Written Leases Favored
Written residential leases are always favored. Though you can have an oral lease agreement, you leave yourself open to disputes and disagreements as well as possible legal challenges unless you have a South Carolina lease agreement in writing. The following has the necessary and optional lease provisions that your residential agreement should have.
Your agreement should be clearly understood, comprehensive and include the rights and responsibilities of yourself and your tenants so that the most common and foreseeable contingencies or situations are addressed. Provide a copy of your lease agreement to each tenant and ask if they understand or have any questions about its terms.
Anti-Discrimination in Housing Laws
Unless you own no more than a few rental units, are renting a single family house or are an owner-occupier with fewer than 4 rental units, landlords are subject to federal and state anti-discrimination laws when considering a potential tenant, terminating a lease or while the tenant is occupying one of your units. You are barred from discriminating against an applicant or tenant on the basis of race, color, creed, religion, gender, family status, national origin, or disability. This includes sexual harassment or intimidation or threats against a tenant who exercised a civil right or any other right found in the fair housing laws. Retaliating against a tenant on this basis by terminating the lease or suddenly raising the rent is prohibited.
For disabled renters, provide a reasonable accommodation if requested and do not charge the tenant any expense for adding or altering any part of the premises.
You may charge prospective tenants a fee to conduct a credit check. The tenant is entitled to a copy of the credit check report upon request.
Residential Lease Provisions in South Carolina
All lease agreements must have certain terms and provisions but you can and should add other provisions to address common landlord/tenant situations. Some of these boilerplate or optional terms may differ depending on the county or city where your unit is located since many have their own ordinances that impose different obligations.
Consider the following terms and provisions for your South Carolina residential lease agreement:
- Name of property owner and agent or property manager who also is authorized to receive process of service and to whom all inquiries, notices and demands are to be sent; the address where rent is to be paid and emergency or maintenance contact information
- Names of all the tenants and any other occupants—have all adult tenants sign the lease so that they are jointly and severally liable for the rent and all other lease terms
- Description or address of the premises
- Beginning and end dates of your lease
- Amount of rent and date it is due—state grace period and amount of late fees and when the fees apply such as by 12 midnight on the 5th day
- Insufficient check fees—$30
- Provide rules that apply to all tenants fairly, are clearly worded and that promote the convenience, safety and welfare of the tenants; that preserve your property and are not intended to avoid your own duties and obligations
- Security deposit:
- No limit on what you may charge
- Funds need not be kept in a separate account
- If paid in cash, give tenant a receipt
- No interest required to be paid on a security deposit
- Recommended that you provide a check-in list and statement of the condition of the property to be signed by you and tenants; or if tenant refuses or neglects to, that it is considered to be the true state of the premises upon initial possession
- If you require a security deposit, state that that the funds are to be used for damages that exceed normal wear and tear or unpaid rent—may not use funds for routine maintenance or painting unless there was damage caused by the tenant that makes repainting or restoration necessary
- If more than 4 rental units, you must disclose to the tenant the methods of calculating the deposit amounts—required before the lease agreement is signed or deposit accepted
- that funds will be returned no later than 30-days of tenant vacating unit and/or tenant makes demand for its return, whichever is later, or you submit a notice of funds to be retained for damages; tenant must provide a forwarding address
- recommended that you set a time and date for a mutual inspection a short time after the tenant vacates with check-out list on hand
- Landlord’s obligations:
- Provide house or conduct rules that apply to all tenants and are for the convenience, safety and welfare of all tenants, provides for the fair distribution of services and facilities to all and preserves the landlord’s property from damage
- Fully comply with all state and local housing, building and health codes affecting the tenant
- Make all necessary repairs within a reasonable time regarding conditions, systems and services that affect the habitability of the premises or that present a hazard
- Regularly maintain common areas free of trash and hazards
- Provide essential services including heat, electricity, air, plumbing, ventilation, running and hot water sanitary, elevators and appliances in good and working condition, except where the building that includes the dwelling unit is not required by law to be equipped for that purpose, or the dwelling unit is so constructed that heat or hot water is generated by an installation within the exclusive control of the tenant and supplied by a direct public utility connection
- Recommended that you provide trash or garbage receptacles and a means of removal
- Recommended that you provide each tenant a move-in checklist before taking possession that notes the condition of the premises and any damage
- Recommended that you install smoke and carbon monoxide detectors in all dwellings
- Tenant’s obligations (Keep yourself or your agent available for your tenants and encourage them to contact you regarding any issues pertaining to the lease including needed repairs, utility issues, noise issues or suspicious persons in the common areas):
- You may require the tenant to perform specific minor repairs or maintenance if it does not diminish or alter your to provide a residence fit for habitability
- Maintain the dwelling in a safe condition and not damaging, defacing, altering or removing any part of the unit
- Comply with building and health codes
- Use all appliances and systems such as air, heat, electricity and plumbing in the appropriate manner
- Not engage in criminal activities on the premises
- Pay the rent on time and adhering to all terms and provisions of the rental agreement
- Not disturb the right of other tenants to the quiet enjoyment of their own premises
- Promptly notify you of needed repairs
- Not change the locks without your permission
- Before or after vacating, provide you with a forwarding address to which the security deposit may be sent or notice of damages and expenses
- The party responsible for certain utilities
- List the major appliances and furnishings being provided
- No commercial, business or illegal use of premises by tenant or conduct that constitutes a nuisance or is unlawful
- Pet clause—may limit type of pet, weight and require tenant to clean up pet waste in common areas; may charge a separate deposit although no deposit for service dogs is permitted
- Subletting clause—whether you allow it and that you have to consent to whomever is the sublessee
- Your right of entry to make repairs, inspect and show to future tenants or purchasers—required to give 24 hours’ notice and restrict entry to a reasonable time; indicate that you may enter immediately if it is an emergency or if you have a reasonable basis for believing there is imminent danger to persons or property
- Notify landlord if absence from unit is to be longer than 7 days
- If lease is monthly, termination upon 30-days’ notice without cause or any other notice period—failure to give proper notice can result in the tenant forfeiting the security deposit and liability for the rental period
- 5-day written notice to quit required for nonpayment of rent; 14-days for other violations of the lease: state the specific term of the lease that has been violated such as:
- tenant or someone under their control such as a guest caused substantial damage or waste to the premises that has not been repaired
- there were unauthorized pets or occupants
- tenant subleased without consent
- tenant was a constant nuisance to other tenants
- tenant refused you entry after giving 24-hours’ notice and was to be at a reasonable time for reasons of showing to prospective tenants or buyers, for maintenance or repairs
- Notice for increasing rent or changing any other lease term—no statute but consider 60-days in advance of the effective date of the increase in a monthly lease (may not be for a discriminatory or retaliatory purpose) otherwise, not until the fixed term expires unless your lease specifically states it may be raised after the notice period is given
- Consider an automatic lease renewal by giving tenant 30-days’ notice before the expiration of the current fixed term lease that the lease will automatically renew—if raising the rent, ask for rent increase 60-days before end of the fixed term lease or lease renews at same rent; you can serve the notice again if month-to-month—if lease renews with same terms, you cannot increase rent for term of the lease unless you have a clause that states otherwise and after notice is given.
- May recover reasonable attorney’s fees and costs if you have to use the court process to evict the tenant.
- Provide disclosure of the presence of lead-based paint on the property for all rental property built before 1978—provide the tenant with an EPA pamphlet entitled “Protect Your Family from Lead in Your Home.”
Security Deposits in South Carolina
You may charge whatever you wish as a security deposit, though most landlords charge no more than one month’s rent. You may charge an additional deposit for a pet so long as it is not a service animal.
You need not deposit the funds in a separate, interest bearing account. The lease agreement should indicate that the deposit is to be used to pay for damages that are more than usual wear and tear, for unpaid rent when the tenant vacates or for unpaid utilities or other expenses owed. It is highly recommended that you have a check-in list that has the furnishings, if any, that you are providing and that describes any damage and its location. Review the list with your tenant prior to occupancy and have it signed by both of you. Use the list again when the tenant vacates and conduct a mutual inspection.
You have 30-days to return the deposit once the tenant vacates and possession is returned to you and the tenant has provided a forwarding address. If the tenant does not give you a forwarding or new address, then you should mail the deposit funds or notice regarding your retention of the deposit or any portion of it to the tenant’s last known address. Whenever the tenant provides you with the address, which could be on the 30th day after vacating, then mail the funds or notice at that time and you will not be liable for damages.
Provide a detailed summary of the damages and cost of repair within this time if you intend to retain any part of the deposit. If you fail to follow these procedures, your tenant may sue you for 3 times the amount of the deposit plus reasonable attorney’s fees.
Termination of the Lease
Any lease with a fixed term terminates on the end date unless it allows for termination sooner upon certain conditions. Month-to-month leases terminate upon 30-days’ notice. Weekly leases require 7-days’ notice.
For nonpayment of rent, serve a 5-day notice to quit. For all other material violations of the rental agreement, serve a 14-days’ notice.
Landlord Must Mitigate Losses
As landlord, you do have an obligation to mitigate your losses in the event the tenant terminates the lease early. This means making reasonable efforts to find a replacement tenant though you are not required to take any tenant who applies.
Further, if a tenant commits an act of domestic violence, you may bifurcate the lease and evict the perpetrator but not the tenant or tenants who were the victims.
Under the federal Servicemembers Relief Act, a tenant who is a member of the American Armed Forces including any of the uniformed services may terminate a fixed term lease if the tenant receives deployment orders to move more than 35 miles from the premises for more than 90 days or must live in a barracks or other residence supplied by the government. The tenant must provide a copy of the orders or at least a written statement from the commanding officer. The tenant must give 30-days’ and has no further obligations under the lease so long as the rent owed for the final rental term is paid.
A tenant who is absent from the unit for 15 days and has not paid the rent is deemed to have abandoned the premises. Abandonment can be sooner if the tenant has voluntarily terminated the utilities and has not paid the rent after the due date or grace period has expired. Once abandoned, you can dispose of the tenant’s belongings that have a total value of less than $500. You may retain personal property valued at $500 or more for a reasonable time before disposing of it. You should make a reasonable attempt to contact the tenant who is responsible for any storage fees you incur.
Withhold and Deduct Rules
A tenant may withhold a portion of the rent if you fail to provide essential services such as heat, hot water, electricity or plumbing after having given you notice and you failed to comply within a reasonable time. Also, the conditions that led to the lack of an essential service must not have been caused by the tenant.
In such cases, the tenant may recover the value in the diminution of the fair market value of the rental unit or obtain reasonable amounts of the denied services and deduct their actual and reasonable value from the rent.
Self-Help Evictions Never Allowed
Self-help evictions where a landlord bypasses the court process and evicts a tenant by turning off utilities, changing the locks, removing the tenant’s personal possessions, threatening the tenant or any other measures to force a tenant to vacate are illegal.
If a court finds that self-eviction took place, the landlord is liable for either 3 times the periodic rent or twice the tenant’s actual damages, whichever is greater, plus reasonable attorney’s fees.
Retaliation Never Allowed
Similar to self-help eviction is retaliation. You may not raise at tenant’s rent or refuse to renew a lease if the tenant had previously complained to a governmental authority about the conditions of the unit or some housing code violation.
Check local ordinances regarding certain provisions that may have to be included in your lease. For any questions about your South Carolina residential lease agreement or regarding your rights and duties, contact a knowledgeable South Carolina landlord/tenant lawyer.