Frequently Asked Questions Regarding Landlord Legal Issues
1. In North Carolina, how much notice is required before asking for rent increase, an increase above what is stated in lease?
The simple answer is that you cannot raise your tenant’s rent above what is in the lease until that lease is up. You are always welcome to negotiate new lease terms when it comes time for renewal. It is also possible to add a rent increase to the lease itself. For example, if you and your tenant sign a three year lease, you can include a provision for the rent to increase by a certain amount for the second and/or third years. In truth, there is nothing under North Carolina law that would prohibit you from creating a lease that calls for rent to increase every month but the reality is that you would be hard pressed to find a tenant who would be willing to sign such a lease. With all that said, there are always exceptions to a rule.
If you charge pet rent, which is perfectly legal in North Carolina, and a tenant has no pet when they move in but acquires a pet later you are well within your right to charge the pet rent for the remainder of the lease. Keep in mind that this is not actually raising the base rental rate but simply adding a monthly fee for the privilege of keeping a pet in your property.
2. My tenants refuse to pay rent because there is mold that has been growing for a while unknown to me. What are my legal actions?
Unlike some other states, North Carolina law prohibits rent withholding. This means it is illegal to refuse to pay rent to a landlord and still remain in the rental property. Even if the property is in terrible conditions a tenant is still required to pay rent but may be able to sue for rent abatement. That is, a tenant can pay the full rent and then sue the landlord for some or all of the rent money back depending on the fair rental rate of the property under whatever conditions the property is in. The amount of rent abatement cannot easily be calculated or predicted as the value is determined by a judge. Under the above circumstances you would be within your rights to seek an eviction due to your tenants’ failure to pay rent. With that said, if there really is mold in the property, your tenants may file counterclaims for mold related damages which could include personal injuries.
As a landlord you have a duty to inspect, search for, and repair known or knowable conditions. Now that you have been alerted to the possible existence of mold you need to hire a certified indoor environmental inspector to inspect and test for mold. If there is an active mold problem you will need to have it professionally removed and the damaged areas of the home cleaned and retested. Mold is everywhere and a great deal of mold is not harmful but active indoor mold growth is cause for concern and allegations regarding indoor mold should be taken seriously and investigated. If it turns out that there is a problem, you will want to make sure you honor your obligations as a landlord and protect your rental property investment. If the tenants concealed or caused the mold growth you may have claims against them for some or all of the repair costs. If the property is so badly damaged by mold that it cannot be lived in, it may be necessary to negotiate a lease termination with your tenants so you can make repairs and bring the property back to a habitable condition.
Keep in mind that you cannot use any of your tenants’ security deposit for mold repairs unless you can prove that the tenant caused or contributed to the mold growth.