7 Ways Your Landlord Is Breaking the Law (and Your Lease!)

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7 Ways Your Landlord Is Breaking the Law (and Your Lease!)

Cassie Damewood · Mar 31, 2020
Man fights with his landlord over what he believes to be a violation of their lease agreement.

Renters are often intimidated by landlords, especially if renting a home is a new experience for them. To them, the landlord may be seen as a kind of parental figure, or just someone they don’t dare cross for fear of losing their living space. But if you’re going to keep from being taken advantage of, it’s essential to understand your rights as their tenant from day one.

Although the landlord typically owns the place where you live, that doesn’t mean they can treat you however they want. Many terms of the landlord-tenant relationship are spelled out in your lease. Others are covered by local, state, and/or federal laws, all of which are available to read online or at local offices.

For now, we’ll go over a few of the most common landlord violations, and give you a few tips to help deal with them:

Refusing to Do Repairs

Repairs fall into two categories, minor and major. Minor ones like closet doors off the track, chipped counters, and torn screen doors are a pain in the neck, but they don’t necessarily pose a health risk. Your landlord should fix these problems but is not bound by law to do so.

However, if you have ceiling fixtures that keep shorting out, wall plugs that spark, a toilet that won’t flush, deadbolt door locks that don’t work, or no hot water, you have a major issue on your hands. Under the law, your landlord is obligated to fix things of this caliber. If your landlord keeps putting off the repairs or simply refuses to make them, they are violating the terms of your lease.

If this happens, send a certified (not registered) letter to the landlord clearly describing the problem and how you would like it to be solved. Include a clear explanation of what you’d like done (full repair, replacement, etc.) and the next steps you’ll take if the problem isn’t immediately addressed. Another option is to call the local city building inspector, whose contact info you can find by searching “local city building inspector” online.

Another alternative is to make the repairs yourself or call a professional to do the work and deduct the cost from your next rent payment. You can also withhold the next month’s rent until the problem is fixed. Just remember that these two choices have stipulations and limitations depending on what state you live in, so check them out before you act.

Another way to address repairs not being made is to sue the landlord in small claims court. In this case, you’ll have to get three estimates for each job that needs to be done before you file your claim.

Trying to Enter Your Unit Without Warning

Nothing is more irritating or invasive than a landlord who uses a key to enter your dwelling when you’re home or away, completely violating your right to privacy. Before you take action on this matter, you’ll have to check your lease for details on your rights. Next, contact the local housing authority or tenants’ rights association to find out what local and state laws cover this issue.

Typically, unless it’s an emergency such as a fire, flood, break-in, etc., landlords can only legally enter your rental property with 24 hours notice. Common reasons may include making repairs, showing the property to potential buyers or renters, or conducting a routine inspection scheduled for every unit.

If your landlord shows up without prior notice, politely ask them to come back later, after you receive appropriate notice. If they keep knocking on your door out of the blue, put your request of notice in a certified letter. If that doesn’t work, reach out to your local housing authority again for further help.

Trying to Raise Your Rent in the Middle of Your Lease

Rent cannot be raised on the whim of a landlord. The terms of a one-year lease, including the monthly rental rate, can’t be changed until the end of the year. Changes to a month-to-month lease require a 30-day notice.

Attempting to Evict You to Sell The Property

Month-to-month renters usually require a 30-day notice to move for a property sale, but this too varies by state. California renters, for instance, get a 60-day notice. Six-month or longer leases typically can’t be affected by sales until the end of the lease. If these situations aren’t covered in your rental agreement, call your local housing authority for help.

Asking Inappropriate Personal Questions

The Fair Housing Act forbids landlords from legally asking about your country of origin, if you have children or a romantic partner, and many other questions that imply they have an opinion about you or your way of life. You should simply refuse to answer questions like this, but if do you accidentally answer and are denied the rental because of that answer, it’s a strong enough violation of landlord-tenant conduct to file a housing discrimination complaint. The only legal grounds for denying a person a rental are bad credit, insufficient income, poor rental history, and problems related to your criminal background check. They can also refuse rentals to smokers or people with pets, assuming those pets are not registered service animals.

Asking for a Non-Refundable Deposit

Stop in your tracks if you see the words “non-refundable deposit” in a lease agreement. A security deposit is only non-refundable if you trash the place and don’t leave it how you found it (reasonable wear-and-tear excluded). Before you sign a lease with questionable deposits, review your state’s landlord-tenant laws on the attorney general’s website or through your local housing authority.

Seeking Revenge if You Complain

Sometimes a landlord will try to raise the rent, evict you, or otherwise harass you if you ask for reasonable things to be fixed. In these cases, document everything you can using emails, texts, and photos. If the situation escalates, take your case to the local housing authority for advice.

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