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9 Tenant Rules Every Landlord Should Enforce

Jul 29, 2020 by Maurie Backman

When you're a building owner or property manager, it's important to have rules and regulations for the premises laid out in the rental agreement so that all of your tenants are able to coexist peacefully and do a reasonable job of respecting one another. Having a solid set of tenant rules in place can help you avoid conflicts and complaints. It can also help ensure that your property is treated well and that your tenants pay rent in a timely fashion. With that in mind, here are some common tenant rules any landlord should aim to enforce:

  1. Smoking areas.
  2. Quiet hours.
  3. Garbage and recycling removal.
  4. Pets.
  5. Tenant renovations.
  6. Alcohol consumption.
  7. Use of hallways.
  8. Landlord's right to enter.
  9. Timely rent.

1. Smoking areas

If you own a building, you may have more than one tenant who smokes. Be sure to make it clear where your tenants are and are not allowed to light up. You may want to mandate that tenants can't smoke in their apartments, though you might choose to allow them to smoke on their balconies. Also, make it clear which common areas are smoke-free. You generally don't want smoking to happen in your lobby, hallways, swimming pool area, or playground. If your building has a separate courtyard, that could be a good place to designate as a smoking area. Either way, put these guidelines into the written lease for each tenant.

2. Quiet hours

Every lease agreement should include a section on quiet hours. That way, you'll avoid scenarios where residents blast music or throw parties at all hours of the night. You may choose to designate quiet hours as early as 8p.m. (or a bit later) during the week, with more leeway on weekends. And you'll generally want quiet hours to last till 6a.m., or somewhere in that vicinity, during the week. On weekends, quiet hours will need to last even longer to allow tenants the added rest they’ll no doubt want.

3. Garbage and recycling removal

When you put together a lease for new tenants, it should state how often garbage will be picked up and outline the procedures for placing trash outside or in a designated spot for removal. The same should hold true for recycling: Clarify which materials need to be recycled, where they need to be placed, and when.

4. Pets

Some buildings don't allow pets at all. Others allow cats only. As a landlord, you get to decide whether or not to allow pets, and if so, what limitations you want to put into place. For example, you may decide to allow dogs under a certain weight. You might also ask for an extra security deposit from tenants with pets, though you should check your state laws first to make sure you're allowed to do that.

5. Tenant renovations

You may have a tenant who wants to put up curtains, paint walls, construct a wall, or make other permanent changes to his or her rental unit. As a landlord, it can be beneficial to allow certain renovations or improvements. A fresh coat of paint, for example, can add value to your property. But either way, make it clear in your lease that a renter must request and receive permission (ideally, in writing) before making changes to a unit.

6. Alcohol consumption

If you own a larger rental property with multiple units, there's a good chance you'll have at least one tenant who drinks alcohol. As a landlord, it's your responsibility to outline in your lease where alcohol can and cannot be consumed. Generally, you'll need to allow tenants to drink alcohol in their rental units, and if your building has a party room, you might allow alcohol consumption there under limited circumstances (such as if tenants request in writing to do so for a specific event and you grant permission). But generally speaking, you don't want tenants consuming alcohol in hallways, elevators, or any common area that increases the likelihood of injury, like a gym or swimming pool.

7. Use of hallways

Hallways that are clear and free of obstructions are safe hallways. Make sure your tenants know that they're expected to avoid congregating in hallways and shouldn't use them as storage space for things like bicycles.

8. Landlord's right to enter

As a landlord, there may come a point when you need to enter a renter's unit -- such as to make necessary repairs, address emergency situations (like a gas leak), or show the unit to a prospective tenant. Your lease should, therefore, spell out the circumstances under which you or a property manager can enter an individual housing unit.

9. Lateness with rent

Your lease should spell out exactly when tenants should pay their rent and what happens when a tenant fails to pay rent on time. You may be entitled to impose a late fee -- either a percentage of the amount unpaid or a preset amount -- when rent isn’t on time. You may need to consult your state's laws regarding the amount you're allowed to charge for overdue rent. Also, it's common practice -- and courtesy -- to give tenants a grace period for paying rent. If rent is typically due on the first of the month, you might state in your lease agreement that if a tenant pays by the fourth of the month, it's not considered late or delinquent.

What to do when tenants violate the rules

When a tenant fails to abide by the rules laid out in your rental agreement, your course of action will depend on the violation at hand. Generally, you should give your tenant time to correct the problem. For example, if your tenant has not been adhering to quiet hours or was caught smoking in a non-designated area, you can issue a warning in writing, and if your tenant cleans up his or her act, you can let the issue go. The same holds true if you have a tenant who's late paying that month's rent.

That said, if you have a tenant who doesn't change his or her behavior or who doesn't come up with rent after a period of time, then you have a right to pursue an eviction. That's a complicated legal process, though, that starts with an eviction notice and involves a court proceeding, so you're better off trying to resolve issues with non-compliant tenants directly before you try to evict a tenant.

Striking a balance

As a landlord, your goal should be to establish tenant rules that protect you as well as your renters. If your lease is too restrictive, you might struggle to find tenants. If it's too relaxed, you could get taken advantage of, and you might even lose tenants to issues like late-night noise. The key, therefore, is to strike a balance that works to everyone's benefit.

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