Saying the words “landlord-tenant law” will often elicit a groan from investors, which is understandable. It’s not a fun topic to think about, and boring “legal-ese” is really only interesting to attorneys. However, this is one area that you should be paying attention to. Any slip-up in terms of the law, and you could wind up in big trouble.
While there are federal laws regulating landlord-tenant relationships, every state has their own set of rules that each party must follow, too. Some cities and counties even have regulations, so it would be worth your while to look into those as well.
For the purposes of this post, I’m going to focus on Missouri landlord-tenant laws, as most of the investors I’m currently working with are operating in this state. Here’s a breakdown of the main laws that will pertain to you as a rental property owner in Missouri:
Non-Discrimination – Non-discrimination laws are pretty standard across the board, no matter where you are. You cannot deny tenancy to someone based on their race, religion, sex, disability, national origin or family status. Additionally, rental rates must be the same for all tenants; you cannot charge one person more than you charge someone else. However, once a lease is signed, if a tenant allows another person to take over the unit (sublease), the landlord is permitted to charge double the rent.
Security Deposits – Missouri law dictates that security deposits cannot be more than two months’ rent. For example, if you’re charging $500 per month in rent, the maximum security deposit you can ask for is $1,000. At the end of the lease, the landlord must perform an inspection of the unit within a reasonable timeframe, and the tenant is allowed to be present during the inspection. After the lease expires, the landlord has 30 days to return all, part of, or none of the security deposit. If the full deposit is not returned, the landlord must provide an itemized list of damages (this does not include normal wear and tear).
Tenant Rights to Withhold Rent – Here’s an interesting one. Missouri law allows tenants to legally withhold rent, under certain conditions. If the tenant has put in a reasonable request for a repair, and the landlord fails to do it, it is within the tenant’s right to withhold rent until the repair is made – but there’s a catch. The area in need of repair must result in the unit being uninhabitable, unsafe, unsanitary, or in violation of local codes. Only under these circumstances can tenants legally withhold rent.
Eviction – Eviction is something that most landlords try to avoid, but sometimes they must be done. To begin the eviction process, a tenant must have done one of the following: damage the property, not paid rent, violate lease terms, harm another tenant or you, commit drug activity or gamble illegally on the property, refuse to leave after the lease has expired, or allow a person to live on the property who you have not granted permission to. You must have a court order to evict a tenant. In Missouri, you are allowed to remove people who are occupying the property illegally (i.e., they’re not on the lease and you have not approved them to live there).
These are just a few of the landlord-tenant laws in Missouri. To best protect yourself, get everything in writing. In addition to standard lease terms (rent amount/due date, when the lease expires, etc.), you should also have it documented who is responsible for what. For example, if you want your tenants to mow the lawn, get it in writing and have them sign it. Same goes for any other tasks – make it clear what you are responsible for, and what they are responsible for.
For more infomation on Missouri landlord-tenant law, visit https://www.ago.mo.gov/docs/default-source/publications/landlord-tenantlaw.pdf?sfvrsn=4.