How to be a Landlord in North Carolina (Part I)

Kerri SiglerFormer Partner at Wait Law, P.L.L.C.

BEFORE YOU READ: Many landlord/tenant issues can be resolved through a properly drafted lease agreement. Call today for a quote, and let us know if the information below is useful to you.

A MULTI-PART “HOW TO” SERIES

Being a landlord is not as easy as one might think. Being king of a rental castle is a bit like sitting atop the Iron Throne: it’s great in theory, but one false move may find you poking an eye out on some prickly little laws that read like the owner’s manual to the space shuttle.

In this multi-part series, Attorney Kerri Sigler will walk you through the basics of being a landlord. Included are real-life stories of landlord pitfalls that seemed to make perfect sense at the time – but were not so much in accord with what the law requires – interwoven with the law in everyday language and links to help the brave among you find and ponder the Legalease version.

If you’re already a landlord in North Carolina, or if you plan to be, start here and do things right from the very beginning. It will save you tons of time, money, and trouble in the end.

 

PART I: GOOD LEASES DON’T GROW ON GOOGLE

 

Lawyers get a bad rap for a lot of things, among them charging folks for things they don’t really need. Well-written leases do not fall into that category. I know, I know: you can Google “NC Residential Lease” and up pops a lease for free. But using some generic internet lease is a bad idea. Here’s why: Google doesn’t know that you can’t legally charge 5x the monthly rent as a “security deposit.” Google doesn’t know that you can’t force anyone to waive his or her right to a jury trial. Google doesn’t know that you need a re-entry clause or else you can’t use the summary eviction laws. And chances are, you’re not real up-to-date on that stuff, either. But landlord/tenant lawyers ought to know these things and will make sure they’re inserted into your lease correctly. At the very least, a landlord/tenant lawyer should be able to review whatever kind of lease you found on Google and tweak it for you.

I know, I know: it’s a lot of money for something you could get for free off the Net. But you’re not paying for a piece of paper. You’re paying to protect yourself later. Poorly written leases might prevent you from quickly evicting a non-paying tenant; collecting future rents; recovering attorney’s fees; and a host of other rights you might have protected had your lease been sound.

But here’s the catch: even lawyers can write really atrocious leases. Consider asking a few questions before you shell out the dough. Start with the basics: ask your prospective lawyer whether “self-help evictions” are allowed in North Carolina (they’re not). Ask how much you’re allowed to charge for a security deposit (2x the monthly rent for yearly leases). Ask whether you can keep the security deposit in your lock box at the bank (nope). Ask if you can force the other side to waive a jury trial (negative, Ghost Rider). If the lawyer you consult with doesn’t know the answers to the basics, or gives you the wrong answers, or hands you a lease with wrong answers in it (self-help evictions and waiving jury trials are popular), run. Find someone who knows the law and will write you a lease on the front end that will save you a lot of time, trouble, and money on the back end.

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