Delaware landlord-tenant laws are put in place to protect both parties when leasing property. Most issues between landlords and tenants stem from a lack of written communication. All notices must be in writing and in the proper format. The Justice of the Peace court, the court that deals with landlord-tenant issues in Delaware, is very particular about what they require for notices. If done incorrectly, the case could be dismissed because the notices were not properly completed.
Always put a lease in writing. The Delaware landlord-tenant code requires the landlord to indicate exactly who owns the property and what address the tenant can mail notices. We recommend that you include all tenants on the lease. If rent is not paid, you can go after each tenant individually for the entire amount of the lease. You should include the tenants’ responsibility for the property, such as garbage and utilities. If the tenant fails to comply during the lease, you can take them to court and seek possession of the unit. By law, the landlord is required to give the tenant a copy of the code. Make the tenant signs the provision and the court knows that you gave it to them.
The end of a lease is usually the most complicated procedure. There has to be 60-day notice regarding the termination of a lease, which starts on the first of the month after the notice is delivered. Once you give proper notice, you should contact the tenant and set up a time to go through the unit and do an inspection. During the inspection, write down any issues with the unit and take photos of any damage caused by the tenant. Landlords are required to get an estimate to repair those issues. The estimate will be included in the 20-day letter. The landlord is required to send out a letter detailing any problems with the unit, the cost for repair to the tenant, and the portion of the security deposit withheld to fix it. Any money that was owed to the tenant, in addition to the damages, should be sent with the 20-day letter. Failure to send out a 20-day letter could subject you to double the rent.
If your tenant stops paying rent, you are required to give them a five-day letter, designed to tell the tenant that they are late on rent, exactly what is past due, and what will happen if they do not pay within five days. If you are not detailed about what is owed, you may not be able to recover anything court. If the tenant does not pay, you should seek a summary possession of the property, which tells the court that you want to terminate the lease and evict the tenant. Failure to include this language could impact your filing with the court. Finally, giving a notice to the tenant is very important. Delaware code requires that you notify the tenant by certified mail or hand delivery. Hand delivery is recommended.
A breach of the lease is handled similarly to when a tenant doesn’t pay rent. The law requires you to give a seven-day notice to the tenant to fix the problem or else you will go to court and try to seek possession of the unit. The letter must specify the provision of the lease or code that was breached and must indicate that the tenant has seven days to resolve the problem. If the tenant does not solve the problem, you may file for summary possession with the Justice of the Peace court.
Landlords are never allowed to use retaliatory acts against their tenants. Landlords frequently ask us if they can shut off the water or electricity if they are in dispute with a tenant. The answer is always no. If the tenant files a legitimate complaint with the county or some other governmental agency, you could be subject to three times the rent as a penalty.
The time it may take to evict a tenant depends on the circumstances. If it’s for rent, you’re required to give them the five-day notice. After the five days is up, you have to file a complaint with the Justice of the Peace court. The Justice of the Peace court will schedule a trial, which is approximately a month away, and they will determine whether or not you can have possession of the property and get the tenant out. If the tenant still refuses to move, you must file documents asking the Sheriff to evict the tenant. The Sheriff’s office will post a notice on the door indicating the tenant has 24 hours to get out of the house and actually escort the tenant out of the property the next day. If they escort the tenant out of the property, you must follow the code with respect to any property that was left in the unit by the tenant. You may not immediately throw away their property.
If you must sue a tenant for damages to the property, the procedure depends on the status of the lease. If the lease is ongoing, you must give the tenant 48 hours to enter the property. You will document the damages and file paperwork with the court detailing the damages. Damages to the property may also be fixed and added to the monthly rent. The landlord and tenant code gives you both of those options. If the lease has ended, follow the procedure for the 20-day letter. You may have to go to the court and seek any past due rent and money for damages to the property. Speak with an attorney at Mattleman, Weinroth & Miller, P.C. if you have any questions or need a consultation.