Five Illegal Things Landlords Do and What You Can Do About It

It is always recommended to try and talk things out with your landlord peacefully, but in the case this doesn’t work, you have rights as tenants you should be aware of.

  1. Your landlord cannot change your apartment door locks

    • Although you may be justifiably angry, do not engage, attack, or argue with the landlord verbally or physically. If possible, keep all communication with the landlord is writing, email, or in a text message. A verbal or physical confrontation will only inflame the situation and could lead to civil or criminal charges. You should be polite and civil to everyone in this process (including the landlord), document the facts, hire an attorney, and use the legal process to solve this problem.
    • Although most tenant’s rights are protected by law, many terms are negotiable and must be memorialized in a written, signed, lease. Make sure you have a detailed lease, signed by both parties, so there is no question regarding who is responsible for every major aspect of the landlord-tenant relationship. You should have an attorney review the lease prior to signing.
  2. Landlord cannot withhold your security deposit without good reason

    • Make sure the apartment is kept in good condition and clean so that the landlord cannot shift blame toward you.
    • Send your landlord a certified letter, ask for a return receipt, asking for the name and address of the bank where your landlord opened an account, and the interest rate for your security deposit.
    • This letter should also request a detailed explanation of why and how your security deposit funds were taken from your account and an accounting of the current balance of the account.
    • A tenant should get their security deposit back, including interest accrued,within 30 days of vacating the unit (assuming there are no damages to the property or unpaid rent when the lease ends).
  3. Landlord refuses to make major repairs

    • Take photos and detailed notes of problems, defects, and dangers created in your apartment due to the landlord’s neglect.
    • Send the landlord a letter certified mail, (request a return receipt), with a detailed list of the repairs needed and include your photos.
    • Make the necessary repairs yourself, keep any receipts for materials purchased, and send a bill to landlord (check with an attorney first).
    • It is important to keep your rent current, regardless of the problems. Either continue to pay rent directly to the landlord, or set up a separate escrow account where you will deposit your rent payments. However, those payments from will be withheld from the landlord, until the the repairs are complete or the matter is resolved by a court process. (check with an attorney first).
    • If the repairs are major or effect the health, safety, and welfare (habitability) of the tenants, such as heat, water, or electricity, call the local health department and ask for an inspection.
    • If your landlord takes any adverse action against you, changes any of the lease terms, or starts an eviction process within six months after you voiced your legitimate, lawful complaints about necessary repairs, you may have a legal action for retaliation against the landlord.
  4. If the Landlord enters your apartment without notice

    • Tell your landlord this is unacceptable and a violation of your privacy and your rights as a lawful tenant. (preferably in writing or by email).
    • Unless it is an emergency, for necessary repairs, to show the apartment to a prospective tenant,  or in a accordance with a court order, a landlord must give the tenant reasonable notice before entering the apartment.
    • If the landlord continues to enter your apartment without permission or notice, you should contact the police and/or an attorney. You may be able to get a judge to issue a temporary restraining order, compelling the landlord to stay out of your apartment, unless they enter for a lawful reason.
  5. A landlord cannot try and intimidate you or pressure you for any reason

    • Any physical or verbal threat on you or another household member in an attempt to get you to pay rent,move out, or for any reason is illegal and may even warrant criminal charges.The court will have no sympathy for a landlord who uses “self-help”, strong-arm tactics against tenants, rather than an orderly, civil, court process such as eviction.
    • Know your rights! Go to your state’s Attorney General’s website and download information on tenant’s rights and landlord’s responsibilities.
    • Fight back: write on Twitter or Facebook about your landlord and call the police if needed
    • Do not respond with any kind of verbal and physical threat. Hire a lawyer and use the court process.