Know Your Rights: What a Landlord Legally Cannot Do And What To Do About It

Many Americans are renting, especially now, due to soaring house market prices. The relationship between a tenant and a landlord is complex, and while most people are reasonable enough, you have likely heard horror stories about tenants from hell or creepy landlords. Federal laws cover some tenant rights, while others vary from state to state or even from one town to another. Here are some of the things that landlords cannot do unless previous negotiations say otherwise. 

Forego repairs


Landlords are required to fix things to keep rentals in livable condition. Their speed depends on emergency, though some might abuse this. In emergencies, where your health and safety are in question, and your landlord shows no signs of showing up, you can take some steps. 

Steps to take 


If your health or safety is in danger, you can write them a formal letter, then call the local building inspector and make repairs by deducting it from the next month’s rent. You can also contact the local housing authority before taking measures or consult legal aid. Minor repairs that do not affect quality of life are not seen as emergencies. 

Harass tenants


All states have some variations of laws that prevent landlords from harassing tenants. However, what constitutes harassment may vary. In New York State, for example, you can take action in Housing Court. Usually, harassment involves an invasion of privacy and comfort or creating uncomfortable conditions for one or more tenants to get tenants to break the lease. 

Enter without notice


Landlords generally can only enter the leased property with notice. However, in case of an emergency, the landlord can come in. In many states, entering without notice or emergency reasons can lead to trespassing charges, but if you have your doubts, it is best to contact the police. 

Unlawfully evict tenants


A landlord can start eviction when a tenant fails to pay rent, violates the lease agreement, or does not renew a lease. Evicting a tenant is a process that follows the state’s eviction policies. It is faster than regular court cases, but it could take months for the police to remove tenants. 

Retaliate again tenants 


Over 40 states have laws prohibiting retaliation against tenants. The exceptions are Wyoming, Oklahoma, North Dakota, Missouri, Louisiana, and Colorado. Although it does not mean that tenants are not protected, there are no specific statutes. Retaliation refers to any action a landlord takes that prohibits tenants from exercising their rights to habitable spaces, smoke detectors, heat, water, privacy, etc. 

Withhold deposit without a reason 


The security deposit can be one month’s rent or more, depending on state laws. In New York, that’s one month’s rent; in Arizona, it’s one and a half. All states have various protections from landlords who withhold deposits. However, certain situations can cause a landlord to withhold a portion or the entire amount of a tenant’s security deposit. These stations commonly require documented reasons not to refund it.

Discriminate against tenants


The Fair Housing Act prohibits landlords from any discrimination. This federal law from 1968 states that a landlord cannot refuse housing accommodation because of race, religion, color, national origin, etc. However, some landlords discriminate by saying that accommodation is unavailable, for example. Proving discrimination in these cases might be challenging, so talk to a lawyer. 

Change locks without notice


Landlords generally cannot change locks without notice. The exception could be an emergency, like a break-in, or if a tenant leaves the property without notice. Landlords cannot change the locks solely on unpaid rent. They need to go through local laws and regulations regarding eviction. 

Make threats or intimidate tenants 


Threats and intimidation from landlords or tenants require police attention. Threats and intimidation are covered by federal law, but they are not easy to prove without documentation. Threatening and intimidating behaviors are words, actions, or suggested threats that cause fear of injury or security of a person or property. 

Understanding eviction vs. retaliation


State statutes and local laws that rule landlord retaliation may vary from one place to another. Generally, the main difference between an eviction and a retaliatory action is valid, legal reasoning. Eviction can be based on property damage or failure to pay the rent. In most states, retaliatory actions include raising rent or complaining about broken heater, for example.

Self-help measures


Landlords cannot physically remove tenants, take their belongings, remove the front door, or cut utilities. States have specific laws on the amount tenants can sue for if the landlord attempts an illegal eviction.

Disclaimer: The content of this article, such as text, images, and other material, is for informational purposes only. For further information, talk to a local housing authority based in your state. 

Similar Posts