Tenant’s Behavior: Did I Really Contract To Be Responsible For That?

An increasing threat to the rental housing industry is government legislation mandating a rental property owner be responsible for tenant behavior. We have seen this mandated in local crime free legislation and we are watching this unfold at a county level regarding tenant smoking and the industry is suffering from the State Building Code Council's rules adopted regarding carbon monoxide detectors. [Editor’s Note: the above applies to the State of Washington]

The question legislators need to consider is the distinction between what a landlord should and should not be responsible for. Perhaps this is too simple. A landlord should not be expected to be a teacher, a policeman, a social service worker, guidance counselor, finance counselor, etc. Landlords are not trained to be any of those professions. The only thing they have contracted to provide for a tenant is a housing unit.

The State of Georgia specifically has a law ensuring a landlord is not held responsible to third persons for damages resulting from the negligence or illegal use of the premises by the tenant. If there are any consequences from another person's actions then that person—not the landlord—should be responsible.

A tenant should have the right to choose his/her actions or behavior if it does not affect the quality of the rental unit. Therefore a landlord should not be responsible to provide a carbon monoxide detector when the unit doesn't have a fuel source or attached garage. Nor should the landlord need to insist the tenant doesn't smoke in a unit unless it is what the landlord and tenant agree upon. And it should never be the landlord's responsibility to ensure that a tenant doesn't break the law on their property.

Nearly 50% of all housing units are rental housing. Does the government expect the rental housing industry to monitor their tenant's behaviors instead of the quality of the rental unit? This is an unfair burden and one that should not be put on the housing industry’s shoulders.


Reprinted by Permission. Courtesy of The Rental Housing Association of Puget Sound, Washington. Source: “Update,” October 2010 (the RHA monthly publication). Visit www.RHA-ps.com

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