Tenant Duties to the Landlord

As a landlord, property manager or owner’s agent, it’s important not only to be familiar with the duties of the landlord to the tenant but also the duties and obligations of the tenant to the landlord. The following are the basic duties of the tenant to the landlord applicable in most jurisdictions.

Duty to Pay Rent

The most important duty of the tenant is to pay the landlord rent. Traditionally, a tenant’s duty to pay rent was maintained and enforced independent of a landlord’s performance of duty. If a landlord was in breach of the lease agreement, the tenant was still required to pay rent. That is no longer the case. Today, the tenant’s duty to pay rent is dependent upon the landlord’s compliance with his or her legally implied and contractually expressed duties.

Rent amount is to be stipulated in the terms of the lease agreement. If and when a rent amount is absent from the terms of the lease, the court will infer a reasonable rent as determined by the fair market rental value for the property.

An agreement to pay rent must comply with local law and regulations. If a rental agreement is illegal, the tenant is not obligated to pay rent. In some states and local jurisdictions there are rent controls that stipulate how much rent can be charged and under what conditions rent amounts can be increased.

Unless otherwise agreed, the tenant is required to pay rent on the last day of the term (e.g. last day of the month). In most residential and commercial leases, the rent payment date is clearly identified and fully binding.

A tenant’s failure to pay rent entitles a landlord to bring legal suit against the tenant, seek monetary damages and file with the courts for lawful eviction of the tenant. However, it does not allow the landlord to remove the tenant from the leasehold property by physical force or other form of coercion.

Repair

While it’s primarily the duty of the landlord to keep the leased property in good repair, the tenant also shoulders some of the responsibility. The tenant “has a duty to avoide waste to the same extent that any holder of a present interest has a duty to the holder of a future interest to avoid waste.” What exactly does this mean? It means the tenant (1) cannot destroy the leased property, (2) may not consciously allow the property to fall into a state of disrepair and (3) may not significantly alter the state of the property without prior written consent from the landlord.

The tenant also has a duty to make ordinary repairs to the property within their control and means so that the property remains in the same condition it was in when the tenant first acquired possession of the property. The tenant is not, however, required to prevent or repair ordinary wear and tear that comes with normal usage.

Any substantial repairs that result due to catastrophe are the responsibility of the landlord. However, the tenant has a duty to maintain the premises, and as is reasonable to do so, the tenant is required to take steps to prevent foreseeble damage from occuring to the property. A landlord can pursue monetary damages from a tenant who neglects this duty.

Refrain from Using the Property for Illegal Purposes

The tenant has a duty not to use a leased property for any purpose that may be deemed illegal. Although this should seem obvious to most people, this legal duty of the tenant provides the landlord the right of enforcement. Should the tenant use the leased property for any illegal purpose, and as long as the landlord was not aware of the illegal purpose at lease signing, the landlord has the following remedies as recourse.

  • The landlord can continue the lease and obtain a court order enjoining (ordering a stop to) the illegal activity or;
  • The landlord can terminate the lease while the illegal activity is occuring or shortly after the illegal activity has ceased. The landlord can then sue the tenant for damages caused by the illegal activity and for any back rent owed.

Conversely, where a tenant leases a property where the use for which the property was leased becomes illegal, the tenant will be allowed to terminate the lease and stop paying rent to the landlord, but only if it is not possible for the tenant to practically put the property to legal use. For example, if a tenant opens up a retail smoke shop and the county where the smoke shop is located, shortly after the leased is signed, outlaws smoke shops, then the tenant may legally terminate the lease. However, if the tenant can use the lease property for another purpose, the lease cannot be terminated.

Even if and when the use for which a property was leased has not become illegal, but is otherwise frustrated through circumstances that were unforseeable to either the tenant or landlord, and the primary purpose of the lease becomes “frustrated”, the tenant may be able to get out of the lease.

Honesty as to Intended Purpose

Upon request, the tenant must be forthright as to his or her intended use of the leased property. If the tenant uses the lease property in a manner inconsistent with the purpose originally represented to the landlord, or which is stated in the lease, then the landlord may terminate the lease.

Most commercial lease agreements require the tenant to specify in writing the intended use the leased property. However, intended purpose is a bit more difficult to ascertain with residential leases and rental agreements. If a tenant of a residential lease represents that he or she is quiet and rarely has friends over and then throws wild parties every night, and causes other tenants aggravation, the landlord may have grounds to evit the tenant based on the tenant’s breach of “honesty as to intended purpose”.

Duty not to Commit Nuisance

A tenant has an implied duty not to intentionally or unreasonably interfere with other tenants’ right to “quiet enjoyment” of their adjoining properties by commiting nuisance. However, what constitutes “nuisance” or unreasable interference can be subjective and open to interpretation. In order to effectively enforce the tenant duty and prevent tenants from causing disturbances, landlords should always define this restriction by clearing stating all terms (e.g. loud noise, late night parties, etc.) in the lease agreement.

Fixtures

The tenant has the duty to leave any fixtures behind when he or she vacates the leased premises. Obviously, the tenant may take personal property that belongs to the tenant, however, the tenant must leave behind anything that is attached to the real property itself. “Fixtures” are materials that are permanently attached to the real property of the leased premises.

So what happens when a tenant attaches his or her own materials to the leased property? The general rule is that if the material is permanently attached to the real property, it becomes part of the real property and must be left behind when the tenant vacates the premises. So what exactly constitutes a “permanent” attachment?

There are two factors that must be considered in this determination:

  1. What was the tenant’s intent? If the tenant is able to show that it was never his or her original intent to leave the materials attached to the real property of the leased premises, then the materials would not be considered fixtures.
  2.  

  3. Will removing the attached materials cause significant damage to the leased property? If removal of the attached material will cause significant damage or decrease in value to the leased property, then most courts would consider the materials to be fixtures that must remain after the tenant has vacated the premises.

Examples of materials that may or may not be considered fixtures include large kitchen appliances such as stoves, built in bookcases or chandeliers. Most commercial leases expressly specify that any leasehold improvements, including fixtures, that the tenant attaches to the real property during tenancy must remain after the lease term ends.

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