Did you know that if you are a Pennsylvania landlord with a tenant who hasn't paid rent – and your written lease agreement states that no notice is required to evict for non-payment of rent – that you can legally start the eviction process without sending your tenant a notice?
Yes, that's allowed by Pa. law.
But you'd better not try that in the adjacent state of New Jersey. Rights of tenants in the Garden State cannot be waived. A N.J. lease agreement that declares tenant rights are waived, even if the tenant signed the lease, is unenforceable.
In the U.S., some lease basics are addressed in federal laws. For instance, tenants must be informed in writing when lead may be present, and landlords must follow rules on fairness in evaluating potential tenants. On top of that, all 50 state legislatures have the power to expand on federal guidelines, making state-specific leases a real necessity.
What sort of rules do different states have?
Some states, such as California, have sweeping landlord tenant laws that add very specific regulations for leases. Other states have very general rules with one or more specific regulations. See the list below for examples of individual state requirements.
Michigan landlords, for instance, must take an inventory of the contents of rental units and must give the tenant two copies of that list before the tenant moves in. The idea is that tenants can note the condition of any landlord possessions in the unit. After the tenant moves out, the landlord must go through the rental and write down any damages on his own inventory list.
There can be as much difference in states' landlord tenant laws as there are differences in states' landmarks, geography and culture. It makes sense when you think about it. In Florida, where cases of mosquito-borne illness drew the greatest attention recently, landlords must, by law, check and replace punctured window screens every year.
And, each year, lawmakers add new rules or change existing rules. These rules may take effect Jan. 1 of a new year or later in a year. Michigan lawmakers enacted a change in 2016 that starts April 1, 2017: Landlords can forbid the cultivation or smoking of marijuana for medical use as long as that prohibition is written into the lease.
Who keeps track of these landlord tenant law changes?
Attorneys who specialize in landlord tenant law follow changes made in laws. In most cases, attorneys specialize in the law in their own state. They and their staff follow changes and often must research whether changes apply in every rental case.
Even when state legislatures vote to add or remove guidelines on lease agreements, those guidelines are regularly tested in courts.
For example, the state Supreme Court in Iowa last year ruled that landlords could not automatically charge a carpet cleaning fee when tenants moved out of a rental. This had been a long-standing practice. However, the Supreme Court affirmed a district court ruling that found an automatic carpet-cleaning fee violated Iowa's landlord tenant laws.
If an Iowa landlord keeps this clause in a lease, the tenant has no obligation to pay the cleaning fee. And if landlord ends up in court over another matter (say the tenant owes back rent), the unconstitutional clause could weaken his case.
Landlord Tenant Law examples:*
In addition to the state examples cited above, here are just some of the rules that other states have for lease agreements:
Alaska – Security deposit rules are different for rents below $2,000 a month and above $2,000 a month. Alabama – Bad check fees can't exceed the amount charged by the landlord's bank.
Arkansas – Bad check fees can exceed the amount charged by the landlord's bank by no more than $25.
Arizona – Out of state landlords must have an in-state agent to handle tenant notices.
Colorado – Leases can require tenants to purchase renter insurance.
Connecticut – Landlords must give at least 30 days’ notice to end or renew a lease.
District of Columbia – Tenants must be given copies of leases and all addenda within 7 days of signing.
Delaware – Notice to renew or end a lease must be given on the first day of the month preceding the last month of tenancy.
Georgia – The amount of notice needed to renew or end a lease is completely up to the landlord, but dates must be stated in the lease.
Hawaii – Tenants can sublet without permission unless the landlord writes a lease forbidding subletting.
Idaho – Landlords must bank security deposits separate from rent payments.
Illinois – Landlords cannot deny a reasonable subletting request.
Indiana – Leases that are for three or more years must be filed in the county recorder’s office.
Louisiana – No state law forces landlords to allow tenants to sublease.
Massachusetts – Landlords can add the cost of buying and installing a new lock when collecting the first rent and security deposit.
Maryland – Lease must include landlord's address and phone number. It's illegal to require upfront payment of the last month's rent
Maine – Notice to end leases, no matter how long the term is, must be 30 days unless the lease states otherwise.
Minnesota – Every tenant who has signed the lease must get his or her own copy.
Missouri – Notice to end a year lease must be given at least 60 days in advance.
Mississippi – No limit is placed on security deposit amounts but the law says it must be “reasonable.”
Montana – If heat is included in rent, the landlord can't turn it off between Oct. 1 and May 1.
North Carolina – Landlords must give tenants written notice of the name of the bank holding a security deposit.
North Dakota – Even if a lease has an automatic renewal clause, the landlord must still tell the tenant it will renew, through 30 days’ written notice delivered personally or sent via first class mail.
Nebraska – Security deposits cannot exceed the amount of a month's rent.
New Hampshire – Landlords must tell new tenants in writing that, if any repairs are needed, the tenant must give the landlord a written list within five days of moving in.
New Mexico – If the lease is for one year or less, the security deposit may not exceed one month's rent.
Nevada – Every fee charged to a tenant must be explained in the lease with the reason it is required.
New York – Landlords are prohibited from accepting only electronic rent payments.
Ohio – Landlords must pay the tenant interest earned on any security deposit amount greater than one month rent.
Oklahoma – A tenant's security deposit must be held in an Oklahoma, federally insured bank.
Oregon – Landlords must hand out a written list of all rent and fees before a tenant signs the lease and before accepting any payment.
Rhode Island – Out of state landlords must register with the township or city, and with the Rhode Island Secretary of State.
South Carolina – Written names and addresses of all people who will act as the landlord’s agents must be given to tenants before move-in.
South Dakota – Landlords may increase rent or make other lease term changes with 30 days’ notice. However, tenants then may end the lease on the first day of the next month by giving notice to the landlord within 15 days of receipt of the landlord's notice of modification.
Tennessee – This state's landlord tenant law applies only to some counties (those with 75,000 or more residents) and doesn't apply at all to commercial leases. However, other consumer laws may apply to commercial leases and leases in counties with fewer than 75,000 residents.
Texas – Strict rules on placement and regular upkeep of smoke detectors include this one: A smoke detector designed for the hearing impaired must be supplied at no cost to hearing impaired tenants who request them.
Virginia – Like Tennessee, this state also exempts certain properties from adhering to its landlord tenant laws, but it is not based on location of the unit. It is based on how many and what type of rentals a landlord owns. Again, other laws may apply to lease agreements.
Vermont – Authorities in individual towns should be consulted for limits on acceptable security deposits.
Washington – Leases must be notarized if they are for a period longer than one year.
West Virginia – Late fees, security deposits and some other payments must be “reasonable.”
Wisconsin – Leases must include a security deposit disclosure form and property checklist.
Wyoming – Landlords do not have to allow subletting but, if they do, they may not charge a sublet fee.
*This list is not all-inclusive. States have many additional requirements for rental lease agreements.