:)

not sure if this helps...but, if you'd like more...please PM me

good luck...

ajkjd01
01-07-2011, 11:27 PM
1. Figure out what state you're in.
2. Contact the state's Legal Aid Association. Many of them have renter's guides that lay out the rights of a tenant for FREE.
3. Trailers are THEIR OWN ANIMAL. It's very different from a house or an apartment. And every state's different.
4. Seriously, talk with an attorney in your state that has some experience in dealing with these issues involving trailer parks.

shaldna
01-08-2011, 01:47 AM
I live in Ireland, so I can't be sure, but isn't the right to bear arms in the american constitution? I would say that refusing someone who owns guns would be considered a breach of their human rights. That's probably how they would argue it anyway.

ajkjd01
01-08-2011, 02:02 AM
First of all, the Bill of Rights is about what Government is allowed to ban or not....says nothing about what private citizens decide.

If the government came in and told people that they couldn't have guns, there might be a problem. (Notice I said MIGHT....none of the rights in the Bill of Rights are absolute). If the landlord is a private citizen, they can ban pretty much whatever they want, as long as there is no discriminatory purpose.

If the tenant can show that the ban on guns in a private trailer park is somehow targeting them based on their race, gender, sexual orientation, or religion, there might be a basis for that discriminatory purpose. There are all kinds of equal opportunity housing regulations. As long as the landlord is not doing it to exclude certain races or classes of people, they can pretty much ban whatever they want on their own property.

I can ban guns in my own house, but the government cannot ban guns in my house...for a clearer analogy.

jallenecs
01-08-2011, 02:53 AM
Thanks, guys, SOOOOO much! This has been a big help.

shaldna
01-08-2011, 03:20 PM
First of all, the Bill of Rights is about what Government is allowed to ban or not....says nothing about what private citizens decide.

If the government came in and told people that they couldn't have guns, there might be a problem. (Notice I said MIGHT....none of the rights in the Bill of Rights are absolute). If the landlord is a private citizen, they can ban pretty much whatever they want, as long as there is no discriminatory purpose.

If the tenant can show that the ban on guns in a private trailer park is somehow targeting them based on their race, gender, sexual orientation, or religion, there might be a basis for that discriminatory purpose. There are all kinds of equal opportunity housing regulations. As long as the landlord is not doing it to exclude certain races or classes of people, they can pretty much ban whatever they want on their own property.

I can ban guns in my own house, but the government cannot ban guns in my house...for a clearer analogy.

I didn';t know that. Thanks.

Reziac
03-05-2011, 06:47 AM
I don't run a trailer court but I have experience of them in rural areas. They tend to be very casual. Here's a lot, the rent is $$ per month, bring your own trailer. Usually the tenant pays their own electric, phone, and heat (natural gas, fuel oil, or propane), and the trailer court pays for water, sewer, and garbage collection. When I lived in Montana, I never heard of one with rental agreements beyond just "you owe me $$ per month". I imagine it's different now but Appalachia being slow to change...

Karen Junker
03-05-2011, 07:33 AM
Just as an aside, the rules have to be in writing. I once rented a house out to tenants and told them to be very careful of an old cedar tree on the property. The first day there, they chopped off all the low-hanging branches. I didn't have any recourse. Even if I did have it in writing, I would have had to pay an attorney to evict them.

GregS
03-07-2011, 11:54 AM
As a landlord in my day job for the last couple of decades, I would be extremely hesitant to infringe on someone's rights through one of my leases. There's an old saying, "You can get away with it only as long as you can get away with it," but then usually you pay pretty heavily.

Speaking only of pets and guns, pets are both A) not a court-upheld right and B) established as an increased risk of residency (which is why you always have damage deposits in locations that allow pets).

Though you could say no guns, if your state and local jurisdictions allow legal ownership I don't think you'd have a snowball's chance in hell of winning that court case. Plus, assuming a real-world-equivalent setting, you'd have a ton of fun fighting it all the way up to the supreme court since the NRA would love to get behind people evicted for no reason other than legal possession of a firearm.

MeretSeger
03-08-2011, 07:46 AM
As a landlord in my day job for the last couple of decades, I would be extremely hesitant to infringe on someone's rights through one of my leases. There's an old saying, "You can get away with it only as long as you can get away with it," but then usually you pay pretty heavily.

Speaking only of pets and guns, pets are both A) not a court-upheld right and B) established as an increased risk of residency (which is why you always have damage deposits in locations that allow pets).

Though you could say no guns, if your state and local jurisdictions allow legal ownership I don't think you'd have a snowball's chance in hell of winning that court case. Plus, assuming a real-world-equivalent setting, you'd have a ton of fun fighting it all the way up to the supreme court since the NRA would love to get behind people evicted for no reason other than legal possession of a firearm.

I think you must be right: I lived in Berkeley, and if firearms could be banned in a lease, I'm sure they would have been. I can imagine a compelling reason to ban pets (fleas and damage) but no compelling reason to ban firearms, unless the landlord totes a 14-point rack.

Tsu Dho Nimh
03-08-2011, 08:56 PM
The property owner gets to make the rules, EXCEPT if they conflict with state or federal laws about discrimination. You can't - unless it's a properly declared age-restricted park - refuse to rent to people with children. You can't refuse based on color, religion, ethnic origin, etc.

You can refuse to rent to smokers, gun owners, dog owners (except service dogs), etc. Just make it based on what they own.

You could have a clause in the lease that says violation of ___ will result in termination of the lease.

Synovia
03-08-2011, 09:52 PM
You could have a clause in the lease that says violation of ___ will result in termination of the lease.
If its legal. Every state whose tenant laws I've looked at has a clause somewhere in there that says if any line item in a lease violates any form of tenant law, the line item is void.

SO, you could have a line saying "owning a gun will result in termination of the lease", later find out that your tenant has a gun, and then not be able to evict him because state law prohibits a lease from depriving someone of a constitutional right.

Yes, the landlord/owner makes the rules, but the rules have to follow state laws, and state laws are generally very specific with regards to what a landlord can and can't restrict.

Probably 90% of the leases I've seen (even form leases) violate the law in some respect, and [that clause] would never hold up in an eviction hearing (and no, you can't evict someone without going through the courts).




As to verbal vs in writing, I haven't seen a state yet whose tenant laws don't specifically say that verbal agreements between landlords and tenants are non-binding. Everything needs to be in writing.

GregS
03-09-2011, 01:48 AM
Synovia is absolutely correct. You can say anything you want, and even try to exercise your lease as written, but anyone who knows anything about contract law will tell you that courts invalidate provisions in contracts all the time--ESPECIALLY leases. That's why every one of my leases, residential and commercial, include a provision that says something to the effect of "if any part of this lease is found to be invalid, the rest shall endure."

Further, in some cases even clear violations of a lease (missed rent, excessive damage, extra occupants, pets, etc.) can take months to act on. I could tell you stories of evicting deadbeats that would make you pull out your hair.

Which, while I'm on a bit of a rant, doesn't even begin to talk about the entire idea of proof of violation. If you don't know how residential tenant law works, you might think that just seeing a gun, or hearing someone has a gun, or even having said tenant SHOW YOU they have a gun would be enough to act on. That's not so. That's not even remotely so. Assuming said tenant is smart enough to take you to court (which is most of the time) you will have to provide proof--proof obtained through laws that require you to give at least a day's notice before entering. So...you know...good luck with that.

To be clear, I have never heard of firearms as a lease provision, so I can't speak with absolute certainty. But as a seriously veteran landlord, I can tell you I'd never put something that inflammatory in one of my leases--and even if I did I'd be terrified to act on it. Not only do I believe that no court would uphold it (opinion), but if word leaked out of that eviction you would have a political fight on your hands that you would have to be both rich and stupid to undertake.