Is your landlord breaking the law?
It's not enough to complain about the landlord's rash behavior or inattention to repairs. As a tenant, you have legal rights, and your landlord could be in violation. Here are 7 common situations to consider.
See if you can nail this question: One day the heat goes out in your apartment, and your landlord brings over a space heater. Do you: a) thank him; or, b) ask when the heating system will be up and running again?
Polite or not, the answer is "b." You can dole out a quick thanks for the heater if you like, but make sure all sides are clear: This is a temporary fix only.
Too many tenants fail here, unaware that by law the landlord must repair the primary heating unit — and air conditioning and major appliances, etc. — swiftly. Failure to do so breaches the rental contract and poses a safety risk.
So why is this critical for the tenant to know? Shouldn't the landlord know this? Isn't someone watching the landlord?
There's the problem: Many landlords aren't aware of their legal responsibilities, tenant advocates say. It's not as if landlords need a license, and no one is randomly checking up on them. Housing officials respond only if you, the tenant, call — and even then they're likely to ask, "Did you notify the landlord?"
Welcome to the world of renting, where it's up to you to be on alert. If something seems amiss or unfair, that's the time to ask, "Is my landlord breaking the law?" (See "How landlords get away with it") If you think the answer might be yes, document the incident and, if necessary, contact a tenants association.
Housing laws vary from state to state, and even from town to town, but the basics tend to apply everywhere. For some ideas of what these look like, here are seven examples. See if you know the answer: "Is that legal?"
1. It's just a friendly little conversation — or is it?
You make an appointment to view an apartment. When you arrive, with your child in tow, the manager smiles and says, "Oh, I didn't realize you had a child. I'm concerned about safety; the fence around the pool is not secure."
Is the landlord violating federal anti-discrimination laws?
The answer's a little messy. Words alone don't break laws, unless you scream, "Fire!" in a crowded movie theater and cause immediate harm. But if that landlord rejects your application and leases to a childless person, you may very well get a friendly reception from a housing lawyer and a judge.
Under federal law, landlords cannot choose tenants based on familial status, age or health.
But many landlords either don't know this or believe they can subtly dissuade those people from applying. They might say to a parent or an older person: "Are you sure you'd want to deal with these stairs?"
"We routinely see this," says Adam Murray, executive director of the Inner City Law Center in Los Angeles.
"They will say, 'Oh, you have kids, I didn't realize that when you called. I really want to rent to single folks.' Or sometimes it's couched: 'I don't think the building is safe for kids.'
"Routinely, landlords will say this, and often they don't know," Murray says. "The question is: Is the landlord discriminating on that basis? The law is pretty clear — you can't not be renting to someone on the basis of that."
2. Locks changed? What do you expect when you don't pay the rent?
You are 30 days late paying the rent. The landlord has asked again and again for the money, and you still have not paid what's owed. Finally, the landlord changes the lock so you cannot enter, forcing you to either come up with the cash or leave.
This happens more than people realize, tenant advocates say, and it is a blatant violation of the law.
Even in Arkansas — one of the most landlord-friendly states in the nation — it's not OK for landlords to change the locks without going to court first and obtaining a judge's order.
"I have landlords all the time who will resort to strong-arm tactics and bullying tactics, where they will tell a tenant, 'I'm going to come tomorrow and I'm going to change the lock,'" says Dylan Potts, a landlord-tenant lawyer with Gill Elrod Ragon, in Little Rock, Ark.
Potts has even seen leases in which a tenant pre-authorizes the landlord to come in and change the lock if the tenant is three days late, for example.
"Even with the contractual term, that is void and against public policy," Potts says. A landlord can't write around the law. (See "Renters: Beware of these lease clauses.")
Tenants are routinely removed this way, he says. The problem is that tenants don't know their rights, and usually can't afford legal counsel. They think their only option is to leave.
Landlords, meanwhile, are surprised to learn that self-help eviction, as it's called, is not legal.
"I think the landlord, as the owner of the property, feels like he has the right to remove someone from the property if that person is not obliging with the terms of the contract," Potts says. But a judge and, later, police must carry out the eviction process.
"There has to be a sense of order in this process, and by giving the landlord total control, you strip the tenant of all potential defenses that the tenant may have to contest that type of eviction," Potts says. "It puts all the power in the landlord's hands to make all the decisions."
3. Your stuff? Sorry, it's not your place anymore
So the landlord got an order from a judge and legally changed the lock. If you weren't there, it's your tough luck if your possessions are inside his unit, right?
If you're getting the hang of this exercise, you may have guessed: The landlord most likely needs to make some effort to contact you. He can't help himself to the television because you owe him money. He can't toss your clothes on the sidewalk because he needs to clear the apartment and you didn't show up within 24 hours of the eviction date.
"The typical requirement is the landlord must go back to court if there is property maintained there by the tenant," Potts says. "There are landlords that will dispose of those possessions. My advice to landlords has always been to store the possessions."
Yes, after a reasonable amount of time, and after effort has been made to contact the former tenant, the property may be considered abandoned. A tenant can't reappear months later and try to claim his belongings.
But if a tenant was evicted only days or weeks before, or if he still legally resides there but has not paid the rent, the landlord cannot lay claim to his possessions.
"I see this tied a lot to the initial self-help eviction," Potts says. "There's no sheriff, no court. They go in and change the locks themselves, hold the stuff hostage, then bargain with tenants."
What's a tenant to do? Get help, the experts say.
"Any time anybody's getting evicted, they should be seeking legal assistance," Murray says. "There's a study that shows if you don't have an attorney, you're likely to lose.
"And on the landlord side, most will have an attorney. So you have a real mismatch of understanding what the rules are," he says. "It's not enough to just know these things."
We rented a house in New Mexico for 3 years, I left that house in better shape then when I first rented it. I mowed the lawn and planted flowers, And with the owners permission I painted the kitchen and bathrooms. As soon as I did all these things, the owners decided that the house looked so good that they decided to sale the house right out from under us. And we paid for the improvement. We did not get one cent extra for the paint except we did get our deposit back. And they gave us 2 weeks to move out.
I just got through dealing with a witch of a landlord. If you live in Toledo, Ohio watch out for her. She looks like a very nice older lady, but looks are deceiving. I gave a deposit (promptly spent) then found out there were foundation problems (flooding) never fixed. She cried broke every time I asked about anything although she had a business nearby and did weddings. Infestation of spiders, centipedes, and millipedes and she wanted me to pay for pest control. Utilities were more than they were for a 2600 square foot house, but the only way they could read the meter was to go through her adjoining house. If I was a day late, she threatened to evict me, talked to me like I was dirt. I was a homeowner and lost my house because of economy. I did more on her property than she did. When I moved I did everything right, her townhouse was show ready. She waited till the 30th day to give me $200 of $725 deposit, charging me for pulling up some weeds that I did a year ago to control insects. 60 days to get her to court and still didn't get full deposit. Thought it was over then found out 3 months later that I had been paying gas bill at her townhouse. Asked for my money back, no response.
Everyone: take pictures, and get everything in writing. Emails put a date, time stamp on correspondence. That was the only thing that helped me get back what I did. I probably could have gotten full amount but I was nervous about being in court.
Yes, some of the illegal actions are indeed illegal in some states, but NOT in every state. Self help eviction for instance. I am a landlord in a state where I am happy to report it is VERY legal. Don't pay my rent and yes one day there will be a notice posted on your door (as per the lease) and 5 days later your keys won't fit the lock anymore. Similar for the nonsense cited about the possessions left behind. Yes, in states whose court decisions have been leaning towards socialism for the past few decades, places like NY, MA, and CA, the landlord can't sell or dispose of the items left behind. That is why I am not a landlord in those places any more. In states that are pro capitalism however, what you left behind you abandoned on the day you failed to pay the rent. Why do we put that in the lease? Simply so the tenant can't stand up in court and claim he/she hadn't realized their coin collection could be seized and sold to cover back rent if they were dumb enough to still have it in the place on the deadline stated on the notice prominently posted on their front door when the rent became past due. In my current state, since I am not a business, the tenant who rents my mom's old house is a trespasser when the rent day arrives if the rent is not going to be paid. If I was stupid and started an eviction process, then under the state law I would be stuck and forced to wait the year and a half the court might take to hear and decide the matter. Fortunately my state gives small owners a choice. This choice includes visiting a local street corner and hiring 4 unemployed youth (formerly called hoodlums and thugs when I was younger) to help throw a trespasser and his stuff out. Yes, I have been to court in situations like the ones cited. I have won every time. Like I said the article is poorly researched and shouldn't be taken as a gospel valid in every state. Check with a lawyer in your state, note also that in some states the rules vary from town to city to county so that the rule in one part of the state may be totally different in another part of the same state.
I think there should be a way to do a credit/background check on Landlords We have had the worst luck with people who bought houses thinking they were going to make a lot of money in the rental business. In Arizona we had two landlords that rented us houses that were in foreclosure. We had one evict us because we complained too much about repairs that were needed. He claimed he never received our rent. When we got into court we had proof that a check was received. The judge said he would dismiss it if we had the rent plus the almost $2000 for the landlords lawyers fees which we had the rent but not the lawyers fees so now we have a ding in our credit. The rental we are in now in another state is just as bad. The neighbors thought we bought the place because we cleaned it up so much. Most of the appliances have been replaced by us as well as most of the repairs. We still have another 5 months on the lease and we would move but 4/2 rentals are slim pickens in the area that we live. We have had our share of good rentals but too many people are renting out homes they can't sell and they have no business trying to be landlords because they cannot afford the upkeep..
The vast majority of misconduct allegations against landlords are fabricated by legal aid and used to answer the unlawful detainer landords obtain in an effort to recover their property. Legal aid tell the tenant they can use this ploy to get the tenant three to six months free rent. Naturally the tenant agrees, and after the first time they koow how tto play the game over and over. Who's really is the criminal here??
dragon lady....good name, seems to fit. Because you don't like how an agency works...that does not make them useless. Nor more than if someone doesn't like you....it doesn't make you useless.
You expected an "agency" to do someone about "non reputable contractors" and "bandaid repairs" ? You realize each of those terms are qualitative and subjective...right. You have the right to move out at the end of your lease....my guess is got into a cheap rental, and won't get out because it will cost you more to get more.
But on the plus side, look at it as a learning experience to your next rental.
As the tenant advocacy person notes, landlords aren't licensed. I will expand on that sage comment to say, neither are advocay groups. That said have a rental unit, and treat people with respect and expect the same.
To Ryan in Texas.....I see you have the football fan approach to politics, the dems versus the repulbicans. It likely saves brain from having to think on a case by case basis and making an informed decision.
Many renters have an anti business, class warfare, entitlement mentality.
Or more bluntly - they are true Democrats.
When you see how people leave places they have rented, it makes you lose faith in humanity. Trash strewn everywhere. Stains left uncleaned. No respect for the property.
Those of us who own our homes see what "regular wear and tear" is. For every one year in an owned property, you see about 3 years worth of wear in a rented property.
Once you have cleaned up after them a few times - your concept of renters being innocent victims will go out the window.
My wife and I outgrew a starter home about three years ago and had some difficulty selling it after we bought our new home. After a while on the tanked market the second mortgage became a drain on us so we decided to rent it out (not sissy out and let it foreclose like many others). I never was after any profit and pretty much just looking to make ends meet till the house finally sold. Luckily we've always had decent tenants who paid on time but I will say there was never any pride in the upkeep... Usually It would take days once a tenant moved out to get everything back up to par, and there is a big difference between normal wear and tear and blatent neglect. As a former renter myself before I got married I frequently shook my head thinking I never treated or left a place the way some have left my property... Guess it's a sign of the times.
I see comments about horror stories on both sides of the spectrum and I will just offer this small bit of advise for you to take or leave. It comes down to individuals and people in general. I as a landlord did my homework in selecting my tenants based on references and credit and would suggest that other landlords do the same. Alternatively as a tenant I would ask questions to the prospective landlord on how possible problems would be handled, ask neighboring tenants or people who formally rented from that particular landlord.
Many comments here are quick to blame the other guy and I'm sure I'll get a few thumbs down since it's so easy to click but always assume the worst and prepare yourself for what you're getting into people.. Use common sence!
We made a huge mistake renting a house right next door to where we were building our new home.
The young landlord was nice in the beginning, but we caught him and his wife coming out of the house we rented shortly after moving in. They said they were checking the house because they saw a neighbor walking around the side of it, which was a huge lie.
We caught them on a hidden camera a lot, but didn't say anything since we had nothing inside for them to take or complain about to us.
We were smarter because we took pictures of the whole place before moving in and through out the yr and 1/2 we rented as proof of what the place looked like.
When the landlords wife left him he would stop in nightly to tell us everything that was going on between them, but in the end they got back together and that is when all hell broke loose on us because she HATED us because we knew everything about their split up.
They would show up at 9:00 @ night and want to check the place or fight with us because we were not parking correctly or watering the yard or drove over a sprinkler. It was anything she could think of.
We had an open lease to where we did not have to move out until our home was built. They try to make us move out after a yr and when our Attorney told him they could not do it they then tried to raise the rent, and again our Attorney told them they could not do it under the contract we had all originally signed.
In the end when we moved out, we ended up going to court to fight to get our money back. He tried to collect on all sorts of damages to the house, including termite damage that we told him about and asked to have taken care of. THANK THE LORD WE HAD OUR PICTURES OF BEFORE - THROUGH OUT AND MOVE OUT!!! Those pictures showed it all and in the end we walked out of the courthouse with a HUGE smile on our face.
He has since rented the house out and it is now a dump and they continue to go inside when renters are not at home. NOT OUR PROBLEM!!
We pay more than most tenants, and we actually have the right number of people living here and we clean the place everyday and have maintained it perfectly. Even the maintenance staff says it looks as if we just moved in our place because it is so well kept. These people have it coming to them and they will get what they deserve. This dumb manager brags about working for this company for almost 16 yrs, well, she is now going to lose her job over something so stupid and trivial that she blew out of control trying to act like she was some big boss. Now her, her supervisor, and other staff are going to lose there jobs as well for the acts that took place. Its so hilarious to me because we tried to work with them and they continue to act like monkeys. They stuck together so they will FALL TOGETHER. So now at there age, they will probably be one of the old people working at walmart or in fast food.
Landlords deserve what they get, they are evil and they got in this business for the wrong reason. Yes I do believe a landlord should make a profit, but I also believe a tenant should be given a decent place to live. For some reason landlords think they are somehow superior, when in fact they are just average joes stuck paying more than one mortgage. If you screw tenants, you ruin yourself. It is true there are bad tenants out there, but if you actually check references properly you will probably not run into them as often. Truth is you guys go after money first and thats why you continue to get f***ed in the A$$. My property mgmt hates me because I actually want to be able to sleep in my apartment at 1am and not deal with noisy neighbors so they refused me services and now legally they are in major hot water. Stupid is as stupid does. I tried to work with them for months to get the issues taken care of and they tried to bully me, and now after months of antics they are walking around scared because of the all the laws they have broken. Well I could show pity but I won't. They had no problem being A$$holes when "they assumed I was some dumb chick in my 20s" so I am going to do what I love to do and teach them MFs a lesson.
Being a landlord is not for everyone, you better check your work ethic and personality out thoroughly before you invest in real estate.