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Tenant safety: What’s required of property managers by law?

Legal Concerns

Property managers and landlords have a general duty to make their rentals safe for tenants. However, what you are legally responsible for depends on state and local statutes, as well as applicable building, housing, and health codes. Most jurisdictions set the baseline at the “implied warranty of habitability,” which means that rental housing must be habitable—fit for people to live in.

How this works in practice varies: While the law generally covers renters’ rights to things like secure doors, windows, locks, safe water, and functioning smoke detectors, specific requirements depend on where you live. Navigating the web of rules and regulations around tenant safety can be challenging.

Many Tenant Safety Laws Vary by Location…

Finding all of the laws that cover tenant safety and the security of rental properties in your state and city may take time. Start by checking your state’s government website for real estate and rental statutes, which may help you to narrow your search to specific resources, organizations, and boards that regulate your city.

For example, the Fit Premises Act in Utah’s real estate code dictates that a property may not be rented out unless it is “safe, sanitary, and fit for human occupation.” The statute also requires compliance with Board of Health rules and local ordinances. The city of South Salt Lake’s housing code further mandates operational smoke detectors, “adequate” locks, and “reasonably insulated and weather-tight condition” for rental units in accordance with local building and fire codes.

The Massachusetts state sanitary code regulating fitness for habitation sets detailed standards for locks to secure the main entrances and doors to individual units. It also mandates the installation of smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors that meet the requirements of various state boards.

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…But Some Tenant Safety Mandates Are Universal

Regardless of how much—or how little—your state and local laws actually require to meet minimum habitability and tenant safety standards, you always have an opportunity to do more. Attorney Michelle Fusillo says that case law has established added responsibilities that landlords and property managers should consider to protect tenants from foreseeable risks—for example, informing tenants of known criminal activity in the area and proactively adding security features to your units.

While you might not be legally obligated to take these extra steps for tenant safety, they are often in your—and your tenants’—best physical and financial interest. Repairs that result from events like fires and break-ins can be more costly than preventive measures. In addition, failing to protect your tenants from foreseeable safety and security risks can land you in costly legal battle over negligence.

For example, if you don’t regularly test smoke detectors and have fire extinguishers inspected to ensure that they’re in good working order, the risk of fire damage and negative health consequences increases. Security upgrades like cameras and stronger door locks may reduce the likelihood of property damage, loss, and tenant injury amidst a string of neighborhood burglaries.

Another reason to keep tenant safety in mind: You’ll attract and retain thoughtful, happy residents who will be more inclined to take care of the properties that you manage. The best renters will appreciate any extra features that keep their loved ones and their belongings safe and secure.

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Emily Long

Emily Long

Emily Long is a freelance writer based in Salt Lake City, Utah. She writes about tech, home automation, and finance with the occasional dive into health and wellness. When she’s not living out of a suitcase, you can find her practicing yoga, running Utah’s best trails, or attempting to perfect her coffee brewing skills. Follow her on Twitter at @emilyanndc.

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