Residential Landlord/Tenant Protections: What’s Okay And What’s Not!
Landlords and Tenants often enjoy great relationships in which tenants pay and landlords provide housing. Sometimes, things are not so easy. It will come as no surprise that laws and leases in North Carolina are generally written in favor of the landlord over the tenant. Occasionally, the tenant is protected from the abuses of the landlord. Here are a couple of instances:Landlord Protections:
Monetary Default: The easiest and most obvious protection for landlords is when a tenant defaults. When this occurs, most landlords know to send a demand letter allowing (generally) ten (10) days to cure and failure to do so means eviction.
Quick and Affordable Summary Ejectment (Eviction): When default and failure to cure occurs, the Landlord is able to file a Complaint in Small Claims court in the county where the tenant resides and can often have a hearing set within three weeks. This is music to landlords’ ears since most of the time, payment has been severely delinquent.
Expedited Evictions for Criminal Activity: As the title would suggest, if the Landlord feels that there is criminal activity that “threatens the health, safety, or right of peaceful enjoyment of the entire premises by other residents or employees of the landlord” then either the Small Claims magistrate or even the District Court directly can order the eviction.
Choosing Tenants: While Landlords cannot discriminate against prospective tenants based on the big seven (race, religion, handicap, gender, national origin, family status, or age), there is nothing that prohibits a Landlord from declining a tenant for other reasons. Often times, a tenant will have bad credit, criminal histories or evictions in their past; these are perfectly acceptable reasons to reject prospective tenants.Tenant Protections:
“Imminently dangerous conditions”: The Baker’s Dozen of Tenant Protections: While a landlord may not reach the level of being called a “slum lord”, the Landlord still has the obligation to provide a habitable environment, free from “imminently dangerous conditions”. While there can be an exhaustive list, thirteen different circumstances can provide tenants a good defense to owing money while the circumstances are present. I have found Judges that will abate rent for the months in which these circumstances linger if the Landlord had reasonable time to repair and did not. And they are:
- Unsafe wiring;
- Unsafe flooring or steps;
- Unsafe ceilings or roofs;
- Unsafe chimneys or flues;
- Lack of potable water;
- Lack of operable locks on all doors leading to the outside;
- Broken windows or lack of operable locks on all windows on the ground level;
- Lack of operable heating facilities capable of hearing living areas to 65 degrees Fahrenheit when it is 20 degrees Fahrenheit outside from November 1 through March 31;
- Lack of operable toilet;
- Lack of an operable bathtub or shower;
- Rat infestation as a result of defects in the structure that renders the premises not impervious to rodents;
- Excessive standing water, sewage, or flooding problems caused by plumbing leaks or inadequate drainage that
- Contribute to mosquito infestation or mold.
No Self-Help Eviction in North Carolina: It is against the law for residential landlords to simply pad-lock a tenant’s premises. This “self-help eviction” is unlawful, rather Landlords are required to seek a Court order allowing Summary Ejectment. The tenant must be notified of this effort and is allowed his or her due process rights to appear and defend against the eviction.
Security Deposits: In North Carolina, a landlord must hold a tenant’s security deposit and return it to the tenant unless cause exists to retain it. More so, the Landlord may only offset that security deposit with a limited number of expenses: physical damage, unpaid rent, to name a couple. Normal wear and tear is not a permissible reason to withhold the deposit. Further, based on North Carolina statute, the Landlord must provide the residential tenant an accounting of any monies withheld from the security deposit. Otherwise, the tenant can be awarded damages and even his or her attorney fees if the failure to provide the accounting was willful.