In a previous edition of This Week in Real Estate, we explored, generally, what landlords should know, in order to be successful with rental properties. This edition focuses on Delaware landlords and with respect to Delaware law, specifically to residential tenants.
- Become familiar with the Delaware Landlord Tenant Code. You can obtain a summary of the Code from the Delaware Attorney General’s website. You must provide the Delaware Attorney General’s Summary to each and every residential tenant. Even though ignorance of the law is typically no defense, if the Summary is not provided, a residential tenant can use ignorance as a defense.
- Don’t rent to anyone before checking his or her credit history, references, and background. Haphazard screening and tenant selection too often results in problems.
- Get all the important terms of the tenancy in writing. Beginning with the rental application and lease or rental agreement, be sure to document important facts of your relationship with your tenants.
- Delaware law requires the return of a tenant’s security deposit within 20 days of the expiration or early termination of a lease. Establish a clear, fair system of setting, collecting, holding, and returning security deposits. Inspect and document the condition of the rental unit before the tenant moves in to avoid disputes over security deposits when the tenant moves out.
- Stay on top of repair and maintenance needs to make repairs when requested. If the property is not kept in good repair, you’ll alienate good tenants. And they may have the right to withhold rent, sue for any injuries caused by defective conditions, or move out without notice.
- Respect the privacy of your tenants. Notify tenants whenever you plan to enter their rental unit, and provide as much notice as possible, at least 48 hours, which is the minimum amount required by Delaware law.
- Disclose environmental hazards such. Landlords are increasingly being held liable for tenant health problems resulting from exposure to environmental poisons in the rental premises.
- If you choose to obtain one, choose and supervise your manager carefully. If a manager commits a crime or is incompetent, you may be held financially responsible. Do a thorough background check and clearly spell out the manager’s duties, in writing, to prevent problems down the road.
- Purchase enough liability and other property insurance. A well-designed insurance program can protect your rental property from losses caused by everything from fire and storms to burglary, vandalism, and personal injury and discrimination lawsuits.
- Treat your rental property like a business. It’s important to remain professional and consistent with your tenants. Everyone falls on hard times, but allowing tenants to not pay rent or break rules is a recipe for disaster.
ABOUT JAMES LANDON
Jim Landon has practiced real estate law since 2002 and has been involved in real estate investment and construction for most of his life. Jim’s practice focuses on real estate transactions and land use.
Jim represents individuals and privately and publicly held companies in the purchase, sale, leasing, financing, and development of real property. He also represents title insurance companies on commercial purchases and refinancing transactions, as well as providing third-party legal opinions regarding Delaware law related to Delaware entities.
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