Landlord-tenant law in Oklahoma is pretty “cut-and-dried.” Title 41 of the Oklahoma Statutes outlines the dos and don’ts of the landlord tenant relationship. Our office routinely gets questioned from landlords and from tenants on the nuanced issues. We generally give landlords and tenants five rules about the relationships:
Rule 1: Get it in writing
Contracts are very important in establishing landlord tenant relationships, especially if the landlord or tenant wishes to enforce certain requirements or elements from the other side. Your contract should clearly define the term of the lease relationship, the amount of the lease payment, and the responsibilities of the two parties. Leases are negotiable — maybe less so on desirable properties — so make sure you adequately negotiated the responsibilities. Tenants, if you want the landlord to provide a washing machine, that requirement better be in the contract. Similarly, if you don’t understand a term or condition in the contract, do not sign the lease. You should seek legal assistance as soon as possible.
According to 41 O.S. 113, there are five conditions that are not permitted in rental agreements; review those conditions and your agreement to make sure they’re not included.
Rule 2: Pay your rent as required
One of the obligations for a tenant is to pay his/her rent as required by the lease. You can negotiate the due date and the rent payment amount, but you’d better do that before signing the agreement. Most landlords will require security deposits before leasing a property to a tenant. Landlords must keep any security deposits in a FDIC insured escrow account for the benefit of the tenant.
Some tenants wrongfully believe that they can withhold rental payments because their landlord is not repairing or maintaining the property. This simply is not true, unless the tenant follows specific procedures outlined in 41 O.S. 121. The Landlord Tenant Act provides that a tenant may withhold up to $100 of the rent to repair the property. Tenants who withhold the full rental amount will violate their lease agreement. Remember, it’s important to outline who’s responsible for providing water, electricity, and heating to the property.
Rule 3: Don’t ignore the warnings
Tenants who fail to pay rent will still have a short period of time to correct the problem and pay the rent. Landlords must post a notice to quit on the tenant’s door. This is a mandatory first-step in evicting a tenant. Landlords who do not provide the notice to quit cannot get an eviction.
Tenants should not ignore the notice to quit warning, since this usually means the tenant has a short time before eviction. Similarly, do not ignore court summonses or notices. Not showing up for a court proceeding, especially if you believe you’re “in the right” will have detrimental effects on your rental history, and possibly your credit. You should speak with an attorney if you receive a court summons or you’re a landlord looking to evict a tenant. There are specific steps and penalties for wrongful evictions.
Rule 4: Don’t forget the accounting
Oklahoma’s laws require that landlords specifically account for any move out damages charges against the rental deposit. Security deposits are “sacred funds,” so within 30 days of the termination of the tenancy, a landlord must return the balance (minus deductions) to the tenants. Usually, if the tenant vacates prior to the end of the lease term, the landlord will keep the rental deposit. Thus, most landlords set their rental deposits high enough to cover 2 months rent. Landlords may deduct accrued or missed rents, but the right to deduct the future rent must be in the rental agreement.
Rule 5: Damages
When a tenant unexpectedly vacates a premises they should expect their landlord to seek reimbursement for damages to the property. This may include reimbursement for future rents due and physical damage to the property. Both parties should document any damage or lack of damage with pictures, videos, or other means. Landlords and tenants should demand to use move-in and move-out checklists to verify the condition of the property. Lack of evidence from either party could spell disaster in your case.
Seek legal assistance
Seek legal help if you’re unsure about your rights as a landlord or tenant. Our firm can help guide you through the simple, yet confusing, issues of Oklahoma’s landlord-tenant laws.