How To Get Your Landlord In Trouble (for Illegal Landlord Actions)
While all renters hope their rental agreements go off without a hitch, such is not how things pan out in all cases. It’s unfortunate, but sometimes a landlord can end up crossing important boundaries with their tenants. And when a boundary is crossed, a tenant must know how to hold their landlord accountable for the violation.
If your landlord is forcing you to live under terrible conditions, you can report them to the U.S. Department of House and Urban Development, also known as the HUD. If your landlord has violated the law, they can be fined or barred from doing business. To report a bad landlord, contact the Multifamily Housing Complaint line at toll-free (800) 685-8470.
What Rights Do I Have As A Tenant?
Landlords often don’t know where their rights as property owners end and where their tenant’s rights begin. To ensure they comply with all relevant laws and regulations, a landlord must be familiar with the following:
- The Fair Housing Act
- The Right to Quiet Enjoyment
- The Warrant of Habitability
What Is the Fair Housing Act?
The Fair Housing Act is in place to protect both buyers and renters from housing-related discrimination. Under this act, there are seven protected classes: sex, religion, color, race, national origin, disability, and familial status. If you are a part of one of these protected classes, a landlord cannot refuse to rent to you because of such, nor can they establish distinct qualifications that are solely based on your classification.
What Is the Right to Quiet Enjoyment?
Under the Right to Quiet Enjoyment (RQE), a tenant possesses the right to live in a rental property without disturbance. This means that a landlord cannot attempt to claim a rented property while a tenant is living their. A tenant is also entitled to peace and quiet under the RQE.
What Is a Warranty of Habitability?
Under this covenant, a landlord must provide a livable rental unit. Warranties of habitability vary from state to state, but in most states a landlord must provide hot water, plumbing, smoke detectors, electricity, drinking water, and heat. Moreover, they must ensure their property meets all local building codes, and the property must be free of pests as well.
If your unit is in an unlivable condition, you should alert your landlord and give them the opportunity to correct present issues. In most cases, a landlord has 30 days after becoming aware of present issues to address them, though some issues may afford a landlord more time to respond.
What a Landlord Cannot Do (and Common Reasons to Report a Landlord)
1. Turning off Utilities
One way that landlords can cross the line is by turning off the utilities in an effort to make a property ‘unlivable’. This is often done as a last-ditch effort to force a tenant out of a home, but in many cases, the landlord does not have to right to do that.
If a landlord turns off the utilities even after bills have been, the situation is even worse.
2. Changing Contract Terms without Consent or Agreement
There are many times when landlords try to change the ‘deal’ once a tenant has been living in a place for a while. If you were offered access to a swimming pool, laundry room, or any of the other common amenities, when you signed your rental agreement, you should keep those rights.
3. Removal of Tenant Belongings
If you have ever come home to see all your worldly belongings piled up on the sidewalk in front of your home, you understand the pain. There are few things more stressful than suddenly finding yourself without a place to lie your head at night.
A landlord can only remove a tenant’s belongings if there has been proper notice given and if a formal eviction has taken place. Even when a landlord has done everything that is required of them, they still need a sheriff of police officer with them when they remove your belongings.
If a landlord does not follow the appropriate steps, it is possible to take legal steps against them.
4. Security Deposit
Withholding your security deposit for no explicable reason is another form of landlord harassment. In most rental contracts, the type and amount of damage that constitutes a loss of a security deposit is clearly laid out. If it is not, the contract leaves too much to interpretation.
The landlord should be able to tell you exactly why any of the security deposit is being kept. Without the necessary transparency, there is no way to tell if the landlord is just stealing your money.
If you suspect that your landlord is withholding your security deposit for reason better than to simply keep the money, it is time to call your lawyer.
5. Neglecting Repairs
Sometimes, landlords ignore requests to make repairs to a property. This can become quite problematic, especially when the repairs needed are the landlord’s responsibility. It doesn’t really matter what the reasons are. When a landlord neglects the needed repairs, it can be a reason for you to get him or her into trouble.
Landlords who are lagging behind on their maintenance duties might be doing it to get their tenants to leave, or maybe they simply don’t care that the problems exist in the first place. In any case, there are many laws that protect the rights of the tenant, and neglectful behavior on the part of the landlord is not allowed.
6. Unannounced (Illegal) Entry
Another thing that your landlord can do to get themselves into trouble is to come into your rented home without letting you know before they gain entry.
Whether the landlord enters the property to carry out repairs or your stuff, there is a well-established process that must be followed. Part of that process is informing the tenant that they will be coming in.
7. Raising the Rent
While landlords can sometimes raise rents, there are rules which govern how this can be done. First, the rental agreement states what the rental amount is and how much it can go up over time.
If the contract does not cover incremental price increases for a rental property, the rent cannot be altered without redrafting the contract and getting new signatures. The landlord is also prohibited from arbitrarily raising rent based on factors like neighboring rental prices, whims, or inflation.
8. Fees and Surcharges
As with raising the rent, adding fees and surcharges to a rental agreement can often lead to problems for the landlord. Any additional fees and surcharges that are added to the rent should be transparent.
That means, the landlord should inform you of any charges coming and should also be prepared to produce proof that those payments went to the place they were intended for.
9. Not Accepting Rental Payments
Another common tactic that many landlords use to get tenants out of rental properties is to stop accepting rent payments. Not only does this behavior cause many problems for tenants, but it can actually cause more problems for the landlord.
If, for example, the landlord stops accepting payments before the lease is up, the tenant has the right to remain in the home until the lease has come to an end. In some states, even after the lease is finished tenants still have the right to continue paying their rent, at least for a few months.
When landlords stop accepting rent checks from their tenants, they run the risk of going months without receiving any rent at all.
10. Forced Eviction
While the laws pertaining to forced eviction differ from place to place, it is almost never allowed to force an eviction. Your landlord does not have the right to push you out of your home without going through the appropriate processes.
First, the landlord should notify the tenant of impending legal steps. Then, the landlord must go through the court system to obtain the legal eviction notice. Even after all of that has been accomplished, the landlord still cannot force the tenant onto the street.
The tenant will be notified that the eviction proceedings have been completed and a time limit is given for vacating the premises. On the final day, the landlord can remove the belongings of the tenant with a law enforcement officer there to observe.
11. Fictitious Evictions
As with forced evictions, landlords serving up evictions that are not real can get themselves into a lot of trouble. While it is not as common as many of the other problems on this list, landlords serving up fictitious eviction notices is not unheard of.
If you are being evicted, the landlord should notify you through the proper channels. One of those channels a notice of intent, and another is the actual eviction notice from the courts. As eviction notices come with case numbers, it is not difficult to confirm the legality and authenticity of an eviction notice.
When in doubt, always check.
12. Changing the Locks
Along the same lines as forced evictions and eviction notices that are not real, landlords have also been known to change the locks on an apartment to keep tenants out.
Landlords are not allowed to do this, especially when a tenant’s belongings are still inside the apartment. As in other cases similar to this, landlords must provide proper notice and paperwork obtained through legal avenues before taking any measures as drastic as changing the locks.
In some areas where there is a high demand for rental properties and where rates for rentals rise quickly, it is somewhat common for landlords to try and buy out the tenant.
Essentially, this means that the landlord offers money to the tenant to get them to back out of a rental agreement. When successful, landlords make more money from future renters than the dollar amount that they pay in buyout money.
While some renters may be fine with taking a buyout and moving on, there are many who think that there is no choice. Landlords can make their offers seem more like mandatory changes to an agreement. Tenants often feel forced to make a deal.
Misleading a tenant to achieve a desired aim of this nature is illegal in most situations.
14. Threatening Behaviors
Another form of harassment that some tenant experience is threatening behaviors from their landlord. Whether these behaviors come in the form of psychological bullying or declarations that the landlord might take some kind of negative action against you, threatening behaviors are never part of the rental agreement.
Under no circumstances is a landlord allowed to use force to impose their will on a tenant. There is a complex system of laws protecting both the landlord and the tenant. When either party requires assistance, issues should be solved through normal channels. Anything else can mean trouble.
15. Sexual Harassment
As in many other areas of life, sexual harassment can rear its ugly head in rental situations. Sexual harassment can take many forms and can vary in seriousness. No matter the type, however, a landlord is never allowed to overstep with a tenant.
Sexual harassment is a serious offense and can lead to big problems for the landlord. If you feel that your landlord is harassing you sexually, your first course of action should be to press charges and file a formal complaint. In cases where things are difficult to prove, having a collection of documented complaints can help protect you.
16. Service Animals
Some landlords have been known to throw a fit when they find out one of their tenants have a dog in a home that does not allow pets. Understandably so, too. After all, the landlord likely put the no-pets-allowed rule in place for reasons important to them.
In the case of service animals, however, landlords must be more accommodating. Anyone using a service dog knows that exceptions are made for their animal helpers and landlords have no right to contest that fact.
In many cases, landlords simply do not know the difference between service animals and pets. If you believe that is the case in your particular situation, it may be a good idea to have a discussion with your landlord about the issues before taking steps to get him or her into trouble.
Should You Report Your Landlord?
Reporting to HUD
If a landlord has committed one or multiple of the violations described above, pursuing compensation through the legal system is not the only thing you should do. If your landlord is partnering with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), a report must be filed with this department. A landlord who violates the law while financially enriching themselves with taxpayer-funded subsidies is likely to be fined and barred from partnering with the federal government.
Reporting on Landlord Reviews Sites
You should also use landlord reviews sites to share your experience, as doing so may save others from going through the situation you did. Sites like RateMyLandlord have thousands of detailed landlord reviews, and Openigloo tracks landlord violations, property bedbug history, etc. in addition to providing genuine reviews.
Do You Live In a Rent-Controlled Area?
In some parts of the country, rent control laws govern how much a landlord can charge to rent out a unit. Also, rent control laws govern how evictions are supposed to be handled.
Rent control laws are in place to make renting more affordable for individuals. But since rents are artificially low, landlords tend to be unmotivated when it comes to making repairs and conducting maintenance, or it could be that they can’t afford to do either.
If you should find yourself in such a situation, you’ll probably look for a way to get your landlord in trouble. But in a rent-controlled area, unfortunately all you can really do is wait until your lease is up.
Your landlord won’t be able to evict you if you report them in some way. To comply with rent control laws, your landlord will have to offer a lease, regardless of what you did as an attempt to hold them accountable.
Filing a Small Claims Lawsuit Against Your Landlord
To sue your landlord for any of the above infractions, you’ll need to file a lawsuit in small claims court. But before you file a lawsuit, you need to be sure that you’re suing the right person or entity.
Suing a Private Landlord vs. Suing a Property Management Company
Is your landlord private? If so, you’d sue them directly. If you deal with a property manager who works on behalf of a property management company, the property management company may also be liable for damages caused by the property manager.
If you’re going to sue your landlord, hiring an attorney might prove to be worthwhile. For one, a skilled and experienced attorney would be able to determine where liability most likely rests from the outset.
How the Process Works
Once a lawsuit is filed in small claims court, the landlord will be notified that they’ve been sued, and they’ll have a certain amount of time to respond to the lawsuit. The amount of time afforded varies from state to state. In most states it’s 30 days.
Keep in mind that you cannot serve your own lawsuit. Here’s another instance where having a lawyer on your side would be advantageous. Or you could hire a trusted friend or a local sheriff to serve the lawsuit for you.
Is Suing a Landlord Worth It?
There are some things to consider before filing a lawsuit. For example, you could lose the lawsuit, meaning you would’ve went through all the hassles and paid lots of money for nothing. Also, the landlord or property management company could countersue, in which case you’d have to compensate them for a variety of things if you lost.
There are, of course, circumstances where filing a lawsuit is totally necessary, like when a landlord’s recklessness or negligence results in serious injury. But in an instance where a landlord is simply withholding a $100 security deposit, it’s probably best to stay out of small claims court, accept the loss, warn others of your experience, and move on.
Benjamin is a proud homeowner who loves to write about DIY projects and home improvement projects. Traveling, perfecting his home, and spending time with his family are just a few of the many things that keep him inspired.
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