- Breaking Federal Laws
- Failing to Return Your Security Deposit
- Failure to Maintain a Habitable Premises
- Unpaid Reimbursements
- Wrongful Eviction
- Injury Resulting from the Landlord’s Neglect
- Violation of Your Quiet Enjoyment
- Illegal Clause in Your Lease
Landlords are required to obey certain federal housing laws; if they violate them, you have a right to sue. One important federal law that impacts landlords is the Fair Housing Act, which made it illegal for landlords to discriminate against anyone based on age, race, color, origin, religion, disability, gender, lawful occupation, sexual orientation, family status, or any other protected class. So, if you believe your landlord unfairly discriminated against you because you are a member of one of those protected classes, you can take them to court.
Another federal law that’s important to know is the Lead Disclosures Act, which requires anyone renting a building constructed before 1978 to provide tenants with information about potential exposure to lead. If you suffer any health consequences due to lead exposure and your landlord failed to provide the appropriate disclosures, you can sue them for violating this law.
Another reason you may decide to sue your landlord is if they fail to return your security deposit without a valid reason and explanation for doing so. Landlords are permitted to charge a security deposit to cover any unforeseen expenses if you fail to pay rent on time or do severe damage to the unit. But if they decide to keep your deposit, they must notify you and provide an itemized statement declaring the costs they had to cover. If they fail to provide a valid reason or charge you for minor damages that naturally occur as the building ages (known as normal wear and tear), you can take them to small claims court and sue to get the money back.
Landlords are also legally required to maintain a habitable residence for their tenants and must respond to maintenance requests in a timely manner. If they fail to do so and continue to charge you rent, you can sue them, especially if their negligence causes you health issues or emotional distress. Issues that may make a residence uninhabitable include mold, electrical issues, a leaky roof, utilities shut off, or a burst pipe. You must prove that you alerted the landlord to the issue and they failed to remedy the situation in a reasonable time frame. But if you have evidence they were grossly negligent in their responsibilities, you may have a case.
If you agree to pay for any expenses that should have fallen on the landlord, and they fail to reimburse you, you can file a lawsuit in small claims court to recoup the money. Say, for instance, a window breaks in the winter, and you decide to pay for the repairs yourself to avoid freezing rather than wait for the landlord to fix it. However, you must show that you reached out to the landlord first, and they either agreed to repay you and never did or failed to respond to the issue quickly and lapsed on their responsibilities to maintain a habitable environment.
If your landlord evicts you without following the proper procedures or without having a legally valid reason, you can use them for wrongful eviction. Landlords can evict you for non-payment of rent, causing serious damage to the property, or otherwise violating the terms of the lease. So, you can fight back if they decide to have you evicted over a disagreement or behavior that was not explicitly prohibited in the rental agreement. Even if you did violate the lease terms, but they evicted you illegally by changing the locks while you were at work or failing to provide the proper notice required by the state, you can bring them to court. You will either have a chance to defend yourself in eviction court or file a separate suit in small claims court.
If you injure yourself due to neglect on the part of the landlord, you can sue for damages. Say, for instance, the maintenance crew did a bad job installing the flooring in the hallway, and you trip and fall on the way to your apartment. You can sue them to cover your medical bills and any work you may have missed due to the injury.
In addition to maintaining a habitable environment for tenants, landlords are also required to respect your right to quiet enjoyment of the premises. So, if they show up unannounced and refuse to respect your privacy, you can sue them for violating this right. Landlords can access the unit if they need to conduct their normal responsibilities, such as inspecting for damages, making repairs, or showing other tenants the apartment. However, they must provide adequate notice and request to enter the unit at a reasonable hour.
If your lease has any illegal clauses and your landlord attempts to enforce them, you can sue to protect yourself. Landlords are within their rights to prohibit certain behavior using clauses in the lease, such as having non-service animal pets, smoking, or loud parties. However, they can’t prohibit anything that would be against the law, even if you sign it without noticing. For instance, they can’t give themselves the right to evict you whenever they want or refuse repairs if they don’t have the time. So, you can sue if they snuck something into the lease that breaks any laws or otherwise contradicts their responsibilities as a landlord.
Suing your landlord should be your last resort after trying to reason with them and settling privately because it can often be difficult and time-consuming. But if you’ve exhausted all your other options and they’ve done something that requires legal action, you do have the right to take them to court.