Vanderbilt Law Review

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The law changes. Sometimes the change is slow, perhaps agonizing,as in the case of labor law. Sometimes the change is swift and amicable as when a uniform code is universally accepted. But sometimes the law appears to stand still. Then, as society undergoes profound evolution,the law lurches and jerks about, trying to dispense justice with outmoded concepts in an alien context. If the legislatures fail to come to the rescue,it then devolves upon the courts to cut the traces and institute reforms. Such has been the case with the law of landlord and tenant. The massive changes that have been wrought recently in this area--principally by the judiciary--are the result of a number of factors. First, it has become increasingly clear that the conceptual frame-work of landlord-tenant law, developed in the context of a feudal, agrarian society, cannot be applied satisfactorily to the urban segments of contemporary society. Urban landlords can and do exercise more control over leased property than their rural counterparts. Moreover, severe housing shortages have virtually eliminated the presumed bargaining power of the tenant, particularly the indigent tenant. Secondly, courts have long understood that a lease is in some respects a conveyance of a nonfreehold estate, in other respects a contract. Traditionally, however,the landlord-favoring conveyance concept has predominated. The application of this concept in an urban residential context where rental agreements are primarily contractual in nature produces inequitable, if not absurd, results. Thirdly, the assumption of the landlord role by the government through the development of public housing and the financing of private low-rent housing have added constitutional nuances to old landlord-tenant problems and raised some entirely new issues as well.Finally, some courts have begun to take an activist stance in dealing with contemporary landlord-tenant questions. Adjusting existing concepts and creating some totally new ones, these courts are demonstrating an increasing sensitivity to the needs of tenants. The decisions they have handed down may properly be regarded as revolutionary.

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