Basics of Kentucky Landlord Tenant Laws

Kentucky Landlord Tenant Laws are somewhat unique, having a split personality of sorts. Generic landlord information sites will list Kentucky as being a state which has adopted the Uniform Residential Landlord Tenant Act. This isn’t exactly true, however, and creates a lot of confusion. Kentucky has adopted the URLTA as model legislation, not as law itself, for local governments to adopt if they so choose. Only a few have actually adopted Kentucky’s URLTA (however, Lexington and Louisville have adopted it). Most areas of Kentucky have not adopted the landlord tenant laws language of the URLTA.

Understand also the URLTA isn’t federal law, simply proposed model legislation itself. A number of states have adopted it in some form, but in almost every case the state rewrites the URLTA to suit its own needs. In some cases the final language of the law barely resembles the URLTA wording. While Kentucky only made modest changes to the model language it is one of only a few states which adopt URLTA but don’t make it statewide tenant-landlord law. So to make this perfectly clear:

Any source stating that the URLTA is statewide landlord-tenant law (which is nearly all of them) in Kentucky is wrong. It is very important to know if the affected property is in a URLTA area or not. Most areas of Kentucky are not covered by the URLTA, but a large portion of the population is covered since the two largest cities have adopted it.

Landlord tenant law enacted by the legislature in Kentucky is in Chapter 383 of the Kentucky Revised Statutes. Specifically it is 383.500-383.715. If you look at chapter 383, you’ll see that most of it is taken up with the URLTA. It looks like law; if you click on a section like 383.580 “Security Deposits” without reading everything in the entire section, it appears that this is state law. However, you have to read 383.500 to realize that this entire section is merely model legislation local governments can choose to adopt in whole. The state does not allow local governments to modify this law – they must adopt it as is or not at all. Some cities have added to it, such as with “Fairness Laws” which are landlord tenant laws concerning denying housing based on sexual orientation. A local government can add law to the URLTA language, but cannot modify the existing language.

So if most of KRS 383 is URLTA and your property is in a non-URLTA area, what is the Kentucky rental property law that applies? First, the remainder of KRS 383 does, but you’ll see that it only covers forcible entry and detainer and a few other odd topics like destruction of the rental property when not the tenant’s fault. Forcible detainer is when someone is in your property improperly (like they haven’t paid the rent). Eviction cases in Kentucky are referred to as forcible detainer. That’s it; while there are a few laws here and there in the KRS which would apply to landlords and tenants (usually as general business law, such as the Uniform Commercial Code), this is the majority of the Kentucky landlord tenant legislation.

So If Not All of KY is URLTA, What Is It?

So where is the rest of it? Is any area of Kentucky which hasn’t adopted URLTA mostly without landlord tenant laws? The answer is that Kentucky law concerning landlords and tenants is primarily common law (or case law) when not covered by the URLTA. By common law I mean it is based on court decisions, not legislation. For example if a tenant thinks a landlord has entered the rental premises improperly in a URLTA there are some specifics of how that should be done and what can be done if it is improper. In a non-URLTA area courts have said the entry needs to be “reasonable”, which is pretty broad – certainly much broader that URLTA. One problem with the laws concerning residential rental properties in much of the state being common law is that it is difficult to look up these court decisions. Lawyers love this, of course, since it means you’ll likely need to turn to them for answers on these questions. On the other hand, courts tend to be conservative which tends to favor landlords more than laws like URLTA.  Courts will consider the “four corners” of the lease as the primary guide for what is and isn’t allowed. It’s an agreement between two supposedly competent parties, a “meeting of the minds”. A court would need to find language unreasonable or unconscionable to void the language, or to have prior authority (typically appeals court rulings, again common or case law) which have given guidance on the question. So if you rent a house and the lease says you can inspect inside it every other Tuesday without notice a court may find that odd, but probably not unreasonable.

This means the words in the lease really matter and it’s really important you draft your lease carefully (and don’t use generic lease forms!). Even more, if a court considers language in the lease to be vague, there are prior court rulings (so common law) which state that in such a case it should be interpreted in favor of the party who didn’t draft it. As a landlord the court will assume you draft leases regularly and know what you’re doing. So if there are two possible interpretations the court will lean towards the tenant’s interpretation. However, on the other hand if you have a reasonable term in the lease such as “Tenant is responsible for mowing. If Tenant fails to mow and grass reaches a height of 6 inches or more then Landlord may have the yard mowed and bill tenant for the cost”. The tenant can rationalize any excuse they like, but a court is unlikely to accept the term as a reasonable agreement (and this example would apply whether a URLTA area or not since the URLTA doesn’t address mowing).

To give another example, in a URLTA area of Kentucky a landlord would need to give 48 hours notice to enter for inspection. In a non-URLTA area a lease could say 24 hours notice and as long as that seems “reasonable” to the courts then it’s good to go.

Common law also doesn’t address areas like security deposits (URLTA requires notice to tenants where the deposit is kept, that it can’t be co-mingled, etc.). The language of the lease, as long as it is reasonable and superseded by law (common law or legislation) is the “law” between you and your tenant and a court should accept it as such.

So if you are in common law landlord tenant area of Kentucky you’ll have to research more or ask an attorney about the court rulings which create the law that affects you (or read other articles on this site – a lot of these rulings are covered), but on the other hand you are much more free to draft language in the lease that is to your liking than landlords in URLTA sections of Kentucky.

One word of caution, even in common law landlord areas, courts frown on “self-help” evictions where you do things like turn off utilities or remove locks/doors to get tenants to leave. Be very careful.

Category: Property Management