What Are Landlord Harassment Laws?
There are certain actions a landlord can take against a tenant in order to enforce a lease. There are other actions that are legally considered to be landlord harassment. In general terms, a tenant is allowed to enjoy the home that they are renting without too much interference. Tenants are also afforded certain rights even if they are out of compliance with their lease, including an intentional refusal to pay. Here are some of the common ways that landlord harassment laws can be used as a tenant defense during litigation.
1. Verbal Or Physical Threats Are Made.
“If you do not pay your rent, I'm going to kick you and your family out on the street.” Although that may be true to some extend, that's actually considered a threat in most jurisdictions and could be considered landlord harassment. Landlords are not allowed to make any threats whatsoever against a tenant. Doing so may give tenants the right to file for a restraining order.
2. Entering a Property Without Permission.
Landlords or their agents are not allowed to enter a rental property without giving some form of advanced notice is most jurisdictions. If there isn't an emergency, that notice may need to be 48-72 hours in advance. A sales showing may only require 24 hours notice. Emergency entry for necessary or repairs that were agreed upon are allowed. Even entries that occur when tenants are not at home are still considered harassment.
3. Shutting Off The Utilities.
Landlords are not allowed to block tenant access to public utilities. This includes power, water, heating, telephone service, or elevator access. Some states allow tenants to sue landlords for taking this action. This does not apply for nonpayment of utility services already used. It does apply when done as a means to evict or harass a tenant.
4. Changing The Locks.
As long as a tenant has a legal right to be on a rental property, they must be given access to that structure. Plugging locks, replacing the locks, or securing doors so they cannot be opened is considered a form of landlord harassment. If this happens, tenants in almost every jurisdiction have the right to break back into the property, even if damages occur, and to potentially sue.
5. Improper Eviction Notices.
If the landlord/tenant law allows for a 5 day notice on nonpayment of rent and a landlord only gives a 3 day notice, then this may be considered landlord harassment as well.
Tenants are allowed to pursue their rights. That includes hot water, legal summons for potential harassment issues, and other actions that may even include withholding rent in some jurisdictions. Landlords are not allowed to retaliate against tenants who are pursuing their legal rights in any way. Retaliation may include terminating a lease, refusing to renew a lease, or increasing the rent.
7. Interference With a Tenant's Lifestyle.
Although this form of landlord harassment is more rare than the others, it can also be the most costly. This typically happens when a tenant is self-employed in some way or has small children or pets. Frequent notices of inspection or sales tours that interrupt someone during regular business hours from completing their job may qualify as harassment. Visits that occur frequently during a stated nap time for small children may also qualify. Creating noise disturbances through a tenant's pets intentionally may also be considered harassment. Interference that is agreed upon is automatically disqualified. Interference that has a written notice and requests to alter circumstances that are ignored could create the foundation of potentially expensive litigation. If a tenant earns $200 per day and they can provide 7 days of interference, that's $1,400 + fees potentially coming out of a landlord's pocket.
8. Making False Statements.
Some tenants don't leave a leasing arrangement on friendly terms. They might have left some furniture behind, not been able to afford a carpet cleaning service, or other move-out issues. A landlord who then tells others that the tenants are the worst renters they've ever known, publish false statements about their conduct, or attempt to use information to affect personal employment may also be guilty of harassment. Using stern language is one thing. Threatening to harm someone is completely different. Landlords who withhold maintenance, purposely target tenants, or conduct themselves in the ways above may be performing landlord harassment. Avoid these behaviors to limit liabilities and a rental agreement will have more profit potential.
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