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Residential Leases

Be VERY careful in exercising a Landlord Lien in the Residential context

To secure the payment of rent for any residential dwelling, the landlord has a statutory lien on nonexempt property found in the tenant’s  dwelling or stored by the tenant in any storage room. Exempt property is defined as (1) all wearing apparel; (2)  all tools, apparatus, and books belonging to any trade or profession; (3) school books; (4) one automobile and one truck; (5) family library and all family portraits and pictures; (6) household furniture to the extent of one couch, two living room chairs, and dining table and chairs; (7) all beds and bedding; (8) all kitchen furniture and utensils; (9) all food and foodstuffs; (10) all medicine and  medical supplies; (11) all goods known by the landlord or his or her agent to belong to persons other than the tenant or other occupants of the dwelling; (12) all goods known by the landlord or his or her agent to be subject to a recorded chattel mortgage lien or financing agreement; (13) children’s toys not commonly used by adults; and (14) all agricultural implements. The exemptions may not be waived or diminished by a provision of an oral or written rental agreement.

Although the statute provides for the landlord’s lien, it expressly prohibits self-help by making it unlawful for the landlord to seize any  nonexempt property, unless seizure is authorized by a written lease and it can be accomplished without a breach of the peace.

The landlord is further restricted in the use of self-help by the prohibitions against interrupting utilities paid by the tenant and willfully  excluding the tenant from the premises in any manner other than by judicial process. The “willful exclusion” ban limits the effectiveness of the practice of changing the locks on the house or apartment since a new key must be furnished regardless of the tenant’s  payment  of rent.

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