Rent obligation rules for early move-out

Rent it Right

By Inman News Feed
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 0 | Posted Jul. 1, 2011

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Inspection will hopefully encourage landlords to take proper care of their properties, making living conditions safer and healthier for tenants and heading off legal fights surrounding withheld rent, repairs and broken leases.

A second reason, which is not too loudly expressed except, perhaps, in city council chambers, is that registration generates income for the city. True, some of that income will be spent on the inspections and on running the program generally, but many cities hope to operate the program in the black, with excess funds going into depleted city coffers.

Landlords who already have top-notch property management practices naturally see these fees as unfair, punishing them for the sloppiness or heedlessness of other property owners. To answer this complaint, some cities inspect only infrequently or when there's a complaint, or absolve properties from future inspections after they have passed one or two with high marks.

Landlords, in turn, have been known to pass on the registration fee to their tenants in the form of higher rents, which is practical only when the market can absorb higher rents and leave the landlord still competitive.

Your situation may be addressed by your ordinance. Many states, in fact, exempt worker housing from large parts of their landlord-tenant laws.

Whether it would be good public policy to completely exempt farmworker housing from local inspection is another matter, however.

Opponents of such an exemption can point to a number of situations in which migrant worker housing has been exposed by the press as dismal, to put it mildly. They also point out that migrant workers are traditionally less likely to avail themselves of their legal rights, such as complaining to health inspectors, than tenants in general.

If you need to argue for an exemption, you might consider a more politically palatable alternative. Press for an ordinance providing that worker housing be inspected initially, and if it passes, exempted from further (or frequent) inspections in the future.

Janet Portman is an attorney and managing editor at Nolo. She specializes in landlord/tenant law and is co-author of "Every Landlord's Legal Guide" and "Every Tenant's Legal Guide." She can be reached at

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