Legal Issues: Know Your Tenant’s Rights

If you’re a property owner, you’ve probably heard of The Fair Housing Act and are making sure you comply with it in lease agreements and communication with tenants. But did you know that there are some common legal mistakes that property owners make without even realizing it? Some examples are mishandling payment and expense records, unintentional discrimination, and who is performing maintenance. It can feel like a full-time job to keep up with all federal, state, and local laws and regulations when you have an investment property. A company that offers professional property management in Fort Worth, like Specialized Property Management can help you save time, get organized, and avoid common legal mistakes that could lead to costly fees. 

“Being aware of legal pitfalls that haunt all landlords and homeowners is the first step to creating a better rental experience for all involved,” explains the Director of Operations at Specialized Property Management Fort Worth. “We understand that regulations affect everyone in a rental situation on a local, state and federal level. Landlords count on us to stay on top of all regulations so we can protect them from potential risks and financial liabilities. We understand that many of our clients simply don’t have the time or expertise to commit towards keeping up-to-date on rental property regulations. So, instead of taking this on themselves, they come to a full-service property management to take care of their rental property,” she explains.

If you are not constantly aware of current laws and rights that protect tenants as well as current laws and regulations, you run the risk of walking straight into a lawsuit. Carefully adhere to the advice of your Fort Worth rental management and educate yourself on the policies below to avoid costly legal fees and a lot of time and stress.

Legal Regulations You Should Know About

Privacy Laws

Because you bought your property and invested so much time and money into it, it’s easy to forget about privacy laws. A tenant with a signed lease and keys to a unit has a legal right to privacy. If you want to decrease tenant turnover, it’s wise to help tenants feel like your property is truly their home. If the occasion arises that you need access to your property, make sure to give at least 24 hours’ notice. If you don’t have the time, Specialized Fort Worth Rental Management will always give tenants a 24-hour notice of scheduled inspections or maintenance. If there is an emergency, you don’t need to give notice. Try your best to always be respectful and treat your tenant’s space as if it is truly theirs. Additionally, ensure that tenant records and documents are kept strictly confidential and in a safe space. Leases, complaints, accounting details, and notices need to be safely maintained even after tenants leave. All security deposits and monthly rental payments also need to be properly handled because there are trust and escrow laws to adhere to. 

Security Rights

Every tenant deserves to live in a property that is secure with working doors and windows that have keyed deadbolts and viewing access to the exterior of the home. Windows and sliding doors need to have latches and locks that work as well. If a safety measure needs to be fixed, the tenant has the right to get it repaired at the property owner’s expense. There are some exceptions, so it’s critical that professional property management in Fort Worth know and understand all security regulations for their investment property. 

Maintenance of the Unit

One of your tenant’s rights is “implied warranty of habitability”. This means that your tenant has a legal right to clean, running water, electricity and heat, and a sound structure. According to the Attorney General of Texas speaking to tenants, “You have a right to demand that the landlord repair any condition that materially affects your physical health or safety. Justices of the peace have the authority to order landlords to repair or remedy conditions affecting a tenant’s physical health or safety, as long as the cost of the repair does not exceed $10,000. Tenants can go to justice court without an attorney to obtain a repair order..”

Responding quickly to maintenance requests and scheduling thorough walkthroughs and regular maintenance checks is the best way to keep your building safe and in good legal standing. You are required to take care of mold and foundation issues as soon as possible and make sure that smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors are properly functioning. Hire only insured and licensed repair services and don’t attempt to DIY large problems. It is against the law for professional property management in Fort Worth to refuse maintenance and repair to properties that are occupied by a tenant. 

Licensing

In Fort Worth, certain property management activities must be performed by licensed real estate agents so it’s crucial to make sure that you are licensed. According to licenselogix, “The primary functions of many property management companies, such as leasing, renting and collecting rent on behalf of others, are considered real estate activities under existing Texas real estate licensing laws.  If a property management company is going to list, rent, negotiate the rental of property, collect rents, or place tenants on behalf of a landlord client in Texas, the business will need a real estate broker license.”

Costs and Fees

In some states, there are limitations set for certain costs and fees, but in Texas there is no limit on how much a property owner can charge for rent. You also have the freedom to raise rent rates but some lease agreements have regulations about giving a rent-increase notification to tenants beforehand. Application fees are separate from application deposits. Deposits hold a rental unit for someone while application fees cover the time and expense the property owner uses to process your application. Fort Worth rental management doesn’t return these fees if the application is rejected, but deposits are returned if they choose not to lease to a serious applicant. When rent is paid late, there are late fees and these have restrictions. All costs and fees must be clear and straightforward in the lease. 

Eviction Rights

“Quiet enjoyment” refers to the right of tenants to rest easy knowing that as long as they fulfill their responsibilities detailed in the lease agreement, they will not have to unexpectedly start looking for new housing. If a property owner wishes to evict their tenant, there must be proper cause. The eviction process in Texas explains, “In Texas, a landlord must legally terminate the tenancy before evicting a tenant. The landlord must first give the tenant a written notice, as required by state law. If the tenant does not move out after receiving this notice, then the landlord can file an eviction lawsuit (also called a forcible entry and detainer suit).” There are some cases where notice for termination without cause is acceptable.  

Specialized Property Management

Professional property management in Fort Worth like Specialized Property Management must pay attention to the details of every local, state, and federal law that protects both tenants and property owners. Even minor, unintentional infractions can take a hit to your profit margins and future business. Violations can cause tenants to be exempt from paying rent, property owners being buried in fines, or the stress and cost of time in court because of lawsuits. If you want to avoid these penalties, it’s important that you rely on the years of experience and research of qualified Fort Worth rental management. 

“Your excellent management has provided an almost unheard of occupancy rate of 97%. As an ex-banker I will tell you that such numbers were often looked on with skepticism, we saw so many cute twists on reality.”- Joe K., Owner

Our Services

Specialized Fort Worth Rental Management understands that many property managers don’t think about the legal reparations that could occur from a few simple mistakes. That’s why you should trust us to keep up with the landlord and tenant codes for you. We make sure that you are in strict compliance with all laws relating to your investment property. We have an in-house legal counsel, conform to all trust accounting laws and regulations, and can guide you in the process of eviction and writ of possession. We are up to date and current on all:

  • State property code laws
  • Local city ordinances
  • Department of Real Estate
  • Tenant screening regulations
  • Real estate contract law on residential leases
  • Trust and escrow laws on security deposits and monthly rental payments
  • Tenant and landlord maintenance laws
  • Collection and eviction laws
  • Property inspection regulations

“SPM’s reporting and accountability is excellent. I have been impressed with the courteous, professional and efficient manner in which the affairs of my properties have been conducted. I recommend Specialized as an agent for handling rental properties.” -William M., Owner

Don’t let legal reasons be the cause of a loss in potential profits. Trust our team of experts at Specialized Property Management to take care of all your property management needs. Contact us today to learn more about how Specialized Fort Worth Rental Management can make your life easier as a property owner and protect your investment. 

Understanding Lease Agreements with Fort Worth Rental Management

When you choose to invest in a property, you bear the responsibility of knowing everything there is to know about housing laws on a local, state, and federal level. If you rent out your property, you’ll also need to be aware of what a lease entails and when you have the right to terminate a lease. Your lease or rental agreement should contain general core elements as well as specific regulations depending on the state you live in. In the state of Texas, Fort Worth rental management like Specialized Fort Worth property management can ensure that you are current on all rental agreement issues outlined below and that you don’t unknowingly discriminate against prospective tenants or create a reason for a small claims lawsuit. With over 25 years of experience, we can prepare and execute lease documents with precision and according to law while addressing all the rules and regulations that govern a rental agreement. With effective communication and mutual respect, landlords and tenants can make changes as needed and create an agreement that fits both of their circumstances and needs. 

What is a Lease?

A lease or rental agreement is a binding contract between two people or parties which states the rights, obligations, and responsibilities of each while the lease is in effect as well as some of the consequences for not fulfilling them. Both landlords and prospective tenants should carefully look over all of the outlined terms and make sure they understand everything clearly before signing the document. If there is a disagreement between the landlord and tenant, city or state officials may step in to clarify and delegate parts of the lease agreement to the correct party. 

The Need to Have it in Writing

The Texas Statute of Frauds declares that a rental agreement is only required to be in writing if the contract is intended for longer than a year. In some cases, it is true that an oral agreement is valid in court. However, Fort Worth rental management companies should have a written lease with tenants even if a lease agreement is for shorter than a year. A written lease is a good idea to protect both the landlord and the tenant, and to document rental expectations in order to avoid future misunderstandings. 

What to Include in a Lease

Depending on the state you live in, the specific requirements for properties will change, but there are general requirements that Fort Worth rental management include as well. The lease will include the names of each party involved as well as the property’s description and location. Terms of the lease will be clearly stated, including the amount of rent, its due date, security deposit requirements, and pet rules. This legal contract will also outline the process for requesting maintenance and repairs. After both parties sign the lease, there are few situations that can legally void the agreement and they often call for legal involvement. 

Leases in Texas

In addition to the general rental agreement standards stated above, the state of Texas can be different in the following ways:

  • Disclosures: Fort Worth rental management must include a full disclosure in the agreements explaining who will make repairs and who is authorized to act on behalf of the landlord to make repairs when the landlord is unable to do so.  
  • Security Deposits: The state of Texas doesn’t control the amount landlords charge for their security deposits, but it does require that deposits be returned within 30 days to the tenant, separate from deductions for cleaning and repairs.
  • Small Claims Lawsuits: If tenants want to sue Fort Worth rental management companies for the return of their deposit, they can do so for up to $10,000. 

The Importance of Property Condition

When tenants or property owners don’t take care of a building and don’t perform their other responsibilities, both parties listed in the lease contract need to know their legal rights in regard to breaking their lease agreement. Property condition is a huge factor for both sides, as well as promptly taking care of maintenance issues. Rather than allowing your building to fall into disarray, it’s best to hire a professional Fort Worth rental management company who can take preventative measures to make sure that property condition is never a factor in breaking a lease agreement. 

Disability Lease Requirements

As a property owner, you should be able to know who is protected under the law, especially when it comes to tenants who have a disability in order to avoid legal problems in Fort Worth. A person is considered disabled and therefore legally protected if: 

  • They have a written record of a disability
  • They experience either a mental or physical disability that limits their ability to perform major life activities
  • They are recognized by others as having a disability 

Fair Housing Requirements 

Being aware of the Fair Housing Act and those who are protected by it could save you from making unintentional discriminatory mistakes in conversation, lease agreements, and more as a property owner. People are protected from being denied housing because of race, color, sex, religion, children, or disability by the Fair Housing Act. This means that your application for housing should not ask questions about these specific subjects. Fort Worth rental management can help you create a non-discriminatory application for prospective tenants. 

Reasonable Changes to Property

In special circumstances, especially in the case of a disability, tenants can ask for reasonable changes to the property to accommodate their specific needs. Reasonable changes are usually paid for by the tenant, and the property is required to be put back to its original condition when the tenant leaves. All reasonable changes and agreements must be stated in the lease and understood completely by both landlord and tenant. 

Consider Pet Policies

One mistake to be sure to avoid is not allowing service animals in your rental. Even if you have a no-pet policy, service animals are required by law to be the exception and can cost you a large fine if you don’t allow them or if you charge an additional pet fee for them. Check with your Fort Worth rental management company for a list of the exceptions and regulations with this law so that you are protected legally. 

Lease Termination

According to the state of Texas, Fort Worth rental management companies and tenants are allowed to terminate a lease in 3 ways. A lease naturally terminates after the agreed lease time has ended, landlords can create a new lease agreement, or tenants can move out of the unit. As with everything else surrounding property renting and management, general rules and regulations have the tendency to become complex. Hiring a team of professionals like Specialized Fort Worth property management will prepare you for the unexpected and protect you from making costly mistakes. 

Tenant and Landlord Agree to Terminate Lease

Sometimes leases need to be terminated before their natural ending because of unforeseen events. Texas law states that Fort Worth rental management companies must allow a tenant to terminate a lease early in the case of domestic violence involved an issued protective order and the need to leave for safety reasons. Another reason one might terminate their lease early is for active military duty. A property owner is required to respect a lease cancellation when a tenant gives 30 days notice for this reason. Examples of these early lease cancellation scenarios should be clearly dictated at the time of signing the lease agreement. Other circumstances may be cause for an early lease termination, but the key is to communicate with your tenant or landlord so there are no misunderstandings and everything is agreed upon in an amicable way. 

Landlord or Tenant Break Terms of Agreement

In some cases, amicable lease cancellation just doesn’t happen. If an agreement was signed and then responsibilities not met by either or both parties, the lease document is considered void. Examples of this may be the property not being properly maintained as promised by the property owner or the tenant avoiding payment of rent. In either case, action can be taken to terminate the lease. The best way to handle this situation maturely is to: 

  • Have a good reason why the lease needs to be broken
  • Keep accurate records
  • Give as much notice as possible
  • Be respectful to the other party

Eviction Policies

Fort Worth property owners can legally give a tenant who is not paying their rent an unconditional quit notice which gives them a limited number of days to move out. We recommend hiring Fort Worth rental management companies  to handle an eviction situation because there are eviction policies that need to be carefully followed on both state and local levels. These policies should also be included in the rental agreement. 

Fort Worth Rental Management

With all the details involved in a lease document, it’s crucial that property owners seek professional help from rental management companies. Specialized Property Management in Fort Worth, TX has over 30 years experience working with lease agreements and tenants. With our 98% customer satisfaction rating, you can rest assured that we care about what we do and are committed to keeping owners and tenants happy with their rental experience. Avoid mistakes and stay ahead of the property management game by putting our proven processes and expert team to work for you. Visit our website today and see the difference we can make with your lease options and tenant retention. 

Fort Worth Rental Property Management Helps You Comply with Landlord/Tenant Discrimination Laws

Our society is more aware than ever before of everyone around us and their civil rights. In 1968, the Fair Housing Act was established to protect all citizens from being discriminated against for reasons such as race, color, national origin, religion, gender, disability, or familial status when trying to rent or buy housing. Fair housing rules are important to know when you are deciding whether or not to accept a tenant application. These rules have created more opportunities for more people, but have also required that everyone be more aware and careful in the way they speak and run their businesses. Don’t take the risk of rejecting someone only to find out that you’ve unknowingly discriminated against them. In order to steer clear of uncomfortable legal situations, educate yourself on landlord/tenant discrimination legislation in Fort Worth. Rental property management companies like Specialized Property Management are a great way to ensure that you aren’t making any costly mistakes and can handle marketing, tenant screening, and more to ensure that everything is done in the correct way. To get a head start, begin by reading the laws and special situations listed below and making sure that you are in compliance with those. 

Marketing

Marketing your rental home property will help attract good tenants, especially if you market in the right way. Be careful not to market to one specific group of people. When you say that your property is ideal for families, senior citizens and single people may feel like they can’t live there. It’s better for you and the community if you encourage all types of people in all stages of life to live in your rental property. This will help create diversity and the feeling that no one is getting left out. Diversity is encouraged and appreciated all over the city of Fort Worth. Property management services will help you market your rental property in a way that is inclusive, without attracting tenants that are irresponsible or unreliable. The following checklist from MetroTex can help you determine if you are in compliance with marketing regulations when posting an online ad. 

  1. Does the ad contain any misleading statements, or does it tend to create a misleading impression in any manner? It is prudent for someone who did not design the ad to scrutinize it for any potentially misleading statements. Keep in mind that the standard is not whether a statement is true, but whether the advertisement “tends to create a misleading impression.”
  2. Does the ad contain the name of the real estate firm or broker? It should. 
  3. Does the person causing the ad to be published have proper authority to publish or submit the advertisement? 
  4. Is the price quoted the price agreed upon by the owner? 
  5. Does the ad inadvertently imply a limitation or preference to a protected class that could potentially violate fair housing laws? 
  6. Is the specific information relayed in the advertisement accurate?

Tenant Selection

Using a Fort Worth rental property management company is very important when selecting tenants. Once you’ve got a good amount of interest in your property, you have the opportunity to begin the screening process. You have the right to ask tenants about their rental history in order to see how they will treat your property and how seriously they will take their tenant responsibilities. Talk to former and current landlords about if the tenant paid rent on time, gave proper notice, or violated any lease terms. Use a written or online application that collects the information you need such as names, contact information, social security numbers, current and past addresses, employment information, and landlord references. 

The entire screening process can be lengthy and time consuming. If you use Specialized Fort Worth Rental Property Management company, you will save so much time and worry by letting them handle the screening process and do so without risking discrimination. When you ask about tenant’s background, you have to be careful not to mention any questions that could be related to race or disabilities. Things you can ask about are financial history, sex offender charges, and criminal records. In order to gauge how reliable a tenant is, you are able to ask questions about past and current employment as well as check their credit score. You may also ask why they’re moving and how many people and pets will live in the residence. 

Service Animal Compliance

Speaking of pets, service animals must be allowed, whether your rental property allows pets or not. Since they are required in some medical situations, service animals cannot be denied under any circumstances, including breed or size. In addition, someone who needs a service animal cannot be rejected because that would also be considered discrimination. Be careful to not make any slips that would make you appear non-compliant. Saying that your rental property does not allow pets, and that there are no exceptions, could put you at risk for being non-compliant when the exception is that service animals are allowed. Specialized Fort Worth’s property management services are aware of all the special needs that go along with disabilities and service animals. They will be able to inform you of what to say and what not to say when meeting someone with a service animal. For example, your potential tenant must provide proof that they need a service animal, but don’t have to explain why. 

LGBT Compliance

The state of Texas doesn’t have any current ruling for LGBT housing issues. The more people talk about these issues, the sooner there will be changes in laws in order to protect the housing rights of people who identify as LGBT. In the meantime, property owners should be aware of how they are advertising their property, be honest about available units, ask questions that aren’t discriminatory on lease applications, and avoid tenant screenings for things other than what is allowed by state regulations. If you were to suggest that you had no vacancies when you actually did, it could be grounds for a real estate agent to lose their license and the denied tenants would have grounds to file a complaint with the real estate licensing board. No matter what your personal beliefs are, it’s important to think of your rental property as a business, separate from religious or emotional views. Like anything else, there are some exceptions to Fair Housing laws, but you would have to have years of experience and knowledge to be able to identify which exemptions applied to you. That’s why employing the help of Fort Worth property management services can help you avoid costly fines from unwittingly going against current or future regulations that have the potential to change all the time. 

Disability and Reasonable Accommodation

The definition of a disability is a mental or physical condition that substantially limits that person’s ability to participate in major life activities that are important to daily life. Disabilities are not always identifiable just by looking at someone. That’s why it’s important to be careful when first meeting potential tenants and putting them through the screening process. Be careful not to say or do anything that may be discriminating, regardless of whether they have an apparent disability or not. Conditions like heart disease, epilepsy, or even anxiety, may not be obvious when meeting someone, but may require special requirements or service animals. Fort Worth rental property management knows that reasonable accommodations for someone’s disability are required by law. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has laid out what it means to provide reasonable accommodations to these tenants. Some examples may include changes to parking policies, rent collection procedures, or the allowance of service animals. In order to not be discriminatory, it’s important to wait for a reasonable request to be made, rather than offering it and assuming that someone has a disability or the need for a special accommodation when they don’t. 

Fair Housing Laws

No one wants to be discriminated against, and no one wants to discriminate. Most non-compliance happens because property owners aren’t aware of all the laws and regulations that exist at the federal, state, and local levels. Violating the Fair Housing Act comes at a cost, whether in the form of hefty fines or losing one’s real estate license in Fort Worth. Property management services can be the difference of hundreds of dollars for you, if you allow them to be the authorities on what laws are out there and how you can avoid breaking them. Specialized Property Management is required to stay up to date on past, current, and changing Fair Housing laws, protecting you from making mistakes that could result in hefty penalties and fines. Partnering with a professional property management company like Specialized Property Management will give you access to correct legal counsel, providing you with peace of mind knowing that you are always complying with the laws and not discriminating against anyone. As the leader of Texas property management companies, Specialized Property Management keeps you compliant with all federal and local laws and regulations. Contact us today!

Three Legal Stories That May Keep You Up Tonight

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Three Legal Stories That May Keep You Up Tonight

Innocent Landlord Mistakes to Avoid

Here’s a Specialized story of three landlords who oversaw their own Denton property management. Can you identify the legal issues in each?

Legal Scenarios

    1. Sam rented for years, so he thought he knew all about property management. Denton landlords who knew him would often come to him for advice. He had a no-pet policy for his rental units, but when a tenant showed up with a service dog, he knew he had to permit the dog on the premises. So he charged a small cleaning fee and asked the tenant to sign an agreement to pay for damages.
    2. Theresia received a call one night from her tenants who were concerned about mold in the laundry room. She told them she would get right on it but had a big presentation at work the next day and promptly forgot. Three weeks later she called a certified mold specialist company and scheduled an appointment, but they were booking two weeks out. Five weeks later, they investigated and discovered black bold. A serious health concern.
    3. Erik worked as a manager of a manufacturing company in town, so he knew a few handymen and mechanics. When something went wrong at his rental, he would ask one of them to take a look at it and repair it if possible. They were happy for the side jobs, and the work got done quickly. He was proud to be saving money on property management. Denton tenants who rented from him were happy too since the work got done.

Answer Key

    1. Sam did not comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act. A landlord cannot restrict or charge for service animals.
    2. Theresia failed to comply with habitability laws, including failure to urgently and effectively attend to any safety, mold, or structural/foundational issues.
    3. Erik hired unlicensed or improperly licensed maintenance company or individuals to handle repairs.

Make sure your Denton property management story does not end up in court. Specialized can help you avoid these and dozens of other common legal mistakes landlords make unknowingly. Ignorance will not impress a judge. Documentation from your property management company with legal experts who understand the field, laws, codes, and ordinances will, however. Call today Specialized today to learn more or visit www.specializedrpm.com  to read about other common legal mistakes we can protect you from.

How to Avoid Costly Regulatory Violations: Take the Legal Risk Quiz

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Avoid Expense and Liability with Strict Compliance

Evaluate your understanding of your legal risk as a landlord – something all Arlington property managers should know – to protect yourself and your investment. Let’s start by matching the following three laws with one of the definitions below:

Legal Risk Matching Game

LAWS

The Fair Housing Act

Habitability Law

Americans with Disabilities Act

DEFINITIONS

A. A requirement that you not discriminate against potential tenants with disabilities, and that you allow the tenants to install adequate access features. You can require them to put the property back to its original condition. Plus you may never restrict or charge for service animals.

B. This requirement prevents landlords from making decisions based upon race, color, sex, national origin, handicap, or familial status. States and localities can add additional protected classes, and violations can cost tens of thousands of dollars.

C. This requirement varies from region to region for property management, Arlington included, but essentially requires that your rental property provides a safe, comfortable living environment for tenants. If you neglect the living conditions or your property, respond slowly or ineffectively to needed repairs, or require tenants to pay for them, you may end up with landlord-tenant disputes, lawsuits, or governmental actions.

ANSWER KEY

  1. Americans with Disabilities Act
  2. The Fair Housing Act
  3. Habitability Law

In addition to understanding and complying with the laws and regulations – local, state, and federal – the compliance team at Specialized recommends the following 7 action items to avoid litigation, liability, and expense proactively.  

    1. Hire licensed and insured personnel only to do repairs.
    2. Be licensed if you plan to conduct transactions that are only authorized for a real estate agent.
    3. Provide a 24-hour service line for your tenants to use evenings, weekends, and holidays. Respond promptly to their requests.
    4. Document, document, document. Remember actions and communication. This is your best defense in litigation.
    5. Keep tenant information private data confidential, both in what you share personally and in how you store your records. Keep records for as long as your state requires.
    6. Carefully handle and document security deposits and other funds.
    7. Stay current on all federal, state, local, and industry laws, codes and regulations.

As a landlord, it’s imperative to understand the potential landmines of legal risk associated with your investment. Typical lawyer’s’ fees are $250/hour, so a single legal issue could easily wipe out your entire annual profit. That’s why many Arlington property managers trust Specialized to reduce their risk. After 30 years of keeping our eyes wide open and our ears close to the ground, this is one of our specialties.
We would love to explain the legal side of property management, Arlington style, to you in more detail. Call the Specialized compliance team today for a free personalized evaluation of your current and greatest risks. Can you afford not to protect yourself?