House Codes for Rental Property (Landlord Checklist)
You own a property and thinking of starting a rental business. Or, you may be an experienced landlord who is doing it for a long time. But there can be a chance that your rental property is not up to code. As per laws, you are required to maintain a minimum standard of habitability at the property which is governed by the house codes of the rental property. Violation of codes can cause serious legal complications if ever there occurs a health or safety hazard at your property. Your tenants then can sue you for breaking the landlord-tenant laws and not keeping up with the warranty of habitability.
House codes for rental properties are a set of norms that implies the safety standards and the liveability index at the property. The housing codes further are a combination of the local housing codes, state housing codes, and federal codes. It is only after complying with these three codes, you can be sure of complying with all the housing codes.
Local House Codes for Rental Property
The local housing codes are concerned with the structural aspects of the building. Under these housing codes, the city or the county has specified standards for the construction, renovation, and repair of the building. Mostly these codes have specified minimum standards for the interior and the exterior of the building.
The Exterior Contents which are referred to under the local housing code include
- Foundation: The Foundation should be structurally sound and completely weather-proof. There should be no leaning, missing, or broken parts in the foundation. And, there should be no standing water in the crawl space.
- Exterior Walls: The exterior walls should have no cracks or holes through which any air or water can seep into the building. The walls should be watertight, weathertight, and completely rodent-proof. Also, there should be no sign of mold infestation
- Doors and Windows: The windows and doors should be in a safe and secure condition. There should be no loose or separated joints and an effective latching device if the windows are openable. The doors and windows should be completely free from weather penetration. Also, the doors should have weather stripping and should not allow any air to enter the premises.
- Exterior stairs and Decks: The exterior stairs should be structurally sound and have no loose, decayed, or missing structural members. The handrails and grab rails on the open side of any landing deck or platform that are 30 inches or more above the grade should be present and are graspable. Otherwise, it will be considered unsafe.
- Chimney: If the chimney is present in the building, it should be in a safe and sound condition. It should be stable with the structure and pose no risk of falling apart from the structure. There should be no major damage that is visible on visual inspection. There should be no loose bricks on the top, middle, or at the base of the chimney.
- Heating: The housing unit should have a permanent functioning heat system installed. It should be capable of keeping the required temperature in any bathroom or the room present in the unit. The temperature should be maintained at a minimum of 68 degrees Fahrenheit when the outside temperature is 24 degrees or higher.
- Drainage: The drainage system should be connected to an approved sewerage system that is in good working condition. There should be no clogged drains, improper pipes, or leaking pipes at any junction or whatsoever. Also, there should be no sewage smell present on the inside, outside, basement, or crawl space of the building.
The Interior Contents which are referred to under the local housing code include
- Ventilation: All the habitable rooms including the bathroom and the laundry room should have a sufficient ventilation provision. These rooms must have an openable window to the exterior. If windows are not present, there should have a mechanical or passive mechanism that can pull air or venting to the exterior. Also, there should be properly attached clothes dryer ducts that are sufficiently vented and not restricting the airflow.
- Interior Walls: The interior walls, floors, and coverings should be dry and in good condition. They should be free from any kind of moisture. The walls should not have any exposed components which can cause unsafe conditions or provide any access to insects and rodents.
Under the electrical minimum requirement, all the different rooms have individual requirements. The bathroom receptacles must have GFCI protection. The receptacles, lighting, and the vent fan with built-in heaters, all should have a dedicated 20 amp circuit each. The bathroom sink should also have a 120-volt receptacle within 3 feet of its outside edge. Also, the light fixtures which are subjected to shower spray must be rated for damp conditions. The Kitchen should have two 120 volts, 20 amp circuits above the countertop for the portable plug-in appliances. A dedicated 120 volt, 15 amp for each dishwasher and the garbage disposal unit. The microwave and the refrigerator require their own dedicated 120 volts, 20 amp circuit. Also, any receptacle within the reach of 6 feet from the sink should have GFCI protection. The Bedroom, living room, and dining room should have a minimum of a dedicated 120 volts, 15 amp circuit. The wall beside the entry door should have a light switch or a receptacle for putting the lamp. The Hallways and staircases should have proper lighting and all the stairs should be lighted properly. The hallways should have a three-way or four-way switch required at each end of the hallway.
- Smoke and Carbon Monoxide detector: The rental property should be equipped with proper smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors. These alarms and detectors should function properly. If there are multiple floors, these should be installed on each floor including the basement. The fire alarms should be present in each room inside the sleeping area. The carbon monoxide detectors should be installed at a centralized location outside each sleeping area. Also, it should not be in the range of the fuel-burning appliance and at least 15 feet away from it.
- Plumbing: The plumbing system in the building includes all the distribution pipes, supply pipes, drainage, gas pipeline, and water heating pipes. All these pipes should be in good working condition and no leakage whatsoever should be there. The hot water heater should have a proper pressure relief valve. The hot running water temperature should reach a minimum of 100 degrees Fahrenheit after two minutes of running water. Also, there should be a gas shut-off valve located within three feet of the appliance.
State House Codes for Rental Property
The State Housing codes govern that the constructed or under construction buildings comply with the minimum standard implied by law. The design aspect and the standard of construction generally come under the state housing codes. These codes are concerned with the standards of usage, size, location of the rooms, and occupancy inside the building.
- Size of rooms: The Dwelling unit should have one habitable room on the property. The walls of which should measure no less than 7 feet in any direction except for the kitchen and it should have a minimum of 120 sq ft area. Also, the sleeping room in the unit should have an area minimum of 70 sq ft in size. However, the area requirement of 120 sq ft. does not apply to single room accommodations or micro-housing units.
- Means of Egress: The property should have one egress door. It should connect the exterior of the building directly to the living area of the house without going through any kind of garage. The width and the height of the door should be no less than 36 inches wide and 78 inches long respectively. Also, there should be at least one escape window in every room. It should be 20 inches wide and 24 inches high. It should also be no more than 44 inches high from the sill of a finished floor and provide a 5.7 sq ft of clear openable area.
- Parking: A single-family or a two-family unit should have a minimum of 2 covered parking spaces per dwelling unit. If you own multiple dwelling units, a minimum of 1 parking space, 2 parking spaces, and 2.5 parking spaces are required for a single bedroom unit, two-bedroom unit, and three or more bedroom units respectively. The parking spots should be no farther than 200 feet from the property.
The Federal codes for rental properties are concerned with the health implications to the tenants on the property. Lead paint and asbestos fibers are two major concerns that can cause health hazards if present on the property. Take necessary actions when your rental property or apartment is not upto code
- Lead Paint
Federal housing codes for a rental property require the landlord to disclose the presence of lead paint on the wall in the building. The US government bans the use of lead paint in 1978. But it is still present in millions of homes in the US, be it on the homes constructed before 1978 or below the layers of new paint on homes that have been renovated. The presence of lead in the rental property can cause serious health hazards to the tenants. Hence it comes under violation of the warranty of habitability.
According to the Federal codes, you are required to furnish a disclosure form to your tenants regarding the presence of lead paint at your property. If you are aware of the lead paint and still fail to disclose it to tenants, you can be held liable for any damage or health hazard caused to the tenant.
In 1989, the EPA had tried to put a ban on the use of Asbestos-containing products but was unsuccessful and it has not yet been phased out completely. The asbestos fibers that have been exposed due to time or some construction work are a direct threat to the habitability of tenants. Accidental inhaling of these fibers poses health risks and can lead to dangerous situations.
So, according to federal housing codes, you are required to put up a warning label if your building is constructed pre-1981 or you suspect the presence of asbestos in your rental building. However, you are not required to take any action if the asbestos is intact and there is no suspicion of them interacting with air.
What if your rental property is not up to code?
Code enforcers can make random inspections of your property at any time. Having a renting property not upto code, and making code violations can attract legal penalties and additional trouble for the landlords. You can be issued a notice of non-compliance with a written order to correct the violations and an inspection fee invoice.
The inspection fee is required to be submitted within 10 days of the written notice. This notice will advise you to comply and correct the violations within a reasonable time. Usually, this time will be no less than 7 days and not exceed 90 days.
- Generally, in cases where violations present an imminent danger, the code enforcement agency order the affected area or the complete dwelling unit to be vacated immediately or gives a maximum of 15 days for occupants to relocate and move out their possessions completely.
- The code violations that don’t pose an immediate danger are abated through the nuisance abatement process conducted by the city corrective measures. The cost of which should be borne by the owner of the property.
If you don`t comply with the housing codes in a given time, you will be issued fines and progressive actions by enforcement agencies.
Tenant’s Rights if the Rental Property is not up to Code
Under the housing codes for the rental property, you (landlord) are responsible for providing a warranty of habitability to your tenants. The tenants have a right to have a habitable environment at your place. But if somehow, you fail to provide and make housing code violations, you will be held liable. In such cases, your tenant has a right to sue you for breach of quiet enjoyment.
- The tenant can withhold rent if your rental property is not up to code.
- Renters can end the lease in between without giving any notice or providing an intent to vacate the place.
- The tenant can resist his landlord from increasing the rent if he is having trouble with the warranty of habitability.
- If the housing inspector found the code violation, he can close your place. In such cases, you are liable to provide relocation expenses to your tenants.
Also, there are seen some cases where the tenant is responsible for making code violations. These cases include trash lying on the porch, long untrimmed grass in the yard, and painted windows or windows that are shut off completely. All these instances are due to negligence by your tenant. But it is you who will be held responsible even if it is your tenant`s fault. Remember to have timely inspections and don’t mind billing your tenant if the code violation is a result of the tenant`s practices.
Many a time, people often resort to the grandfather clause when they occur to code violations. As per this clause, existing buildings do not attract code violations if they were built according to the code during the time of their construction. But any renovation or any sort of changes for that matter has been made to the building, you are stripped of the grandfathered privilege.
No matter whether your building is old and you have not made any major alterations or changes. Still, there can be a big chance that your building has been wrong all this time. Keep in mind, that there are no periods of limitations to code violations and you must comply with the house codes for rental property.
Landlord Options When not able to Correct violations under House Codes for Rental Property
There are various options available for you to rectify the violations when you aren’t able to do so due to a lack of knowledge or funds available to you.
- Not having the knowledge to rectify the code violation, you can hire a home inspector in your area. Home inspectors can be a great help for landlords who are unsure about housing code violations. There are lots of home inspection companies available in the US that can help you pinpoint the issues and advise you on rectifying them.
- You can choose to sell your rental property if you don’t have funds or other resources to fix the code violations on the rental property. There are various investors out there in the market looking to buy such a deal. They will buy your property as it is even without the need of yours to rectify it.
- There is also a Compliance Loan Program (CLP) available in selected cities of the US which allows homeowners to have a deferred loan at a 0% interest rate to fix housing code violations.
The Bottom Line
The House codes for a rental property are in favor of both the landlords and the tenants. Having a rental property on code, the tenants can become sure of the warranty of habitability at your place. And being a landlord, you can breathe a sigh of relief while pursuing your rental business with ease.