Tenants have many rights under federal and state laws, including a right to privacy, a livable residence, how their security deposit can be used, and a right to non-discriminatory treatment. Many states go even further than this, requiring landlords to inform their tenants in writing – often before they even move in – of specific rights including individual state laws, individual policies or information about the rental. While the requirements can vary from state to state, there are a number of common disclosures that many states require landlords to make to their tenants.
Examples of Common State-Required Disclosures
- Security deposit details, such as how the deposit can be collected, how it can be used, where it will be held during the duration of the tenant’s residence at the property, and any interest rate that will be paid
- How non-refundable fees, such as fees for bounced checks or damage to the property can be incurred
- Tenant’s rights to receiving a move-in checklist that outlines the existing damage to the rental property
- Tenant’s rights to be present during a move-out inspection
- Details on specific tenant-landlord laws like rent control or registered sexual offender database
- Information on the installation and maintenance of smoke detectors
- Notifying the tenant of former federal or state military ordinances in the neighborhood
- Disclosure of the presence of hazardous materials like lead-based paint (which is also a required federal disclosure), mold, radon or bedbugs
- The names of the people who are authorized to receive legal papers and manage the property
- Any recent flooding that’s occurred on the property, or if the property is within a flood zone
- The smoking policy in place for the property
- Disclosure of any methamphetamine production that had occurred at the property previously
- The availability of fire protection, such as in-ceiling sprinkle systems, fire extinguishers or fire alarms on the premises
- Any planned condo conversions, intent to demolish a rental unit or foreclosure proceedings that may be in process
- Notification of any outstanding building inspections, condemned units, or housing code violations
See your state’s disclosure laws for specifics on what your state requires.
Consequences for Failing to Disclose
The consequences of not disclosing information required by states laws can vary greatly depending on the state you’re in. Some statutes may contain specific penalties or consequence provisions, but many don’t. When the statute doesn’t specify the consequences, a tenant can generally sue in small claims court for the damages they may have incurred from the lack of disclosure. Many disclosure laws tend to have penalties built-in, however, some of which are monetary in nature. Some state disclosure rules lay out actions or results that aren’t monetary as well.
One disclosure law that certainly carries a monetary penalty is the federally-required disclosure of lead-based paint on a rental property. The first instance of violation may only receive a notice of non-compliance, which allows landlords time to notify their tenants, although Civil and criminal fines of up to $16,000 per violation may be applicable as well. Some disclosure statutes may lay out specific damages that are to be rewarded, or state that “actual damages” suffered by the tenant be paid. One example would be if a landlord failed to disclose how common area utilities like electricity or heat are paid for; failure to disclose these details could either carry a specified amount of damages to be awarded to the tenant, or “actual damages” which would be the cost to the tenant of paying for these utilities unknowingly.
The Bottom Line
As a landlord, it’s ultimately your responsibility to provide a safe, habitable rental property. Tenants should be warned about all potential hazards that could cause injury, illness, or significantly interfere with safe and enjoyable residence on the property. It’s important to remember that in some cases, disclosure isn’t enough, and some issues will require being fixed or repaired, such as a faulty heater. Even if you warn the tenant of dangerous and uninhabitable conditions on the property, you’re still legally responsible to resolve the problem.
Landlords Property Managers Contact TSCI