How to Get Your Landlord in Trouble: 67 Common Illegal Actions & What You Can Do About It

Are you dealing with a landlord from hell?

One you initially thought was nice but did a complete 180 once you started living there?

Maybe it’s one that makes you want to tear your hair out whenever he or she comes knocking on your door. Maybe you blocked his or her number on your phone or crossed the opposite side of the street when you see him or her coming. Are you already anticipating a mouthful of complaints against you?

If so, you are not alone.

Many people never lodge a formal complaint, believing they are powerless against their landlords. They count down the days until their lease ends, and they can finally move out.

house needing maintenance

You may have tried talking to your landlord, but it likely led nowhere. You may be wondering, “what now?”

You may want to get your landlord in trouble… with the law. This means identifying any illegal landlord actions that he is doing and reporting them to the authorities.

Unbeknownst to many others like you, there are some things that they do that you may see as normal since they own the property. Still, the reality is these acts are already considered illegal and in violation of a tenant’s rights.

Caught your attention? Can you relate to it?

Then, keep reading as this article will explain how to get your landlord in trouble. These are some illegal landlord actions you should be looking out for.

If there are illegal things they are doing, it’s important to know what you can do about it.

Illegal Clauses in Leases

While you may skip reading anything that says “terms and conditions,” you cannot do so when it comes to a lease. This is because the owner crafts leases. It is easy for them to include terms considered illegal – whether they are aware of it or not.

It was discovered that most leases have illegal clauses that regular folks are not aware of. Many of those clauses are even thought of as normal, so tenants do not question them.

Any clause that violates the landlord and tenant laws is considered illegal, including state and common laws. Since they are responsible for coming up with the lease, checking the present clauses falls in your hands as a tenant.

If you see these clauses in your lease, know that these are considered illegal, even if they are commonly included in leases:

  1. Tenant paying fort all the necessary repairs of the apartment.
  2. Using the security deposit to pay for the unpaid utility bills of the tenant.
  3. Requiring you to pay for, utilities even if it was not used by that person under the landlord’s name.
  4. In case the lease is terminated, the tenant must pay rent that covers the remainder of the lease even if he or she will no longer residing there.
  5. Making the security deposits non-refundable.
  6. Requiring you to waive their right to privacy, allowing the landlord to enter the unit anytime.
  7. Prohibiting you from suing.
  8. Considering tenants to be solely responsible for all the damages that can happen to the property.
  9. Preventing someone from subletting the unit.
  10. Evicting non-paying tenants based on a whim and through physical means.
  11. In case legal issues between the tenant and the landlord are brought to court and the tenant loses, he or she will pay for the legal fees of the landlord.
  12. Asking you to pay rent beyond the first and last month. It’s when also converting the rent into a deposit to protect the property from damage or as payment for furniture rental.
  13. Requiring tenants to oversee the maintenance of landscaping.

Know that other clauses deemed illegal may not be included in this list. Make sure to consult with an attorney to identify these before you sign. Even if they rush you to sign the lease, you have the right to check every clause present.

If a landlord has multiple tenants in the same property, everyone should be treated equally. This means giving them the same rights and privileges, so check if this applies to you. A tenant should also look for a clause stating that the landlord is responsible for making the unit habitable. This is mandatory in any lease.

Even if you see an illegal clause, this does not mean that the lease must immediately be considered void. According to state laws, only an attorney can gauge if these clauses will be considered void.

Can they Refuse to Rent to Someone?

Just as tenants want to deal with reasonable landlords, they prefer renting out their units to tenants that will not be problematic. However, some tenants have this misconception that they cannot refuse to rent out their property to someone interested.

They are involved in a business, so they have the right to refuse to rent out their units to certain people. They can only do so to some extent. In particular, they are not allowed to reject potential tenants due to reasons that can be considered discriminatory. Based on the Fair Housing Act, they are prohibited from refusing to rent to potential tenants based on their:

picture illustrating renting
  • National origin
  • Color or race
  • Religion
  • Sex
  • Familial status
  • Handicap or disability

Different states may also have local laws regarding their Section 8 participation discrimination. It’s also illegal if a landlord refuses to rent out to someone ‘because this is considered arbitrary discrimination.

On the other hand, they have the right to refuse potential tenants based on:

  • Pets, except those who require service animals
  • Criminal background or conviction
  • Credit history, including due their refusal to submit to a background check and credit report
  • Negative references, especially from a previous employer or person who rented a house to them
  • Evidence of low income or low credit score, including having numerous debts
  • Previous bankruptcies
  • Having a previous eviction lawsuit, even if the tenant won the case
  • History of not paying rent or damaging rental property
  • Smoking habit
  • No rental history
  • Falsified information, including not completely filling out the rental application
  • Objecting the lease terms
  • Frequent transfers or changing jobs
  • Having too many vehicles
  • Too many people to possibly occupy the unit
  • Evidence of drug habit even at present

They must only screen applicants based on their income, credit and rental history, background, and nothing else.

Penalty for Renting Illegal Apartments

Too often, tenants unknowingly rent illegal apartments from landlords because the low rent attracts them. Unfortunately, it can be challenging to discover its legal status by sight alone. An apartment may be well-built but still illegal.

Suppose you already signed the lease when you discovered that you are renting an illegal apartment. In that case, you may be wondering if you will be subjected to any penalty. The good news is only your landlord will pay for any penalties. It can amount to $15,000 or more if the apartment or property is being rented illegally. However, you may have to move out asap because of it. Depending on state laws, your landlord may be liable to shoulder your relocation costs.

rental agreement

Many states consider the lease as unenforceable in such scenarios, which means all its terms are considered void. However, your landlord has no obligation to return your past payments. This gives you the right not to pay rent, but it also gives them a reason to evict you.

But if you choose to stay even if they refuse to legalize the rental property, know that this is a very risky move. You still have the same rights as tenants renting legal apartments. The authorities may require you to move out at any time, and there is no guarantee that the unit you want will be available.

What They Cannot Do

Most people believe that since their landlords own the property, they are also at their mercy. They fail to realize that there are limits to this, and some people take advantage of that belief.

There are so many things that they cannot do, but the most common are:

  1. Entering the rental property if the person living there was not informed beforehand, except during emergencies.
  2. Retaliating because you complained about something, such as the condition of the property.
  3. Preventing someone who is behind on rent from entering the rental property.
  4. Forcefully evicting someone without obtaining an eviction order, as well as evicting them through physical means.
  5. Suddenly raising the rent without notice and beyond state limits.
  6. Discriminating against people.
  7. Turning down repair requests or forcing tenants to do the repairs themselves. Getting the repairs done but with the landlord hiring unlicensed contractors.
  8. Not disclosing if the property contains lead-based paints and other hazards. It includes not doing any lead testing even through the use of lead paint test kits or XRF devices.
  9. Skipping the required inspections before renting out the apartment, including not doing routine inspections.
  10. Deducting a security deposit because of other reasons not involving repairs on damages caused by tenants.
  11. Refusing to return the security deposit.
  12. Charging other fees that cannot be properly explained by the landlord and are not included in the lease.
  13. Violating the rights of tenants considered as protected class. It’s particularly those with disabilities, such as prohibiting them from bringing service pets and family members to live with them.
  14. Not disclosing that someone was rejected because of a negative credit information using another source aside from the credit report.
  15. The unit is not considered habitable, violating the Warranty of Habitability.
  16. Asking for a security deposit that exceeds the limits set by the state, if present. Certain states do not set limits to it. Requiring different amounts for different people living there, assuming everything else is the same.
  17. Asking questions that are considered invasive or out-of-bounds.
  18. Using the unit leased as the landlord’s extension of his or her storage area.
  19. Not providing a written lease, or asking you to sign outdated or “standard” ones is an illegal act that some landlord do.
  20. Cutting off the utilities for someone unable to pay rent or for other reasons.

Different states have different laws regarding tenant-landlord relationships, but those mentioned above will apply to most states. If a tenant feels like their rights are being violated, it is best to check the local laws. Consult with an attorney to know what to do next.

Can They Do Random Inspections?

While they technically own the property, they do not have the right to access it at any time. It’s even if their excuse is to conduct a random inspection. At the same time, you have the right to privacy. Still, you are also not allowed to completely prohibit the landlord from entering and checking on the rental.

They have the right to enter their rental property as mandated by law. Still, they cannot do so without informing the tenants beforehand. But if they decide to conduct an unannounced inspection, you have the right to refuse entry. One doing so may violate the Right to Quiet Enjoyment.

All states require that landlords inform through a written notice to inspect the property in advance. The notice must include the exact date and possible times when they plan to inspect and contact information if you want to reschedule it.

Most state laws require you to receive inspection notice at least 24 hours in advance. Some states require 48 hours of advanced notice.

Some states also require that inspections occur during “reasonable hours.” It typically means business hours or between 8 AM and 6 PM. This inspection may be conducted a few times a year, but not too often that a tenant feels harassed or inconvenienced.

On the other hand, drive-by inspections do not require prior notice. No one will enter the premises and will only observe and check the property’s exteriors.

Rental Property Inspection Laws

Maybe a landlord says they will do a rental property inspection in a few hours. Most people would think that it is well within the landlord’s rights to do so. They did not know that there are laws related to rental property inspections that protect tenants.

At the forefront of it is the “Right to Quiet Enjoyment.” It states that you have the right to use the property without being disturbed by anyone. Even those who are considered to have a superior title, such as the landlord. Different states also have their laws related to it.

However, this does not mean that a landlord is completely prohibited from going inside the property until it is vacated. There are valid circumstances when they can enter the unit, which are:

  • Conduct an inspection of the property and the entire premises
  • Renovate or do necessary repairs
  • Showcase the rental property to other possible tenants, as well as prospective property buyers
  • During an emergency
  • If the tenant has been away for some time. It’s typically for at least seven days, as someone may have left the property for good without giving notice.

Note that state laws vary regarding tenants’ privacy. Some states may see all these as valid reasons for a landlord to enter the property. In contrast, others may only consider a handful of them. And in certain states, there are no laws related to it.

Regarding inspections, landlords typically do it mainly to check for any damages. These inspections fall under four categories:

  • Move-in inspection – to check on the condition prior to the tenant moving in.
  • Move-out inspection – to find any damages that may have been caused by the tenant during his or her occupancy. It is ideally done when the tenant starts vacating the property.
  • Routine – to catch any issues early to avoid costly repairs in the future, as well as to check for any illegal activities or lease violations of tenants.
  • Drive-by inspection – to see if a routine inspection is needed. They will only check on the exteriors and will not go inside the rental property.

The Right to Quiet Enjoyment Law also covers these inspections. Suppose a landlord insists that there is no such clause in your lease and that gives him or her the right to inspect at any time. You should know that there is an “Implied Covenant of Right to Enjoyment.” It means that the law still applies even if not explicitly stated on your lease.

During an inspection, they are expected to respect the tenant’s privacy when doing so. This means that the landlord is limited to doing a visual inspection and just walking around the unit. He or she must not go through the personal belongings of someone living there, including searching the cabinets or pantry. Still, they can take photos of the property as a reference to an extent.

Ideally, you must be present while the landlord conducts an inspection to avoid issues. But if not, they must inform the tenant that he or she has inspected while the person is away.

Can They Take Pictures of My Apartment Without Permission?

It is common for them to take pictures of the apartment during an inspection, but this does not mean they can do so without permission. If they plan to take photos, they must first inform about it and its purpose.

Valid reasons are:

  • For record-keeping or insurance purposes
  • To document any damage present
  • To be used for advertising the rental, in case you are vacating soon

They must not purposely take photos of the tenant’s personal belongings, as this may be considered an invasion of their privacy. If unavoidable, the landlord must inform the tenant that his or her belongings will be in that photo. It may be for things such as when capturing the view of the damage present.

Installing recording equipment inside the rental is also not allowed, both audio and video. It’s even if a landlord claims that it is for security. It can only be installed outside the unit.

Taking exterior photos is a different story. Since it is done outdoors, they may do so even without your permission. However, they must still ensure that your belongings are not included in the photo.

Can They Move Your Personal Belongings?

Suppose a landlord comes to your unit to conduct an inspection or show the property to potential tenants or buyers with your permission. In that case, this permission does not extend to giving him or her the right to move your personal belongings.

The apartment may be owned by someone else. The belongings inside that apartment are still considered property of the tenant, and a landlord has no right to move them around. But if it is necessary, they must talk to you about it and let you handle it unless you give explicit permission for them to do so.

An exception applies if they see them as a potential hazard or affect the comfort of other tenants, but only if those belongings are found outside the rental. If a landlord moves them around, they must inform the tenant.

But if the tenant is already in bad standing or unable to pay rent, state laws will apply. Depending on these laws, landlords may be given the right to move or own the belongings after some time.

Suppose a tenant has already vacated the premises but left some personal belongings. In that case, a landlord must still give ample time for the person to collect it, even if he or she still owes rent. A notice must first be given informing where the items will be stored and how long. If it remains uncollected after the deadline, they can dispose of it. However, it must follow state laws.

Can A Landlord Paint While the Rental Property is Occupied?

If you’re informed that they plan to paint the rental property you are occupying, especially if your lease is about to end. You will be vacating afterward. You may wonder if they have the right to do so.

Painting is generally considered cosmetic work, so it does not fall under an ’emergency repair’ that warrants immediate attention. This means tenants have the discretion whether to allow the landlord to paint the property or not under the Right to Quiet Enjoyment law. A landlord cannot paint without it being approved. At the same time, the rental is occupied if you’re not allowing it. But because of the possible health effects of painting, they should ideally only paint a rental property when it is unoccupied.

painter

An exception applies if lead-based paint is involved. If this type of paint is damaged, it must be addressed asap. Damaged lead paint will create toxic lead dust, dangerous to everyone. It’s especially dangerous to children and pregnant women. Too much exposure can cause lead poisoning, which can be fatal.

If dealing with damaged lead paint, your landlord has a valid reason to paint the rental property. It’s even while currently occupied since it already involves your safety. He or she must follow lead-safe practices, including keeping people not involved in the work away from the worksite.

This means you must not be in the unit while the pros deal with the lead paint. Depending on state laws, they may shoulder your temporary relocation and refund a portion of your rent equivalent to the days you were away.

You may also ask your landlord to conduct bulk lead paint testing if he or she has not done so before. That way, they can identify other surfaces that contain lead paint and deal with all of them in one go if needed. It ensures your safety once the work is done.

Suppose the paint is in poor condition and can already be considered a hazard even if it is negative for lead. Maybe state laws require the landlord to repaint. In that case, it may fall under the Warrant of Habitability. This means they are obligated to make necessary repairs, even if they live in the unit. However, he is also obligated to compensate you for the hassle.

What is Considered Harassment?

Relationships are not always perfect. In some cases, they do hostile acts to tenants they feel are going against them. Many experience this, but they are unaware that those acts may already be considered harassment.

They mistakenly believe that those acts are still within the rights of the owner of the place. They learn to deal with it, fearing retaliation against them and evicting them anytime. Not all tenants know that the law protects them against harassment and can do something about it.

If you see or experience your landlord doing these to you or someone else, know that these acts may be considered as harassment:

  1. He’s depriving you of the use of facilities that are stated in your lease.
  2. He’s cutting off your supply to utilities to force you to vacate the unit or pay rent.
  3. He’s changing the locks of the unit without notice to prevent the tenant from entering it.
  4. He’s going inside an occupied unit without prior notice to the tenant, even without an emergency.
  5. He’s threatening to evict someone who refuses to give up the unit before the lease is up, even if the landlord offers to buy out or pay for it.
  6. He’s conducting routine inspections very often or at unreasonable hours.
  7. He’s using false charges to give a three-day notice or any similar eviction notice .
  8. He’s physically or verbally threatening behavior.
  9. He’s rejecting repair requests.
  10. He’s deliberately disturbing the peace and invading the privacy, including starting construction activities to annoy tenants.
  11. He’s rejecting a rent payment or not acknowledging it.
  12. He’s lying and spreading false information.
  13. He’s destroying the personal belongings of someone living at the property, including removing them without a court order.
  14. He’s refusing to give recommendations that were requested by a tenant, which will be given to other future landlords.
  15. He’s unreasonably raising rent with or without notice.
  16. He’s giving a fake eviction notice.
  17. Sexual harassment, including making crude or vulgar remarks.
  18. He’s singling out someone and not giving him or her the same privileges as others.
  19. He’s doing acts against someone that is considered criminal in nature.
  20. He’s spying, including placing recording equipment inside the unit.

There are plenty of acts that can be considered harassment. A tenant must call out his or her landlord for actions that make him or her uncomfortable. If it does not get resolved, tenants can consider legal actions.

What Can You Sue For?

If you feel that your landlord has committed illegal acts or harassed you, violating your rights as a tenant, you can sue. However, this should be your last resort if all else fails; you should try to talk it out with them first. Once you sue, you can expect your relationship to worsen. It may be best to find a new apartment if you decide to sue, even winning your case.

Suing a landlord must be done with the help of an attorney who will assess the situation and tell you the best way to address it. You need to prepare yourself because it can be a lengthy and costly process. If you win your case, the amount you can get may not even be enough to cover your legal expenses.

If you want to win your case, make sure you have a valid reason to sue. Have strong evidence to back it up. It cannot be just because he or she annoys you. Some of these reasons are:

  1. Withholding your security deposit even if your lease is up and no deductions are to be made
  2. Discrimination
  3. Illegal terms or clauses present in your lease
  4. He’s not refunding you for repairs you paid for that were made on the unit.
  5. Breaching the Warranty of Habitability by neglecting your unit and refusing to do necessary repairs
  6. Failing to inform you of hazards present, such as lead paint, asbestos, and mold
  7. Illegally entering the apartment
  8. Injuries that occur in the rental property that are due to neglect
  9. Evicting illegally
  10. Violating the Right to Quiet Enjoyment
  11. Using a security deposit for reasons other than those mentioned in the terms of the lease and state laws
  12. Missing or damaged belongings due to neglect
  13. Non-reimbursement of your living expenses when you had to temporarily move out due to issues with the unit
  14. They are unresponsive and refuses to communicate, even about matters involving the rental property.

Most of these disputes are handled by a small claims court, as these cases only involve money. These courts allow you to sue for a maximum of $3,500 to $10,000, depending on the state. But if you plan to sue your landlord beyond that account, you must use a different court.

Maybe you believe they have been acting illegally and wish to get your landlord in trouble if they do some of these illegal actions. We hope this guide has helped you.

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