Uniform Residential Landlord Tenant Act
At one point in our lives most of us have rented an apartment or house. For some, we have been in the position of being a landlord to a tenant, a relationship that can often be strained and riddled with complaints and problems for both sides. In either case, you may have been unaware of the long-standing Uniform Residential Landlord Tenant Act ("URLTA," "The Act") drafted in 1972 by the National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws ("NCCUSL"). The purpose of URLTA is to protect both the landlord and the tenant by reducing conflict among parties who have entered into rental agreements for housing, encourage better maintenance, and improve the overall quality of living. Given the historical treatment of tenants by their landlords, the act meant to carve a path to fair housing.
Since its inception, URLTA has been endorsed by the American Bar Association and is presently enacted, with state specific revisions, in twenty-one states including Kentucky. However, few of the states have adopted it for mandatory applicability. Meaning it can be adopted on a city-by-city and county-by-county basis, contradicting the uniformity of its intent. This kind of ad hoc application tends to lead to further inequity and confusion for both sides of the landlord-tenant equation.
Only four counties and fourteen cities in Kentucky have adopted URLTA. For those cities, such as Louisville, parties on both sides are obligated to abide by the technicalities of the act , which sometimes works to throw more stumbling blocks into the relationship.
In the most basic example, as a tenant, when you have a problem and something needs to be fixed or repaired in your apartment you call the landlord. Simple enough. If the landlord fails to respond or rectify the problem within a reasonable amount of time, the inclination of every renter would be with to withhold payment until the issue is resolved. Correct? Not so fast. URLTA requires the tenant to send a written notice or complaint in order to legally withhold any kind of rent. A tenant is in violation and subject to rightful eviction if the rent is not paid, and a written notice has not been sent. Recourse for the tenant relies on their knowledge of this regulation and the stipulations they are subject to as a lessee.
On the flip side, the landlord too must operate under many similar technical constraints. When faced with a non-paying or delinquent tenant, a landlord must go through a lengthy process of written notices to actually evict. This back and forth notification requirement, if done correctly, is simple and hardly taxing. However, a minor technical defect in a notice can have a profound effect. An action that took a landlord six weeks to bring before the court is suddenly dismissed, leaving the landlord to start the process over, all while the landlord is incurring not only the costs of pursuing the legalities of eviction, but the loss of rent payments.
Meanwhile, the tenant can continue to occupy the property. I don't know too many landlords with whom this wouldn't act to increase conflict and hostility with a tenant.
URLTA is an umbrella covering all landlords and tenants. However, there are, of course, ill-defined exceptions. The Act does not cover commercial entities such as hotels and motels, nor does it encompass transitional or transient lodging. A Louisville case, Thomas v. Cohen (C.A.6 (Ky.) 2006) 453 F.3d 657, involving a transitional shelter for women attempting to acclimate themselves into mainstream society, called into question this exclusion and the shelter's ability to evict without due process.
The women who lived at Augusta House paid rent and were assigned rooms. After breaking the rules prohibiting the use of drugs and alcohol, the Augusta House called the police and evicted the women without notice. The police believed that the women were not tenants and that the shelter was exempt from the requirements under URLTA. This was a routine occurrence at this facility. The women sued the police for violating their rights (lack of process) in relation to the eviction in a 1983 suit. For purposes for appeal, the defendant conceded that the occupants were tenants and abandoned its prior argument that they were not.
This is unfortunate, as controlled facilities, like Augusta House, seek to create safe environments for their occupants and seem to be the new model for giving long term aid to people with substance abuse and dependency issues. Under the rules of URLTA, open drug or alcohol usage could be a violation under the terms of the lease, but then would still require a 14 day notice of that violation before even beginning eviction, exposing other occupants on the premises to the very situations they are trying to avoid by residing there. It's hard to see how this could be positive to any of the parties involved.
Legally there are not many opinions to further flesh out URLTA, or help illuminate its intent, leaving the issues between landlords and tenants stagnant. The well-intentioned statute for the rental housing market, which incorporates roughly 34% of the population, has not stopped abusive behavior on either side. As times change, what was once seen as a modern solution to age old abuses now seems nearly as quirky and outdated as the common law it sought to replace.
2 “Legislative Fact Sheet, Landlord Tenant Act” http://uniformlaws.org/LegislativeFactSheet.aspx?title=residential%20Lan....