Every Landlord's Legal Guide

The legal forms and state rules every landlord and property manager needs

Rent out your residential property with Nolo's bestselling book Every Landlord's Legal Guide. This all-in-one legal guide includes state-by-state legal information and key forms every savvy landlord needs to:

  • prepare leases and rental agreements (in English or Spanish)
  • collect and return deposits
  • handle repairs, minimize your liability, and much more

Includes more than three dozen essential legal forms!


  • Product Details
  • To keep up with the law and make money as a residential landlord, you need a guide you can trust: Every Landlord’s Legal Guide.

    From move-in to move-out, here’s help with legal, financial, and day-to-day issues. You’ll avoid hassles and headaches—not to mention legal fees and lawsuits. Use this top-selling book to:

    • screen and choose tenants
    • prepare leases and rental agreements
    • avoid discrimination, invasion of privacy, personal injury, and other lawsuits
    • hire a property manager
    • keep up with repairs and maintenance
    • make security deposit deductions
    • respond to broken leases
    • learn how to terminate a tenancy for nonpayment of rent or other lease violations
    • restrict tenants from renting their place on Airbnb, and
    • deal with bed bugs, mold, and lead hazards.

    The 16th edition is completely updated to provide your state’s current laws on security deposits, rent, entry, termination, late rent notices, and more. It includes advice on responding to COVID-created issues such as eviction bans, late rent, new roommates, and broken leases.

    “Complete, detailed, accurate, practical, easy-to-understand and superb…”—Los Angeles Times

    “No landlord should be without a copy of Every Landlord’s Legal Guide.”—The Florida Times-Union


    Number of Pages
    Included Forms


    Screening, Choosing, and Rejecting Applicants

    • Rental Application
    • Consent to Contact References and Perform Credit Check
    • Tenant References
    • Notice of Denial Based on Credit Report or Other Information
    • Notice of Conditional Acceptance Based on Credit Report or Other Information

    Rental Documents and Moving In

    • Receipt and Holding Deposit Agreement
    • Landlord-Tenant Checklist
    • Move-In Letter
    • Month-to-Month Residential Rental Agreement
    • Month-to-Month Residential Rental Agreement (Spanish Version)
    • Fixed-Term Residential Lease
    • Fixed-Term Residential Lease (Spanish Version)
    • Cosigner Agreement
    • Disclosure of Information on Lead-Based Paint and/or Lead-Based Paint Hazards
    • Disclosure of Information on Lead-Based Paint and/or Lead-Based Paint Hazards (Spanish Version)
    • Protect Your Family From Lead in Your Home Pamphlet
    • Protect Your Family From Lead in Your Home Pamphlet (Spanish Version)
    • Property Manager Agreement
    • Verification of Disabled Status

    Rental Documents during the Rental Term

    • Amendment to Lease or Rental Agreement
    • Letter to Original Tenant and New Cotenant
    • Consent to Assignment of Lease
    • Agreement for Delayed or Partial Rent Payments

    Repairs and Maintenance

    • Time Estimate for Repair
    • Semiannual Safety and Maintenance Update
    • Agreement Regarding Tenant Alterations to Rental Unit
    • Notice of Intent to Enter Dwelling Unit
    • Resident’s Maintenance/Repair Request

    Handling and Returning Security Deposits

    • Letter for Returning Entire Security Deposit
    • Security Deposit Itemization (Deductions for Repairs and Cleaning)
    • Security Deposit Itemization (Deductions for Repairs, Cleaning, and Unpaid Rent)

    Terminating Tenancies

    • Tenant’s Notice of Intent to Move Out
    • Landlord-Tenant Agreement to Terminate Lease
    • Move-Out Letter
    • Warning Letter for Lease or Rental Agreement Violation
  • About the Author
    • Ann O’Connell, Attorney · UC Berkeley School of Law

      Ann O’Connell is a legal editor at Nolo specializing in landlord-tenant and real estate law. She writes for,, and Avvo. Ann is a coauthor of Nolo's Essential Guide to Buying Your First Home, which won a silver Benjamin Franklin Award from the Independent Book Publishers Association in 2020, and Nolo’s Every Landlord’s Legal Guide.

      Legal career. Before joining Nolo as an editor, Ann was a freelance writer for Nolo as well as other publications and law firms. Ann practiced civil litigation in California and Colorado, and had her own firm in Colorado. At her firm, she focused on real estate, landlord-tenant, and small business cases. 

      Credentials. Ann earned her B.A. from Boston College and her J.D. from UC Berkeley Law. She has passed the bar exams in California, Nevada, and Colorado, where she is both an active attorney and a real estate broker.

      Landlord-tenant law. Ann’s favorite part of writing about landlord-tenant matters is the opportunity to help tenants—who often find it difficult to afford or hire a lawyer to represent them—understand and assert their rights. Ann’s research and writing on coronavirus-related eviction bans and tenant rights has been cited by numerous news outlets and government agencies, including Yahoo Finance, CNET, Fannie Mae, and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).

    • Janet Portman, Attorney · Santa Clara University School of Law

      Janet Portman joined Nolo in 1994 and is the Executive Editor. She has a Bachelor’s degree (Honors Humanities, Phi Beta Kappa) and Master’s degree (Religious Studies) from Stanford University, and a law degree from Santa Clara University School of Law. Her first job was with the California State Public Defender, where she handled criminal appeals for indigent clients and spent six months trying cases for the Alameda County Public Defender. She successfully argued a case before the California Supreme Court. (People v. Woodard, 23 Cal.3d 329 (1979).) Janet is an active member of the California State Bar.

      Work at Nolo. After taking some time away from the law to raise her family, Janet joined Nolo as part of the team writing the company’s first national landlord-tenant book, Every Landlord’s Legal Guide. She has authored or coauthored many books since then: Every Landlord's Guide to Finding Great Tenants, Every Tenant's Legal Guide, Renters' Rights, Negotiate the Best Lease for Your Business, Leases & Rental Agreements, The California Landlord's Law Book: Rights and Responsibilities, and California Tenants' Rights.  Drawing on her days as a “PD,” Janet also contributes to the criminal law sections of Nolo’s websites.

      Media. Janet has contributed commentary to major media outlets such as MSNBC, CNN, Kiplinger’s, and The New York Times. For many years she was a nationally-syndicated columnist, writing “Rent It Right” every week.

      Why Nolo? Joining Nolo was a natural next step after the public defender’s office. Janet went from helping indigent criminal defendants to educating people about everyday civil law—how to understand it, apply it, and stay away from entanglements in the court system. She takes pride in writing books for both landlords and tenants, without bias. The best compliment she ever received came from a landlord who, having read Every Tenant's Legal Guide, said, “I wish all my tenants would read this—I’d have way fewer problems!”

    • Marcia Stewart, Legal Editor

      Marcia Stewart wrote and edited Nolo books on landlord-tenant law, real estate, and other consumer issues. She co-authored the first and several subsequent editions of Nolo's Essential Guide to Buying Your First HomeEvery Landlord's Legal GuideFirst-Time LandlordEvery Tenant's Legal GuideLeases and Rental Agreementsand Renters' Rights. She edited dozens of Nolo books, including The Women's Small Business Start-Up Kit.

  • Table of Contents
  • Introduction: Your Landlord Companion

    1. Screening Tenants: Your Most Important Decision

    • Avoiding Fair Housing Complaints and Lawsuits
    • How to Advertise Rental Property
    • Consider Tenants Who Are Advertising Themselves
    • Renting Property That’s Still Occupied
    • Dealing With Prospective Tenants and Accepting Rental Applications
    • When and How to Check References, Credit History, and More
    • Choosing—And Rejecting—An Applicant
    • Finder’s Fees and Holding Deposits

    2. Preparing Leases and Rental Agreements

    • Which Is Better, a Lease or a Rental Agreement?
    • Clause-by-Clause Instructions for Completing the Lease or Rental Agreement Form
    • Signing the Lease or Rental Agreement
    • About Cosigners

    3. Basic Rent Rules

    • How Much Can You Charge?
    • Rent Control
    • When Rent Is Due
    • Where and How Rent Is Due
    • Late Charges and Discounts for Early Payments
    • Returned Check Charges
    • Partial or Delayed Rent Payments
    • Raising the Rent

    4. Security Deposits

    • Purpose and Use of Security Deposits
    • Dollar Limits on Deposits
    • How Much Deposit Should You Charge?
    • Last Month’s Rent
    • Interest and Accounts on Deposit
    • Nonrefundable Deposits and Fees
    • How to Increase Deposits
    • Handling Deposits When You Buy or Sell Rental Property

    5. Discrimination

    • Sources of Antidiscrimination Laws
    • Types of Illegal Discrimination
    • Valid Occupancy Limits
    • Managers and Discrimination
    • Unlawful Discrimination Complaints
    • Insurance Coverage in Discrimination Claims

    6. Property Managers

    • Hiring Your Own Resident Manager
    • How to Prepare a Property Manager Agreement
    • Your Legal Obligations as an Employer
    • Management Companies
    • Your Liability for a Manager’s Acts
    • Notifying Tenants of the Manager
    • Firing a Manager
    • Firing a Property Management Company
    • Evicting a Manager

    7. Getting the Tenant Moved In

    • Inspect the Rental Unit
    • Photograph or Video the Rental Unit
    • Send New Tenants a Move-In Letter
    • Cash Rent and Security Deposit Checks
    • Organize Your Tenant Records
    • Organize Income and Expenses for Schedule E
    • Using Email for Notices or Other Communications With Tenants
    • The Bottom Line: Stick With a Traditional Mail or Delivery Service

    8. Cotenants, Sublets, and Assignments

    • Cotenants
    • What to Do When a Tenant Wants to Sublet or Assign
    • When a Tenant Brings in a Roommate
    • Guests and New Occupants You Haven’t Approved
    • Short-Term Rentals Like Airbnb

    9. Landlord’s Duty to Repair and Maintain the Premises

    • Your Duty to Keep the Premises Livable
    • How to Meet Your Legal Repair and Maintenance Responsibilities
    • Avoiding Problems With a Good Maintenance and Repair System
    • Tenant Updates and Landlord’s Regular Safety and Maintenance Inspections
    • Tenants’ Options When the Premises Are Unfit
    • Tenants’ Responses to Unfit Premises: Paying Less Rent
    • Tenants Responses to Unfit Premises: Calling Inspectors, Filing Lawsuits, and Moving Out
    • Minor Repairs
    • Delegating Landlord’s Responsibilities to Tenants
    • Tenants’ Alterations and Improvements
    • Cable TV Access
    • Satellite Dishes and Antennas

    10. Landlord’s Liability for Tenant Injuries From Dangerous Conditions

    • How to Prevent Injuries
    • Liability and Other Property Insurance
    • Your Liability for Tenant Injuries
    • When a Tenant Was at Fault, Too
    • How Much Money an Injured Tenant Might Recover

    11. Landlord’s Liability for Environmental Health Hazards

    • Asbestos
    • Lead
    • Radon
    • Carbon Monoxide
    • Mold
    • Bed Bugs

    12. Landlord’s Liability for Criminal Activity

    • Comply With All State and Local Laws on Security
    • Keep Your Promises About Security
    • Prevent Criminal Acts
    • Protect Tenants From Each Other
    • Protect Tenants From Your Employees
    • Deal With Drug-Dealing Tenants
    • If You Are Sued

    13. Landlord’s Right of Entry and Tenants’ Privacy

    • General Rules of Entry
    • Entry in Case of Emergency
    • Entry With the Permission of the Tenant
    • Entry to Make Repairs or Inspect the Property
    • Entry to Show Property to Prospective Tenants or Buyers
    • Entry After the Tenant Has Moved Out
    • Entry by Others
    • Other Types of Invasions of Privacy
    • What to Do When Tenants Unreasonably Deny Entry
    • Tenants’ Remedies If a Landlord Acts Illegally

    14. Ending a Tenancy

    • Changing Lease or Rental Agreement Terms
    • How Month-to-Month Tenancies End
    • How Leases End
    • When the Tenant Breaks the Lease
    • A Tenant’s Death: Consequences for Cotenants and the Landlord’s Duties
    • Condominium Conversions

    15. Returning Security Deposits and Other Move-Out Issues

    • Preparing a Move-Out Letter
    • Inspecting the Unit When a Tenant Leaves
    • Applying the Security Deposit to the Last Month’s Rent
    • Basic Rules for Returning Deposits
    • Deductions for Cleaning and Damage
    • Deductions for Unpaid Rent
    • Preparing an Itemized Statement of Deductions
    • Mailing the Security Deposit Itemization
    • Security Deposits From Cotenants
    • If a Tenant Sues You
    • When the Deposit Doesn’t Cover Damage and Unpaid Rent
    • Ex-Tenants Who Have Moved Out of State
    • What to Do With Property Abandoned by a Tenant

    16. Problems With Tenants: How to Resolve Disputes Without a Lawyer

    • Negotiating a Settlement: Start by Talking
    • When Warning Notices Are Appropriate
    • Understanding Mediation
    • Using Arbitration
    • Representing Yourself in Small Claims Court
    • How to Avoid Charges of Retaliation

    17. Late Rent, Terminations, and Evictions

    • The Landlord’s Role in Evictions
    • Termination Notices
    • Late Rent
    • Other Tenant Violations of the Lease or Rental Agreement
    • Violations of a Tenant’s Legal Responsibilities
    • Tenant’s Illegal Activity on the Premises
    • How Eviction Lawsuits Work
    • Illegal “Self-Help” Evictions
    • Stopping Eviction by Filing for Bankruptcy

    18. Lawyers and Legal Research

    • Finding a Lawyer
    • Types of Fee Arrangements With Lawyers
    • Saving on Legal Fees
    • Resolving Problems With Your Lawyer
    • Attorneys’ Fees in a Lawsuit
    • Doing Your Own Legal Research
    • Where to Find State, Local, and Federal Laws
    • How to Research Court Decisions


    A. State Landlord-Tenant Law Charts

    B. How to Use the Downloadable Forms on the Nolo Website

    • Editing RTFs
    • List of Forms Available on the Nolo Website


  • Sample Chapter
  • Introduction: Your Landlord Companion

    Whether you own one rental property or a hundred, you want to run a profitable business, protect your investment, and avoid legal hassles. Your success depends heavily on knowing and complying with dozens of state, federal, and local laws. Fortunately, you don’t need a law degree—just this book.

    We’ll take you step by step through everything from accepting rental applications to returning security deposits when tenants move out. Learn how to prepare a lease, handle repairs, and deal with tenants who pay rent late, make too much noise, or cause other problems. This book covers not only straightforward procedures (such as how to legally reject a prospect) but also advises you on how to deal with more complicated situations (like what to do when a tenant threatens to withhold rent until you make certain repairs). This book also provides:

    State-specific legal info. Use the comprehensive State Landlord-Tenant Law Charts in Appendix A to find your state’s laws on: security deposits, required landlord disclosures, rent withholding, abandoned property, unconditional quit terminations, and much more.

    Legal forms and letters. This book includes dozens of forms, letters, notices, checklists, and agreements you can use in your landlord business. Each form is easy to complete and has comprehensive instructions. You’ll find filled-in samples in the text and downloadable forms on the companion page for this book on the Nolo website (see below for details). With these forms, you’ll be able to create your own rental applications, leases, letters to tenants, and much, much more.

    Getting Expert Help

    Throughout this book, we’ll alert you to situations in which it’s wise to get expert help beyond this book, including:

    • Preparing eviction papers. We explain how to terminate a tenancy, but if you need to pursue an eviction lawsuit, get more help. Evictions are governed by very specific state and local laws and procedures.
    • Rentals in mobile home parks and marinas. In most states, completely different sets of laws govern these rentals.
    • Renting out a condo or town house. Many owners will find this book helpful, but be sure to also review your homeowners’ association’s CC&Rs (covenants, conditions, and restrictions). Sometimes CC&Rs clash with or go beyond, federal, state, or local laws. An attorney can help you evaluate which rules the judges in your area are most likely to uphold.
    • Live-work units. You’ll find this book helpful if you’re renting out live-work units, but be aware that local zoning regulations we don’t cover in this book might apply.
    • Section 8 housing. If you participate in the Section 8 rent assistance program, you’ll find most of the day-to-day recommendations of this book usable, but you’ll need to use the lease addendum supplied by the housing authority that administers the program.
    • Short-term rentals. Many of the landlord-tenant laws discussed in this book specifically exclude short-term, hotel-like rentals. If you offer short- term rentals as part of your business, check with your local government. Many municipalities require registration, limit the number of short-stay days per year, or otherwise restrict short-term rentals. See Chapter 8 for more on the subject.


    Time-tested and timely information. This book, which first appeared in 1996, has been updated many times since to keep up with the constantly changing world of residential landlording. Ours is the only book on the shelf that combines current, comprehensive legal information and practical advice usable by landlords in every state. In addition, when important laws change during the life of this edition, you’ll find updates on this book’s companion page (described below).

    We believe that finding and retaining good tenants is the key to running a successful residential rental business. Our approach will guard your legal and financial interests and, at the same time, make your customers—your tenants—feel that your practices are fair and reasonable.

    In a nutshell: By choosing tenants carefully; keeping good tenants happy; teaching mediocre tenants how to improve; getting rid of bad tenants by applying policies that are strict, fair, and legal; and backing up everything with detailed records, you can run a business that’s both satisfying and profitable.

    Get Legal Updates, Forms, and More on This Book’s Companion Page on

    This book includes three dozen useful forms and worksheets, including a lease, a rental application, and security deposit itemizations. You can download any of the forms and worksheets in this book at:

    (Instructions available with book purchase)

    When there are important changes to the information in this book, we’ll post updates on this same dedicated page (what we call the book’s companion page). See Appendix B, “How to Use the Downloadable Forms on the Nolo Website,” for a list of forms available on


    Other Helpful Nolo Books and Resources for Landlords

    Nolo publishes a comprehensive library of books for landlords and property managers. Besides Every Landlord’s Legal Guide, Nolo offers:

    • Every Landlord’s Guide to Finding Great Tenants, by Janet Portman. Focuses solely on advertising and showing your rental, evaluating prospects, and choosing and rejecting tenants, includes over 40 forms, including a credit report evaluation, marketing worksheets, and departing tenant’s questionnaire. Especially useful for landlords who own multiunit properties or have a lot of tenant turnover.
    • Every Landlord’s Guide to Managing Property, by Michael Boyer. Provides practical and legal compliance advice for small-time landlords who manage property and tenants on the side (while holding down a day job). Includes do-it-yourself advice on handling day-to-day issues, such as nitty-gritty maintenance and conflicts with tenants regarding late rent, pets, and unauthorized occupants. Explains how to manage and grow a successful rental property business with minimal hassle and cost.
    • Every Landlord’s Tax Deduction Guide, by Stephen Fishman. Includes all the information you need to take advantage of tax deductions and write-offs available to landlords, such as depreciation, legal services, travel, and insurance. Includes instructions on filling out Schedule E.
    • Leases & Rental Agreements, by Janet Portman and Ann O'Connell. Includes a lease, rental agreement, and several other basic forms. If you own Every Landlord’s Legal Guide, you don’t need Leases and Rental Agreements.
    • The California Landlord’s Law Book: Rights & Responsibilities, by Nils Rosenquest and Janet Portman and The California Landlord’s Law Book: Evictions, by Nils Rosenquest. These books contain all the information California landlords need to run their business and handle an eviction in court by themselves. Every Landlord’s Legal Guide covers residential landlord-tenant law in all 50 states, including California, but these books provide more details, including rent control rules and step-by-step instructions on how to file and handle an eviction lawsuit.
    • First-Time Landlord: Your Guide to Renting Out a Single-Family Home, by Janet Portman, Ilona Bray, and Marcia Stewart. Covers the basic information that first-time or “accidental” landlords need to rent and manage a single-family home or condo, such as how to determine if a property will turn a profit, things to consider when renting out a room in an owner-occupied house, and how to use a lease-option-to-buy contract.

    You can order these books from Nolo’s website ( or by phone (800-728-3555). You can also find Nolo books at public libraries and bookstores.

    In addition to these books, Nolo offers many interactive online forms of interest to landlords, such as state-specific leases and rental agreements.

    Also, be sure to check out the Landlords section of for a wide variety of articles of interest to landlords, including state eviction rules. Nolo’s website includes other useful resources, including legal updates on this book’s companion page (described above).


    We hope you enjoyed this sample. The complete book is available for sale here at

  • Forms
  • This Book Comes With a Website

    Nolo’s award-winning website has a page dedicated just to this book, where you can:

    DOWNLOAD FORMS - All forms in this book are accessible online. After purchase, you can find a link to the URL in Appendix B.

    KEEP UP TO DATE - When there are important changes to the information in this book, we will post updates

    And that’s not all. contains thousands of articles on everyday legal and business issues, plus a plain-English law dictionary, all written by Nolo experts and available for free. You’ll also find more useful books, software, online services, and downloadable forms.

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