Rights of a Landlord and Duties of a Tenant

Rights of a Landlord and Duties of a Tenant

In an earlier post, I discussed the Rights of a Tenant and Duties of a Landlord for residential rentals under North Carolina law. Today I thought I would discuss the flip side. If you are the landlord, what rights to you have and if you are a tenant, what are your duties? (These rules are for residential leases, commercial leases have different rules).

Again, as before, the controlling document is the lease agreement. In general however, the tenant has the following duties and responsibilities:

1. Pay the rent on time under the terms of the lease. Remember, this is a separate duty of the tenant and therefore the tenant can’t refuse to honor this duty even if the landlord neglects their duties.

2. Keep the property clean and safe. Do normal household maintenance. Take out the garbage, keep the plumbing clean, keep the yard maintained, etc.

3. Cause no damage to the property or allow a guest to cause damage.

4. Replace the batteries as needed in a battery-operated smoke detector and notify the landlord if it needs to be repaired or replaced.

5. If you decide to move out, give your landlord notice. Many leases will provide for the correct notice of termination. Keep in mind that the notice requirement is for the end of the lease term, not a way to terminate in the middle. For example, if you have a one year lease, from January to January, and you see a 30 day notice requirement in your lease, that doesn’t mean you can give 30 days notice in March and move out in April without breaking the lease. That type of notice requirement means that in December you have to give notice that you will move out in January. If not, you may automatically have the lease renewed for another month or even year. If the lease doesn’t specify notice, North Carolina law states that proper notice is: 2 days if you rent weekly; 7 days if you rent monthly, (“month to month”); 30 days if your lease is for a year (even if you have to pay rent monthly); and 30 days if you own a mobile home and rent the lot. There is no law specifying the type of notice required, but it is always better to put it in writing so that you have a written record if questions come up later.

A landlord has the following rights:

1. To rent the property for whatever amount you choose, although you cannot raise rent during the term of the lease and you must give proper notice if you change the rent at the end of the term.

2. You can rent to whomever you choose, and refuse to rent to whomever you choose, except you cannot refuse to rent on the basis of race, color, religion, ancestry, sex, country of birth, handicap or family status (for example in most circumstance you cannot refuse to rent to someone with children).

3. You can reserve the right to enter, inspect and make repairs on or show the rental property at reasonable times and in a reasonable manner.

4. You have the right to have the property returned at the end of the term undamaged except for ordinary wear and tear.

5. You can charge a late fee on any rental payment five days or more late, of $15 or 5% of the payment, whichever is more. You can only impose one late charge per pay period and you can’t deduct a subsequent rental payment so as to cause the subsequent rental payment to be in default.

6. You are entitled to keep any improvement affixed to the property such as carpet, light fixtures, shutters, trees, etc.

7. You can charge a security deposit equal to two weeks rent for a week to week lease; one and a half month’s rent for a month to month lease; and up to two months’ rent for a longer term. The landlord must deposit the security deposit in a bank or obtain a bond to secure repayment. If the tenant breaches the lease the security deposit can be used to repay rent owed, damage to the property, legal fees for eviction and liens created. If the tenant leaves without breaching the lease, the security deposit must be returned in 30 days in full or provide an itemized statement of any damage or injury together with the balance of the deposit. The landlord cannot withhold amounts from the security deposit for normal wear and tear. If the landlord withholds the security deposit without authority, he can be sued for the amount by the former tenant for the deposit amount and attorney fees.

8. A landlord can evict tenants for a breach of the lease by a special court proceeding called summary ejectment. A landlord cannot use self-help such as cutting off utilities or changing the locks. Summary ejectment takes place in Magistrate's Court. The Clerk of Court should have the special magistrate court forms you can use for an ejectment. An accelerated ejectment procedure is available if criminal activity (such as drug trafficking) has occurred at the residence.

–Bradley A. Coxe is a practicing attorney in Wilmington, NC who specializes in Personal Injury, Medical Malpractice, Contract and Real Estate disputes and all forms of Civil Litigation.