How Property Owners of Rental Units Can Avoid a Lawsuit
Many people in Portland, OR consider rental properties as a long-term investment and a reliable source of additional income. Being a property manager, however, is a complicated endeavor that can significantly increase your chances of being sued, especially in this City.
Landlords must analyze and uncover vulnerabilities in their processes while taking proactive steps to minimize the potential for being sued by tenants. When you employ consistent, fair and legally compliant business practices, you can substantially mitigate your risk.
Make sure you provide documentation of repairs or return the security deposit
After a tenant relocates, you can use the tenant’s security deposit to make repairs only to damage that they caused. A property owner should never apply a tenant’s deposits to things like upgrades or new fixtures unless it is strictly to replace the value of loss. You should provide departing tenants with a detailed accounting of damages and costs, and any unused portion of the security deposit should be returned to the tenant quickly. Failure to do so may result in a lawsuit by a tenant, with consequences beyond the return of the deposit.
Abide by the required tenancy termination laws.
Although eviction is a legal process, each state’s laws regarding tenant terminations are different. Be sure you are familiar with the state’s requirements, in addition to local rules, like in the City of Portland, Oregon, and Vancouver, Washington. Before you terminate a tenancy from your property, you should go through the appropriate process review with legally tested forms, and when appropriate, seek legal advice from a local attorney. Otherwise, the tenant may have a constitutional right to recover damages from you, in addition to loss of rental income, deposit forfeiture, penalties, Fees, court costs, etc.
The law prohibits a landlord from refusing to rent a property to a tenant for any non-merit reasons, be it religion, race, national origin, gender, disability, familial status, age, the list goes on. It is crucial that you learn the basics of fair housing laws and always treat everyone the same. Consider taking a class in Fair Housing and keep up on the latest rules.
Your property must comply with the Fair Housing Act’s “design and construction” requirements. Consider all requests from a handicapped tenant to make modifications to the rental property seriously. Reasonable requests (bath grab bars, lower cabinets) should be granted. Consider requests for Reasonable Accommodation as they must all be reviewed in great detail.
Consider your property maintenance practices. All tenants deserve the same level of care when it comes to providing for their maintenance needs. It could be a discriminatory practice not to fix something if you expect ‘kids’ to keep damaging it, because again, that would be discriminating based on age. Just treat everyone well, and protect your investment through great service.
Ensure that your property is safe and in excellent condition.
In almost all the states, landlords are responsible for any failure to keep tenants safe from dangerous conditions on a rental property. You should be familiar with both local and state health, building, and safety codes and stay compliant. Learn the necessary legal requirements for repairing and maintaining any rental property and also follow them. Make sure that you observe tenant repair requests and make repairs on them as soon as possible – some of the repairs are required by law to be done in a certain timeframe. Make regular inspections of your property personally and promptly inform tenants of potential dangers. In case a tenant is injured or sustains damage to his property due to a risk that the landlord was aware of but didn’t warn the tenants, the tenant may be able to sue for compensation.
Ensure to Keep Good Records of your property and tenants
You, as a landlord, should keep all copies of literally every piece of paperwork concerning you and your tenants. This includes:
- Receipts for property-related expenses
- Copies of any communications made between you and your tenants
But don’t just keep paper records. Any audio recordings, video footage, pictures or emails you exchange should be kept as well. This way, you’re well-equipped to defend yourself when a conflict with a tenant occurs. Our philosophy is to present the facts, even if we were less than perfect – we are real and human, and so are tenants. If a tenant makes a mistake, be reasonable. If you make a mistake, be fair and responsible.
In summary, do not discriminate because doing so is wrong. It can get you into a world of trouble. Keep in mind that local jurisdictions may add other classes to the list, such as age or sexual orientation, or gender preference. Keep up with your local laws, and in Portland, they change constantly.