Expiration of lease | Subleasing | Security deposit | Repairs | Eviction | Discrimination
General obligations of landlords and tenants
Landlord-tenant disputes are a common occurrence in the renting process, and many could be avoided if both parties were aware of their rights and responsibilities.
General obligations of tenants
- Pay rent on time.
- Use reasonable care and not damage property.
- Properly dispose of garbage.
- Refrain from taking on additional occupants or subleasing without the landlord's written permission.
General obligations of landlords
- Make property habitable before tenants move in.
- Make and pay for repairs due to ordinary wear and tear.
- Refrain from turning off a tenant's water, electricity or gas.
- Provide written notice to tenants when ownership of the property is transferred to a new landlord.
- Not unlawfully discriminate.
Put it in writing
The best way to avoid later problems is to address issues in a lease. Put it in writing who has to mow the lawn, fix a clogged sink or pay the utility bills.
1997 Landlord-Tenant law provisions
Laws approved in 1997 offer greater protection for tenants renting from unresponsive landlords as well as more options for landlords to get rid of drug dealers and destructive tenants. Among the provisions:
- Authorizes county courts to order quick removal of tenants involved in drug-related criminal activity or violence, even when there is no arrest. Prior written notice is not required to remove a tenant.
- Allows landlords to remove abandoned personal items once they have complied with notice requirements.
- Makes a landlord guilty of forcible entry for willfully interrupting utility service, unless it is done for health and safety reasons.
- Allows a landlord to double the rent when a tenant lets another person take over the premises without the landlord's permission.
- Limits occupancy to two persons per bedroom except for children born during the lease period.
- Allows a tenant, under certain circumstances and after giving a landlord 14 days' notice, to deduct one-half month's rent or up to $300 (whichever is greater) for repair of code violations when a landlord neglects property. This can be done once a year.
- Requires a landlord to give 60 days' notice before terminating leases for mobile home lots when the lease is for less than one year.
The Lease: Landlord-Tenant agreement
Renters are bound either by a written or oral agreement.
Written agreements are more common and better protect the tenant and the landlord. A lease for one year or more must be written and signed by the tenant and landlord.
When a lease is signed by both parties, it becomes a binding legal contract. If any party does not fulfill the terms of the lease, the person who defaults can be sued, which can be expensive.
A tenant is not excused from honoring a lease simply because he does not understand it or did not read it.
When considering a written lease agreement, tenants should:
- Read the entire contract and ask questions or obtain a legal opinion about unclear provisions.
- Ask for changes. If tenants dislike certain provisions in the lease, they have the right to ask landlords to amend the lease with written changes. However if a landlord refuses, which he has a right to do, a tenant must decide whether to sign the lease. If changes are made, both the tenant and landlord should initial the changes.
- Do not rely on verbal statements. All promises and agreements should be in writing for your protection.
Basic lease provisions
At a minimum the lease should include:
- Landlord's name, address and phone number.
- Address of rental property.
- Amount of monthly rent.
- Rent due date and grace period (if any).
- Amount of security deposit and conditions for its return.
- Length of lease.
Before renting, tenants might get other questions answered or address them in the lease:
- Who will pay for electricity, gas and water?
- What repairs and cleaning will the landlord do?
- What is the policy on keeping pets?
- Are fees charged for late payments?
- Who takes cares of the yard and removes snow?
An oral agreement obligates the landlord and tenant for only one month. A landlord can evict the tenant or raise rent with only one month's notice. Likewise, the tenant can give notice to vacate on one month's notice.
(One month's notice means a full calendar month, and must include a full rental period. For example: If your rent is due on the third day of the month, your rental period runs from the third of the month to the third of the following month.)
The tenant or landlord must give written notice to terminate the tenancy. Oral notice from either party to the other is not valid.
Conditions that allow a landlord to terminate a lease
A landlord can end a lease:
- When a tenant doesn't pay rent.
- At the end of a written lease.
- When a tenant damages property.
- When a tenant violates a condition of a written lease.
- When a tenant is involved in criminal activity.
Expiration of lease
Leases specify a date on which the tenant must move. Neither the landlord nor the tenant is required to give notice.
Some leases contain an automatic renewal clause. These are automatically renewed unless the tenant notifies the landlord that he will move when the lease ends.
Any agreement between a tenant and landlord allowing the tenant to stay after the lease ends should be in writing. Otherwise if there is a disagreement, the tenant may be charged double rent.
Military personnel provisions
Active-duty members of the armed forces may terminate a lease with 15 days' notice if they:
- Receive a permanent change of station.
- Receive temporary duty orders to a station at least 25 miles away for 90 days or more.
- Are discharged or released from active duty.
- Are ordered to live in government-supplied quarters.
Under these conditions, a tenant is entitled to a full refund of the security deposit if other lease provisions have been met. Tenants who are military personnel may have additional rights under the Service Members Civil Relief Act.
If a tenant wishes to move before a lease ends, he may choose to sublease. This means leasing your lease to another person who moves in and pays rent.
However with subleasing, you still are responsible to your landlord for the original lease. You also can be held responsible for any problems created by the new tenant.
Before subleasing to another individual, the tenant must get the landlord's approval. Missouri law allows the landlord to double the amount of rent if a tenant subleases without approval.
If a tenant needs to move before the lease terminates, the lease may be canceled if the landlord approves. The tenant and landlord must sign a statement that the lease has been canceled by mutual agreement.
Remember, you need a written agreement to sublease or cancel your lease.
Under Missouri law, a landlord can only require a maximum two months' rent as a security deposit.
At the end of the lease, the landlord has 30 days to return the security deposit with an itemized list of damages for which any portion of the deposit is kept.
During that 30-day period, the landlord must notify the tenant of the time and date when the landlord plans to inspect the dwelling.
The tenant has the right to be present during the move-out inspection, which must be conducted at a reasonable time.
To avoid last-minute problems, tenants should ask the landlord in what condition he expects the unit to be left. Then allow plenty of time for cleaning.
The landlord may keep all or part of a deposit to pay for actual damages (not for normal wear and tear), unpaid rent, or lost rent due to the tenant moving out without adequate notice.
The tenant may not use the security deposit to pay the last month's rent.
Remember to give the landlord your forwarding address in writing. Otherwise, he may not be able to send your deposit.
If the landlord has wrongfully withheld all or part of a deposit, the tenant may sue to recover up to twice the amount wrongfully withheld.
One way to avoid problems with repairs is to have a written agreement, preferably in your lease. The agreement should state which repairs are the landlord's responsibility and which are the tenant's.
The landlord should be responsible for repairs caused by ordinary wear and tear and natural forces such as the weather. Tenants should pay for damages resulting from their own negligence or the negligence of a guest.
If repairs are needed, ask the landlord to make repairs within a reasonable period of time. If repairs are not made, make a written request for the necessary repairs and keep a copy of the letter.
If the repairs still are not made, the tenant may seek legal assistance. If the dwelling becomes unsafe due to the repair problems, the tenant should contact local health or housing authorities.
If a tenant withholds rent payments until repairs are completed, the renter may be in violation of the lease and may be subject to eviction.
Under very limited circumstances, the tenant may make repairs and deduct the cost from rent if the tenant:
- Has lived on the property for at least six months.
- Has paid all rent owed.
- Is not in violation of the lease.
- Has notified the landlord of the problem and has allowed at least 14 days for the landlord to respond.
- Has, at the landlord's request, received verification from city inspectors that the problem violates city code.
If the landlord still does not fix the code violation within 14 days of receiving the city's notice, then the tenant can proceed with the repairs.
The amount of the repair must be verified by receipts. In most cases, the cost of repair must be less than $300 or one-half month's rent (whichever is greater), and can be done once a year.
A landlord may not evict a tenant without a court order. The landlord may begin eviction proceedings if a tenant:
- Damages property.
- Fails to pay rent.
- Violates terms of the lease.
- Injures the lessor or another tenant.
- Allows drug-related criminal activity on the premises.
- Fails to vacate at the end of the lease term.
- Gambles illegally on the property.
The tenant will receive a notice that an eviction lawsuit has been filed and will have the opportunity to be heard in court before any eviction.
Discrimination by landlords
Landlords cannot refuse to sell, rent, sublease or otherwise make housing available based on a renter's race, color, religion, sex, disability, familial status or national origin.
Landlords also cannot charge some individuals higher rent or falsely state that housing is not available for discriminatory reasons. However, there are some exceptions to these rules.
If you believe you have been a victim of housing discrimination, contact one of these agencies:
- Missouri Human Rights Commission
Jefferson City area: 573-751-3325
St. Louis area: 314-340-7590
- U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development
Housing Discrimination Hotline: 800-669-9777
- Metropolitan St. Louis Equal Housing Opportunity Council
For residents of St. Louis city, and St. Louis, St. Charles, Franklin and Jefferson counties: 314-534-5800 or 800-555-3951
Expiration of lease | Subleasing | Security deposit | Repairs | Eviction | Discrimination