Does your landlord make your tenancy life miserable? In that case, this publication explains how to get your landlord in trouble legally.
However, if your landlord does things right, such as registering all rental units, keeping up with maintenance, responding to complaints, etc., there is very little you can do to get them in trouble.
Usually, the best thing to do is to move. A landlord would typically get in trouble if their conduct is against the local laws governing your tenancy rights and how they must manage the rented property.
How to get your landlord in trouble
If you think your landlord is crossing the line, the following can get your landlord in trouble:
Threat after your complaint
The law protects you against landlord retaliation after you file a complaint with your local housing authority or the landlord.
The landlord has no right to threaten you, increase your rent, or proceed to evict you as punishment.
If the landlord intentionally makes the living conditions increasingly uncomfortable after you make complaints, you can get them in trouble for this. For instance, if your landlord skips repairs after your complaint, it is retaliation, which is illegal, irrespective of the complaint.
Retroactively increasing rent
A landlord cannot retroactively increase rent. Retroactively raising rent means increasing rent from the backdate.
Proper notice is typically required. Thus, raising rent is illegal since it makes a tenant unjustly owe back rent, and can get a landlord in trouble.
Raising rent without notice
Your landlord has the right to increase rent. However, they have to give you notice instead of doing it on a whim.
This also depends on your state. Typically, you must be given 30 to 60 days’ notice as a tenant-at-will (a tenant who can be evicted at any time) month-to-month arrangements.
If there is a lease in place, a landlord may be barred from changing your rent amount until the end of the lease. Depending on your state, the landlord may still have to give you 30 or more days’ notice.
This notice should topically not be verbal. Some states mandate it in writing while others mandate the landlord to send a certified letter.
Locking you out without going to court
Your landlord can evict you for various reasons such as violating a no-pet rule like hiding a pet rat in your apartment, non-payment, or disturbing other residents.
However, it is illegal for a landlord to lock a tenant outside without going through the court. Your landlord needs a court order to legally keep you from accessing the apartment. Thus, if your landlord has locked you out without a court order, you can get them in trouble.
Increasing rent above the limit
Some states restrict how much a landlord can raise your rent during a certain period. This typically applies to rent-controlled or rent-stabilized properties where rent increase is limited. Most of the time, the percentage maximum applies.
If your landlord tries to raise your rent beyond the maximum in a covered property, you can leverage it to get them in trouble because it is illegal.
Entering your apartment without consent for non-emergencies
A landlord can enter your apartment without your consent during reasonable emergencies, such as a gas leak, but cannot just enter the apartment at will without permission.
You have a right to privacy even though the property belongs to the landlord. Your landlord is mandated to give you advanced notice before entering your unit, and they must have a good reason.
The written notice must state the date and time of entry and why. Some states specify how much notice a landlord should give – like 12, 24, or 48-hour notice. However, other states just state “reasonable notice” without specifying.
Thus, if your landlord entered your property without notifying you or without any reasonable emergency, you can have them in trouble.
Deducting from the security deposit for the wrong purpose
A security deposit is money that covers damages caused by tenants. As such, it is illegal for your landlord to use the money for any purpose outside of the law.
In some states, the damages can be material or financial. Physical harm to the property, such as a hole punched in the wall, is material damage while back-due rent is financial damage.
Your landlord cannot use the security deposit for fixing normal wear and tear. For instance, they cannot deduct security deposits for painting, new carpets, or curtains unless they are damaged beyond ordinary and reasonable wear and tear.
Failure to properly handle necessary repairs
A tenant has a legal right to a safe dwelling. As such, if your apartment needs maintenance for a safe dwelling, the landlord must handle it.
It is illegal for your landlord to indiscriminately turn down your requests for repairs. Your landlord cannot also have you handle the work.
Some areas even have rules governing who the landlord can hire for repairs to ensure a licensed contractor fixes the problem.
If your landlord is not or refuses to take care of necessary repairs in a timely manner, it is illegal. This can vary, so ensure to check your local law for requirements.
Acts of discrimination
You can get your landlord in trouble for any act considered discriminatory before the law. This includes excluding a tenant of a certain background, race, gender, or any protected characteristic. A landlord cannot also treat a tenant differently due to these factors.
Also, it is illegal for your landlord to treat you differently for not belonging to their association with a protected group.
Your family cannot be discriminated against by a landlord. Nonetheless, landlords can limit the number of tenants in a unit according to the number of bedrooms, but cannot deny a tenant solely because one or more of the tenants are children.
Concealing property risks
It is illegal for a landlord to fail to disclose any risks with a property. For instance, your landlord must disclose mold issues, lead paint, or any potential hazard in the property, typically in writing.
You should get these disclosures at the time of signing the lease to ensure that you understand any risks before agreeing to move in.
If these risks are not disclosed, the landlord is blocking your chances to change your mind if you cannot cope with the hazards. You can therefore use this nondisclosure to get the landlord in trouble.
Restricting people with disability from keeping emotional support animal
Federal fair housing laws mandate landlords to permit reasonable accommodations for tenants with disabilities even if they have a no-pet rule.
As such, a landlord may not prohibit an emotional support or service animal from living in the unit with a tenant with a disability.
A landlord cannot charge a person with a disability an additional pet security deposit for a service or emotional support animal.
It is also illegal for the landlord to apply any pet policy rules like weight or breed restrictions to service or emotional support animals.
Excessive or early late fees
A landlord can charge late fees in most states if rent is not provided in a timely manner. However, some states provide a grace period, which stops the landlord from applying a late fee until that time passes.
Therefore, it is illegal for your landlord to apply late fees before that time.
The amount of late fees is also regulated in some states to ensure reasonable rates. In some states, the potential late fees must also be mentioned in the lease.
Ensure to review your local late rent laws to know what is and is not allowed.
Self help eviction
A self-help eviction takes place when your landlord retakes possession of a property without following the lawful eviction proceedings.
As such, self-help by a landlord is considered harassment, and some landlords attempt it when they want a tenant to leave on their own. Most states prohibit a landlord from using self-help to evict a tenant.
Seizing property due to late rent
If your landlord takes your property to make up for late rent or any other reason, you can get them in trouble with it.
A landlord cannot even hold your property hostage, or even vow to return it after you pay the amount owed. This act is considered theft. You can file a lawsuit and get paid for damages.
Shutting off utilities
Unless for the purpose of handling necessary repairs, your landlord cannot turn off utilities, including electricity, water, or gas, even if you are late to rent payment. If your landlord deliberately turns off your utilities as an attempt to get you to leave the apartment or as a punishment, this can get them in trouble.
Not getting required inspections
Certain inspections are lawful. For instance, certain states mandate habitability inspections or a new certificate of occupancy approvals for units new tenants occupy.
Also, your state may mandate fire inspections, which lets state or city officials verify if the rental has the right smoke and carbon monoxide detectors for safety. Use these legal inspections against your landlord if they do not do the needful.
Unfortunately, getting your current landlord in trouble can affect your chances of moving to another apartment in the future. Your landlord may even be forced to give a bad reference about you, though you can get past it, especially if it is an unfair assessment.
If you sue your landlord, future landlords may be able to see the suit whenever they look you up on CCAP.
Landlords consider it a red flag, so be ready to explain why the suit is there. Landlords dislike certain tenants who think they know landlord-tenant law and will regularly threaten to abate rent over minor problems like a cracked tile in the bathroom.
Do not be this kind of tenant to prevent prospective landlords from refusing your tenancy.
You also want to have a clean rental history. Otherwise, you want to fake your apartment rental history to get secure new apartments.
It is important to consider what you stand to gain from getting a landlord in trouble. As such, it may be worth it to legitimately want your grievances resolved but lots of landlord-tenant legal proceedings take weeks or months.
The cheaper solution is to move to ensure clean rental history, as well as get a good landlord reference.
Meanwhile, you can also legally get a police officer in trouble if you want to.