While a lot of renters don’t do their part of properly paying their rent, a lot of landlords also don’t do their part in ensuring a habitable property. Also called property managers, they should manage their property well by solving a problem as soon as it is reported. This is especially true if there are safety or health concerns that they’re not addressing, basically forcing you out of the property that you’re renting.
In a perfect world, your landlord is one of the most helpful people in your life. He owns the property that you’re renting. You pay for rent and in return, he makes sure that the rental property remains in ideal condition. It has to be habitable, at the very least. It’s a mutually-beneficial relationship. At least, it’s supposed to be.
It’s unfortunate that it’s a form of harassment. It wouldn’t be the first time if a property manager allows these issues to happen to force the tenant out. This usually happens when the property is up for sale.
Why Report Your Landlord
Listed below are issues that you need to report to the landlord. While most will cooperate, you have to report them if they don’t cooperate with solving these concerns:
- There’s lead.
This is a major issue that has led to deaths. Obviously, this is something that has to be addressed immediately. This is especially true if you have kids at home. If you haven’t done so already, have the property checked for lead if it was built before 1978. When in doubt, you can use lead paint test kits. This way, you’ll have something to show the health inspector.
We even sell bulk kits for contractors or property managers dealing with many properties.
- You can smell and see mold.
This is another health issue. Mold can cause health problems to the respiratory system especially among kids, the elderly, and to those who are allergic to mold. It can even cause death. This is why immediate mold removal should be done.
In most cases, its presence is also a sign of another problem – leaks. This leads us to the next issue.
- There’s a problem with the plumbing.
As a tenant, it’s your basic right to have a working plumbing system. It can be annoying to hear clanging and leaking because of a damaged plumbing system. It can also lead to mold and other damages.
Needless to say, there should be running water whenever it’s needed. Report to your landlord immediately if there’s none, and file a complaint if he doesn’t fix the issue.
- There’s no heat or electricity.
Imagine having no heat during the winter. What’s the point in having shelter if you can’t stay warm during the winter? It’s harassment if property managers don’t provide heat.
Electricity is also important for modern wants. It’s also important to run equipment and appliances that provide for our basic needs. This is why they have to ensure that the property you’re renting has electricity.
- There are pests.
This can be a problem of your unit. It can also be a problem of the entire property. Whatever the case may be, it’s the responsibility of the property manager to get rid of pests. You shouldn’t be forced to live with rats, cockroaches, bed bugs and the likes.
- There’s waste buildup.
You should do your part in proper disposal of your garage and waste. There’s supposed to be a proper way for you to dispose it. In a lot of cases, you throw it down the garbage chute.
The problem happens if they don’t their job of disposing of the accumulated garbage and waste. It will create an unpleasant smell and will be a health hazard as well.
- There’s a problem with the structure.
Even the most minor of roof leaks should be considered an emergency. This is because it can affect the structure of the whole home. Even minor leaks can lead to structural damages because leaks will travel all throughout the house. Before you know it, you’re living in a property with questionable structural integrity. If they don’t do something about it, then property managers are in violation of the warranty of habitability.
What is a Warranty of Habitability?
This is an implied warranty. This means that it doesn’t have to be on the lease. As the landlord, it’s his responsibility to ensure the habitability of the property that he’s renting out. This means that landlords are obligated to pay for repairs. If they don’t, the tenant doesn’t have to pay rent and is encouraged to file a report.
Speaking of filing a report, tenants don’t have to worry about retaliation. There are rules in place that complement the warranty of habitability that serve as protection for tenants who file a complaint.
How to Get Your Landlord to Do the Repairs
In some cases, property managers need a little “encouragement” to do the repairs. Here are some tips to help you out:
- Put the request in writing.
This makes it formal. This lets them know that you’re serious about your request. Have them receive the written request and they’ll know that you now have something that can help you in case you file a formal complaint. This means that they have to do something and they have to do it fast.
- If that doesn’t work, hire mediation services.
This is your last resort before you file a formal complaint. There are mediation companies that specialize on issues involving landlords and tenants. This is actually a good way to come up with a resolution since a neutral mediator will be present.
Hiring a mediator will let them know that you’re serious and at the same time, you’re willing to work things out.
If these don’t work, it’s time to file a more formal complaint. You can also do so if you’re being harassed.
Examples of Landlord Harassment
Your property manager may harass you so that you’ll give up and just move to another property. He may also do so in retaliation for reporting him to the housing or health department. Here are some examples of landlord harassment:
- Entering your property illegally.
While he probably has a key, that doesn’t give him the right to enter your property without your approval. He should let you know in advance if he plans on entering your property along with the reason why.
They can also remove items in your property via this illegal entry. It doesn’t matter if it’s your items or they’re items of the property owner. As long as you’re renting that property, they don’t have the right to remove them without your knowledge.
On the other side of the coin, they may prevent you from entering your property. They can do so by changing the locks or putting up barricades.
- Raising the rent.
This is usually as retaliation for filing a complaint against him. Property managers may also do this to force you to move out. In most states, you should get a 30 day notice at the very least.
If this doesn’t work, they may also buy you out by offering you a lump sum payment. Watch out for this if you’re a rent-stabilized tenant because this is probably a ploy to get you to move out. This may also be done if they plan on converting your unit into a condo.
While a single attempt may not be harassment, repeated attempts can be considered as one.
- Turning off your utilities.
This is the most common form of harassment. They will turn off the AC on a hot summer day. They will turn off the heat on a cold winter night. They may even turn off the running water. Basically, they’ll harass you by not making your home habitable.
- Cutting off access to amenities.
A property has amenities that can serve your needs and wants. It can be something as useful as a garbage disposal system or a parking slot or something recreational like a swimming pool. Access to these amenities is included in the lease agreement, and they can choose to violate this by cutting off your access to them.
- Threatening you.
This can be in the form of verbal or physical threats. It can be in the form of email or text. It can be something as “harmless” as blocking your way as you try to leave to avoid confrontation. Worse cases include having tenants followed to make them feel unsafe.
Getting up on your face or even putting their hand on your in an intimidating manner is also construed as harassment. They can also sexually harass you.
- Refusing to accept your payment.
Paying for the rental is your part in the lease agreement. As long as you pay, the landlord has the responsibility to keep your unit habitable. If they refuse to accept your payment, it’s because they want the records to show that you haven’t been paying.
- Making your unit’s living conditions less than ideal.
They may suddenly decide to begin construction and do so in the middle of the night. This is a common ploy for them to make you give up your unit because of poor living conditions.
- Sending you a fake eviction notice.
You may receive a fake eviction notice saying that you have to move out before a set date. It’s one of those “maybe it will work” harassment ploys to get you to move out without them doing the heavy lifting.
- Filing fake charges against you.
They may file charges that will be very hard to prove by either party with the sole purpose of harassing you. Maybe they can say that you’ve violated their no-pet policy.
Just to make sure that you don’t file false charges, these are not considered as a form of harassment:
- Entering your property in an emergency.
Is there an emergency like a fire? They don’t have to wait for your approval to enter.
- Sending you notice ordering you to stop lease violations.
If there are terms in the lease that you’ve been violating, they have every right to send you notice to stop violating them. They may continue to do so until you stop doing it or until they take further actions including filing for eviction.
- Filing for eviction if you haven’t been paying rent.
Your part of the landlord-tenant relations is to pay rent on time. If you haven’t been doing so, they have every right to file for eviction.
- Raising the rent provided that there’s proper notice.
Most states require at least a 30-day notice. The raise also has to fit a certain percentage. If these terms are met, then it’s not harassment.
- They request a buyout.
As long as it’s within the local laws and they do so legally, they are allowed to send you a formal buyout request.
What to Do when Your Landlord is Harassing You
These actions can help protect you against harassment:
- Take down all important details.
When did it happen? How often does it happen? Do you have supporting documents like text message or CCTV footage? These are proofs that can help you.
- File a complaint.
This formalizes your complaint. Basically, you’re letting the authorities into the issue. This will start the investigation.
- File a restraining order.
This can protect your physical and mental well-being. Make sure that you have the supporting documents.
- Get help from a court.
An injunctive order can make the harassment stop. It’s basically a court ordering the landlord to stop harassing you. It’s in the best interest of your property manager to stop or face the wrath of the court.
If all else fails, you can sue him for damages.
Usually, they will stop if they already know that you’re taking further actions. This is because they know that they can be fined and maybe even jailed. For example in New York, they can be fined for as much as $10,000 for every offense. They may even be banned from increasing the rent of their victim for a set amount of time. In San Francisco, a property manager guilty of harassment may even be forced to lower the rate of his victim.
Who do You Call when Your Landlord will Not Fix Things – Who do I Report My Landlord to?
Before calling the authorities, make sure that the issue has met these conditions:
- It’s a serious problem and your health and/or safety is at risk.
Ask yourself – is this an annoying or serious problem? If it’s the former, then it’s something that you can work out with the landlord. Worst case scenario is you fix it on your own. These issues include a dripping faucet, grime in the grout, carpet damage and the likes.
- You are not the cause of the problem.
Is the problem due to your own negligence? Has there been an accident that led to the issue? If yes, then you, not the landlord, are liable.
- You’re not behind on rent.
It’s a two-way street. Make sure that you’re up to date on your rent payment so that the landlord can’t say that the issues are because you haven’t been paying.
- You are willing to take the risk.
This is why you have to be really sure that calling the authorities is the only remaining course of action. Unfortunately, there are some states that won’t be able to stop a landlord from retaliating. They do this by raising the rent once the lease is up or evicting you.
Speaking of eviction, a judge can also decide that you’re in the wrong and you can be evicted. This can affect your credit negatively.
With this in mind, make sure that you have a backup plan in the form of a new place to rent if things don’t go your way.
- You’ve went through the process of properly notifying your landlord.
You should notify your landlord of the problem and make sure that you have a record of him receiving it. Also, you should give him enough time to fix the problem. The time required is dependent on the state where you are in.
If the things above apply to you, then it’s time to file your complaint. Also known as the “Big Sticks”, this is the nightmare of landlords who know that they’re in the wrong.
Your first call should be to the local health department. This is especially true for issues that compromise your health. Another call can also be placed to the housing authority. Local building inspectors can help determine the liability of the landlord.
Make sure that you have the following details handy because these can help the process:
- Your full name
- Address of the property
- Landlord’s name (or the name of the property management company)
- Issues that the landlord has failed to address
- Timeline of the issue (when it started, how long it has been ongoing, how often you experience the issue, etc.)
- Your efforts in contacting the landlord and his response
How the Health Department will Help You
First of all, they’ll investigate to make sure that you have a warranted complaint. A health inspector will be sent to the property to do the necessary inspections. They’ll even bring professionals if needed. They will inspect to see if there are health violations. While doing so, they’ll check if there are other violations that you may have missed.
They’ll do the following based on the results:
- Create and send a report.
This report will indicate all the findings. It will indicate the health violations, if any. More importantly, it will indicate how long the landlord has to do the necessary repairs. This report will be sent to the landlord.
- Wait for the landlord to fix the issue.
In most cases, the property manager will comply. Once complied with, he will contact the health department and schedule a re-inspection.
- Conduct a re-inspection.
The health inspector will visit to do another inspection. He will make sure that the necessary repairs have been done to correct the violations.
- Issue a letter of compliance if the inspection proves that he has complied.
This letter is proof that the property manager has complied with the demands for repairs. If not complied with, the health department will issue a fine.
Can I Sue My Landlord?
If all else fails, it seems that your only option remaining is to sue your landlord. Can you do it? Is it a good idea to do so?
Yes, you can. The law protects those who need protection and in this case, you can sue your landlord if you’re certain that he has violated laws that cover landlord-tenant relations.
You have to understand though that this will require a lot of your time, effort and in most cases, money. You’d have to hire an attorney to help you present your case in front of a judge. Your lawyer can also help determine if this is a case worthy of pursuing.
You also have to know that there’s a very good chance that your landlord will fight this. A property manager who doesn’t want to cooperate is more than likely to continue fighting. This is why you have to make sure that suing him is worth it.
First, you have to make sure that you have a legit issue. The list above will tell you whether it is or not. Also, make sure that you’ve gone through the right process so that the judge will see that you have been willing to work things out and it’s your property manager that’s uncooperative.
Also, make sure that the property that you’re renting is worth fighting for. Sure, you can fight the good fight for oppressed tenants everywhere, but for practical reasons, it might be better to just file a complaint and move if things don’t progress.
How Long does a Landlord have to Fix a Mold Problem?
While it’s true that laws regarding their responsibility are not clear, they can be generally held responsible by the governing state. You can check the United States Environmental Protection Agency for the contact details of the health and environmental agency in your state so you can ask for more details.
The best way to know for sure is to tell him about the problem and he should schedule immediate mold removal. If not, you can call the health department for an inspection. They will include in their report how many days the landlord has to fix a mold problem.
Can I Break My Lease because of Roaches?
Yes, you may, but it’s always good practice to work it out first with the property manager. You can let him know of the problem and a good property manager will hire a pest control company and pay for it. If they don’t, then they’re in violation of the lease. They’re the ones who broke the lease because of the warranty of habitability. In this case, you can move out without worrying about you breaking the lease.
Of course, most tenants wouldn’t want to move especially if they’re in a good property all things considered. In the case of an uncooperative landlord, you can call the health department for assistance.