Real property involves the rights to land and everything attached to it. This can include not just the ground, but also underground rights to oil, water, and precious metals. Real property rights also include buildings attached to the land as well as trees and crops. Fixtures such as fences and in-ground pools are considered part of the land. Anyone who owns or rents real property must understand how the landlord-tenant relationships work and what recourse there is if something goes wrong.
At A Glance
- A landlord-tenant relationship is created when the parties enter into a lease agreement for real property. The relationship will be governed by the terms of the agreement as well as the law in the relevant jurisdiction.
- A contract transfers the possession of a property from an owner to a renter or tenant for a specific time in exchange for periodic payments. A lease must contain a definite agreement as to the boundaries and extent of the property being leased, a set term, a set price with a manner of payment, and the names of the parties.
- A landlord has many duties with regard to their tenants. When choosing a tenant, a landlord may not discriminate based on race, color, sex, religion, or other protected areas. The landlord has a duty to maintain the premises, with a warranty of habitability. The landlord must also deliver peaceful possession.
- A tenant has several duties as well. A tenant must pay the agreed-upon rent to the landlord in a timely manner, respect the restrictions in the lease agreement, and avoid substantial damage to the value of the property.
- A tenancy can end when the lease term is up. It can also end by self-help eviction (if allowed in the jurisdiction) or suing the tenant to evict him or her. Constructive eviction may occur because of wrongful conduct on the part of the landlord. Abandonment might also trigger lease termination.
Injury that happens on leased property will generally be the responsibility of the person in control of the part of the premises where the injury happened, if the injury resulted from that person's negligence. This would require an examination of exactly where the injury occurred and who had control of that spot on the property—the tenant or the landlord.
Occupier's liability refers to the legal responsibility of the person who controls property for injuries done to persons who enter the property. The legal test for occupier's liability may vary depending on which U.S. state the property is in, but it generally considers whether the injury was foreseeable and if the occupier's conduct met acceptable duty of care.
- The occupier must take reasonable care to make sure the visitor is reasonably safe in using the premises for the purpose for which the visitor is permitted to be there. An occupier cannot be held responsible for risks that a visitor willingly accepted.
Rylands v. Fletcher established that a person is strictly liable for damage done by an escaping dangerous element that was allowed on another person's land. No negligence or breach of duty must be proved.
- To pass the Rylands v. Fletcher test, the party bringing the lawsuit must prove that there was an escaping dangerous element on their land. Consent, whether express or implied, is a defense, provided the defendant was not negligent. Other defenses include acts of God, statutory authority, and a stranger over whom no control is exercised.