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.
Landlords cannot 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
A landlord cannot 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 will need to follow specific procedures before removing them.
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 if, for example, your landlord frequently tries to impose new rules on who, or your landlord 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. As a tenant, you have the right to enjoy your home, and if something is bothering you and you make it known, your landlord cannot retaliate.
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.
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.
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 refund your 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.
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. 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.