10 Reasons You Can Sue Your Landlord
Written by: Veronique Hart, Property Management Specialist - Updated: Dec 24, 2022
When it comes to property rental, a clear set of rental guidelines is the basis of a good landlord-tenant partnership. However, sometimes these conflicts can’t be avoided, and tenants are forced to go to small claims court for a resolution. Statistically, in landlord-tenant disputes, property owners have the upperhand. While 90% of landlords have the financial means to secure legal representation, only 10% of tenants do. That difference leads to an advantage for landlords. Many tenants are evicted not knowing their rights. But that doesn’t mean a tenant cannot successfully sue their landlord, especially if they have a valid and well-documented claim. Successful legal action against property management companies is possible and more likely if you follow the tips below.
Disclaimer: Any legal advice in this article is general and should be verified by a legal professional.
10 Reasons Tenants Sue Their Property Manager
If your landlord is withholding your deposit or randomly barges into your residence, you may have a case to sue under your local housing ordinance. Two of the most common reasons tenants sue property managers involves security deposit and privacy violations. Landlords entering unannounced or withholding security deposits is often a legal gray area, and something tenants should know how to handle before moving into a new place. To avoid many of the trappings of bad property management and ownership, it’s imperative that tenants and landlords know not only their rights but how to work together for a more equitable and stable housing community.
1. Withholding a security deposit
Every state has specific guidelines for why a landlord can deduct funds from your security deposit. If your landlord decides to withhold your security deposit for any reason other than what’s specified in your lease or normal wear and tear, you might be able to take them to court. Another instance is if your landlord refuses to return your security deposit or withholds it claiming you violated the terms of your lease. In this situation, you should immediately request documentation of said violations and begin collecting your evidence for court.
2. Exorbitant security deposit
Reputable landlords will always request some kind of security deposit before allowing tenancy, but the amount they charge can vary greatly. A standard policy is first- and last-month’s rent, but if your landlord is charging a ridiculous rate or a series of nonrefundable fees, you may have a case against them. If you suspect your landlord is not abiding by your state’s security deposit laws, check your state’s maximum and issue a demand letter asking for a correction. It’s usually faster and a better idea to try diplomacy with your landlord before getting the law involved, especially if you want to continue living at your place beyond your current lease.
3. Apartment becomes uninhabitable
If your place becomes uninhabitable due to unforeseen circumstances like extreme weather or a rodent infestation, your landlord must promptly begin repair and provide interim housing. However, there are no clear guidelines on what constitutes “uninhabitable by law,” so tenants should be prepared to submit documentation and receipts of any incurred costs during displacement. In instances like a rodent infestation, solutions such as sending an exterminator may be a suitable alternative to evacuating the premises. If repairs aren’t done in a timely manner, tenants should notify their landlords that they’ll withhold rent or move out.
4. Toxic mold or lead
Also within the realm of uninhabitable premises, a landlord who doesn’t disclose the presence of toxic mold or lead to tenants is liable for suit. If you unfortunately learn that your home is host to dangerous chemicals or black mold, take pictures or video and send your landlord an email with details of the location and size of the supposed mold. Your landlord should issue an immediate inspection and take care of any safety or health issues.
5. Not being reimbursed for a repair
If a pipe bursts in your home, talk to your landlord and get approval before starting the repair yourself. Although you may want to get started right away when something breaks, ensuring your landlord has agreed to pay for the expense beforehand is crucial. If you do fix the problem, the landlord should reimburse you for the repair. How that reimbursement is distributed will largely be up to your landlord — it can be a deduction from your rent or a check. If you do a large repair on your own and your landlord refuses to abide by the arrangement, you can potentially sue.
6. Injured on premises
Landlords are typically responsible for all household repairs, so it stands to reason that if you’re injured on the property due to a landlord’s neglect, you might be entitled to compensation. For example, if your landlord was advised of a safety issue, such as a broken step, and failed to repair it before the injury, you may have a case. However,for your case to have a chance, deliberate negligence has to be established, and that can be difficult. Once again, proper documentation of any and all potential safety issues is key. If you don’t let your landlord know, they can argue they aren’t liable.
7. Illegal eviction
Being aware of your state’s eviction procedures can save you a lot of heartache. Illegal evictions can and do happen, and tenants should know their rights If your landlord unexpectedly changes the locks or cuts off utilities to your home, you may be a victim of illegal eviction. Start the legal process by issuing a complaint to your local fair housing organization and gather documentation to support your case. Another instance of illegal eviction is when your landlord retaliates against you for filing a complaint or requesting services. In either case,a paper trail is critical to swaying the court in your favor.
The Federal Housing Act protects tenants from housing discrimination due to sex, race, color, religion, national origin, disability or familial status. Depending on where you live, your state may have additional protected classes, such as sexual orientation. If you submit an application for rent and the landlord denies you based on one of these protected classes, you can submit a claim to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. They will investigate the complaint and enforce legal action if appropriate. However, this process takes time, and courts have been overwhelmed since the start of the pandemic. So tenants shouldn’t expect a fast decision.
9. Right to privacy
Each lease has an implicit clause where tenants are entitled to “quiet enjoyment” while occupying a property. If your landlord casually stops in without proper written notification, you can argue that they’re violating your right to privacy. Landlords can legally enter the premises when making repairs but without a legal reason, landlords can be violating your tenant rights. Property owners should only enter the property after the tenant has been notified per your state’s regulations.
10. Illegal rent hike
If you live in one of six states: Oregon, California, New York, New Jersey, Maryland, and Minnesota or in the District of Columbia, your tenancy is privy to legal ordinances that place a ceiling on rent prices. Statewide rent control laws limit the amount of rent increases, which prevents landlords from raising rent more than once in any 12-month period. Landlords are also required to give tenants adequate notice before raising rent depending on the duration of the tenancy. If you’ve received a last-minute notice of rent increase that exceeds 7% of your current rent, check your local residential housing regulations to see if you’re protected and reach out to your landlord immediately. Landlords should know their state’s maximum rent increase and exercise tact before notifying tenants of a rent hike.
Should You Sue Your Landlord?
Ultimately, suing your landlord is a timely and costly process, so it’s best avoided if you can. There are a few intermediary steps tenants should try before escalating to legal action. First determine if you have a case by reviewing your lease and researching your state and local landlord-tenant laws. Embrace the power of a demand letter, which notifies the landlord of any outstanding issues — including a history of the dispute — and requests a prompt and appropriate solution. In most cases, this action will be enough to guarantee traction with your landlord to resolve the issue as quickly as possible. Some states actually require a tenant to take the step of a demand letter before going to court. As always, consult with an attorney before taking legal action and know your rights before move-in. A diplomatic approach can help preserve your landlord-tenant relationship while you work to resolve your issues and move forward.