What a Landlord Cannot Do

May 23rd 2024
As a tenant, it's crucial to know your rights and understand what your landlord is legally not allowed to do. This article outlines ten common illegal actions by landlords and provides guidance on what you can do if your rights are violated.

From entering your property without notice to refusing necessary repairs, we'll help you recognize unlawful behavior and take appropriate steps to address it. Knowing your rights ensures you can live peacefully and take action if your landlord crosses the line.

Here are ten common illegal things landlords do and what you can do about it.

hash-markTable of Contents

Things a Landlord Cannot Do in 2024
What a Landlord Can Do
What Can You Do About Illegal Things Landlords Do?
What a Landlord Cannot Do Bottom Line

hash-markThings a Landlord Cannot Do in 2024

  1. Discriminate
  2. Enter Property Without Notice
  3. Remove Your Personal Belongings
  4. Harass You
  5. Evict a Tenant Without a Court Order
  6. Retaliate Against You
  7. Forego Repairs
  8. Ask Invasive or Unnecessary Questions
  9. Violate Rights of Protected Tenants
  10. Hide or Lie About Mandatory Disclosures

1. Discriminate 

One of the most important things that a landlord cannot do is to discriminate against tenants. According to the Fair Housing Act, it is illegal for a landlord to reject your application because of your race, sex, religious affiliation, national origin, familial status, or disabilities. Also, in some states like California, a landlord cannot refuse to rent to a potential tenant simply because they don’t want to. This would be considered arbitrary discrimination and is also illegal.

2. Enter Property Without Notice

Another things that a landlord cannot do is to enter your property without providing you with proper notice. If it's not an emergency, your landlord will also need your permission to enter the property. A landlord cannot simply enter the property without giving you notice and getting your permission just because they want to. 

3. Remove Your Personal Belongings

A landlord cannot move or remove your personal belongings without your permission. Even if the lease has ended and you've left boxes or furniture behind, your landlord must follow specific procedures before removing them.

Typically, these procedures include giving you written notice and a deadline to collect your belongings. If you do not retrieve your items by the specified date, the landlord may then dispose of them according to state and local laws. This could involve storing the items for a certain period or auctioning them off. Always check your lease agreement and local regulations to understand the exact procedures your landlord must follow.

4. Harass You

It is also illegal for landlords to harass you or tell you how to live. According to the law, all legal tenants possess what is known as the “Right To Quiet Enjoyment.” This law gives you the right to live in a rental property peacefully and without disturbance. Your right to quiet enjoyment may be violated by various forms of landlord harassment, for example, your landlord frequently tries to impose new rules on who, or your landlord frequently harasses you on the phone or in person. 

5. Evict a Tenant Without a Court Order

A landlord cannot evict a tenant without an adequately obtained eviction notice and sufficient time. This means they will need to follow local and state laws and obtain a court order to evict a tenant. It is illegal for a landlord to change the locks or prevent a tenant from entering the property without a proper eviction notice. 

6. Retaliate Against You

Another common illegal landlord action is retaliation against tenants due to complaints. This can take many forms, such as increasing your rent, cutting off essential services like water or electricity, threatening eviction, or refusing to renew your lease simply because you reported an issue or exercised your legal rights. For example, if you complain about a maintenance problem and your landlord responds by raising your rent or starting an eviction process, this is considered illegal retaliation.

To defend yourself, start by documenting everything, including communications and written complaints. Familiarize yourself with local tenant protection laws, which often prohibit retaliation. If retaliation occurs, you can file a complaint with your local housing authority or take legal action in small claims court. Consulting a tenant rights attorney can also be helpful. Remember, there are legal protections in place to help you stand up for your rights.

7. Forego Repairs

A landlord cannot forego completing necessary repairs or force a tenant to do their own repairs. Landlords must provide a habitable environment for the tenant (warrant of habitability law), and are required to perform repairs to ensure the property is habitable. If a landlord doesn't perform the required repairs, you can break your lease or even withhold rent. 

8. Ask Invasive or Unnecessary Questions

Landlords are also not allowed to ask invasive questions that are not necessary to determine if you would be a good tenant. This also applies after you've moved in. A landlord asking intrusive questions is not just inappropriate, but a form of harassment that violates your right to quiet enjoyment. 

9. Violate Rights of Protected Tenants

A landlord cannot violate the rights of any tenants considered to be a protected class. This includes refusing service animals to tenants with disabilities. 

10. Hide or Lie About Mandatory Disclosures

A landlord cannot forego disclosing certain conditions of the property. The most common disclosure is the federally mandated lead-based paint disclosure. Many states also require additional disclosures, for example on bed bugs, flood risks, security deposit laws, and smoking policies. 

hash-markWhat a Landlord Can Do 

It’s important to understand that a landlord does have the right to refuse to someone, but the guidelines are stringent. Here are some situations where a landlord does maintain the right to refuse an application or to end a lease. 

  • Having pets where pets are not allowed
  • Potential tenants who have a criminal history
  • Refusal to submit a background check where one is otherwise required
  • A poor credit history
  • Bankruptcy issues
  • Poor referrals or references
  • Evidence of a drug habit
  • Too many people for the unit/property
  • A poor history with previous rentals or damage of a previous property
  • Refusing to abide by the conditions mentioned in the lease
  • Falsified information

Landlords can only screen applicants based on their rental history, credit score, background, and income.

If you have already signed a lease agreement, don’t be fooled into thinking that your landlord can now get away with whatever they want. The most common question is often, “can landlords do random inspections?”. Even though you are renting, you have the right to privacy, so oftentimes people wonder if their landlord can enter their home without permission. In short, the answer is no. Your landlord must inform you beforehand, in writing, if they need to enter the property, except in the case of an emergency. Tenants have the right to privacy, but landlords also reserve the right to enter the rental property under the approved conditions. These are usually stipulated in your leasing agreement. However, if a landlord tries to come into your home without advanced written notice, say for a “random inspection,” the tenant has every right to refuse entry.

hash-markWhat Can You Do About Illegal Things Landlords Do?

If your landlord violates your rights, you can take legal action. As a tenant, you have the right to live peacefully and undisturbed in your rental home. Here’s how you can address illegal actions by your landlord.

1. Review Your Lease and Document Issues

First, review the terms of your lease. Make notes of any actions by your landlord that seem illegal or violate your rights. Detail is crucial if you decide to sue. Common reasons to take landlords to court include:

  • Refusal to refund your security deposit
  • Refusing repair requests
  • Entering the property without proper notice
  • Violating the Fair Housing Act

2. Consider the Worth of Legal Action 

Think carefully before suing your landlord. Often, just the threat of legal action can prompt them to fix issues, like a leaky faucet. Remember, suing is time-consuming and can be expensive if you lose. Exhaust all other options first.

3. Follow Legal Procedures 

If you decide to sue, follow these steps:

  1. Check the procedure for your state.
  2. File a complaint at the county courthouse.
  3. Wait for your landlord to respond.
  4. Make sure you have all necessary paperwork and a detailed account of your complaints.
  5. Be prepared for your landlord to file a counter-complaint.

4. Consult a Real Estate Attorney 

It's best to consult a real estate attorney if you decide to pursue legal action. They can guide you through the process and help you defend your case.

5. Remember Your Rights

Dealing with a difficult landlord can make your life miserable, but remember you have options. Keep track of any abuses or negligence. If things don’t improve, you may need to relocate or wait until your lease ends to find a new place. As a tenant, you have the right to live peacefully. If you’re treated unfairly, speak up and take action."

hash-markWhat a Landlord Cannot Do Bottom Line

Knowing your rights as a tenant is crucial. Your landlord can't do whatever they want, even if you signed a lease. They cannot discriminate against you, enter your property without notice, remove your personal belongings, harass you, or evict you without a court order. They also can't retaliate against you for making complaints, neglect necessary repairs, ask invasive questions, violate the rights of protected tenants, or hide important disclosures about the property.

If your landlord tries to do any of these things, you have the right to take action. Document everything, know your local laws, and don't hesitate to seek help from housing authorities or a lawyer. Remember, you deserve to live peacefully and safely in your home. If your landlord crosses the line, don't be afraid to speak up and protect your rights.

While it can be frustrating to experience illegal landlord actions, remember, that as a tenant, you have plenty of rights even if you live in one of the most landlord-friendly states in the country.