What A Landlord Can and Cannot Do

The PropertyClub Team
Jul 5th 2020
Here's how you can get your landlord into trouble if they've made an illegal action and violated your rights as a tenant as well as a comprehensive list of what they can and cannot do.

As a tenant, you have certain rights. You may sign a lease and agree to abide by certain rules laid out by your landlord, but that certainly doesn’t mean that they have the right to do whatever they want. Fortunately, most landlords are respectful of privacy and care about their tenants, but there may be times when you run into a landlord that is making your life harder than it needs to be. Too many people never complain about their “landlord from hell,” believing (incorrectly) that because they signed a lease, they can’t do anything about it. If you’re dealing with a difficult landlord, it’s vital that you understand your rights as a tenant and what your landlord can and cannot do.

What A Landlord Cannot Do

First and foremost, it’s important to understand that a Landlord does have the right to refuse to rent out their property to certain people, but the guidelines are stringent. According to the Fair Housing Act, a landlord cannot reject your application based on any of the following:

  • Sex
  • Religious Affiliation
  • Race
  • National Origin
  • Familial Status
  • Disabilities or Handicaps

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.

However, there are certain situations where a landlord does maintain the right to refuse an application. You will find these listed below. 

What a Landlord Can Do 

  • 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.

 Other Illegal Landlord Actions include:

  • A landlord cannot prevent a tenant from entering the rental property.
  • A landlord cannot evict a tenant without an adequately obtained eviction notice and sufficient time.
  • A landlord cannot retaliate against a tenant for a complaint.
  • A landlord cannot forego completing necessary repairs or force a tenant to do their own repairs.
  • A landlord cannot forego disclosing certain conditions of the property, such as the presence of lead-based paints.
  • A landlord cannot ask invasive or unnecessary questions.
  • A landlord cannot violate the rights of any tenants considered to be a protected class (this would include refusing service animals to tenants with disabilities).
  • A landlord cannot remove a tenant’s personal belongings. 

A landlord must also provide a habitable environment for the tenant (warrant of habitability law).

The Right To Quiet Enjoyment

According to the law, all legal tenants possess what is known as the “Right To Quiet Enjoyment.” This, by definition, means “A property owner or tenant’s right to possess and use his or her property without disturbance, including by a person with the superior title. A disturbance of an owner or tenant’s possession or use may constitute a nuisance. A deed or lease may include a covenant of quiet enjoyment to insure an owner or tenant against a disturbance.”

This law gives you the right to live in a rental property peacefully and without disturbance. Your right to quiet enjoyment may be violated if, for example, your landlord frequently makes unnecessary and unannounced visits to the property, or your landlord harasses you on the phone or in person. 

How To Get Your Landlord Into Trouble

If you feel like any of your rights as a tenant have been violated by your landlord, there are ways to take legal action against them. You should never feel that, as a tenant, you do not have the right to live peacefully and undisturbed in your rental residence. Just because the landlord owns or is in charge of the property, it doesn’t mean that they can do whatever they like. And if they do something illegal, you can certainly take action and get your landlord in trouble. 

The first thing you should do is review the terms of your lease and make notes of any actions your landlord has taken that you think might be illegal or violate your rights. It’s essential to have as much detail as possible if you intend to sue or take legal action against your landlord. Some common reasons people choose to take their landlords to court include refusal to return a security deposit, refusing repair requests, entering the property without proper notice and violation of the Fair Housing Act.

Consider whether or not it’s worth suing your landlord before taking action. Often, the threat of being taken to court may be enough to get them to fix that annoying leaky faucet. Remember, suing someone is time-consuming, and if you lose, paying court costs can be expensive. It’s best to exhaust all other options before deciding to take legal action.

If you do decide to go ahead and sue, you should first check the procedure for your state. The next step is to file a complaint at the county courthouse and then wait for your landlord to respond. If you go to court, make sure that you have all the necessary paperwork and a detailed account of what you are suing them for. Remember, your landlord can file a counter-complaint, so be prepared to defend yourself thoroughly. It is best to consult a real estate attorney if you decide to pursue this option.

Ultimately, having a difficult landlord can make your life a living hell. If things are miserable, always remember that there are options available to you. If you keep track of abuses of power and negligence, you can get the problem fixed. Or, the worst-case scenario is you have to relocate or wait until your lease is up to find a new place. As a tenant, you have the right to live peacefully, so if you feel like you are being treated unfairly, make sure you speak up.