Illegal Actions Your Landlord Could Be Taking


By Erin Eberlin | the balance

There are good landlords, there are bad landlords and there are inexperienced landlords. As a rental property owner, there are certain legal rules you must follow. Learn nine reasons a landlord may take an illegal action and 14 common landlord actions that could be considered illegal.

9 Reasons Landlords Take Illegal Actions:

There are various reasons a landlord may commit an illegal act. These reasons range from intentionally trying to get a tenant to move out of the apartment to unintentionally breaking the law because they are not educated on the landlord tenant law in their state.

1. Nonpayment:

A landlord may take an illegal action in an attempt to remove a tenant who is not paying their rent. The landlord may want to avoid the lengthy eviction process, which can often take as long as two months to get the tenant out. The landlord may also want to avoid the risk that the tenant will pay the rent due once they get to court, but after the court date, will continue to not pay the rent, resulting in the landlord having to start the eviction process all over again.

2. Problem Tenant:

Landlords may take illegal actions against tenants who have been causing problems at the rental property. This could include disturbing other tenants, harassing other tenants, conducting illegal activities out of their apartment, such as using it as a business or drug dealing, or for breaking other clauses of the lease agreement.

3. Tenant Complaints:

A landlord may try to retaliate against tenants who have made complaints about the rental property.

The tenant may have made these complaints to the landlord or the tenant may have filed a formal complaint with the town or state.

4. Trying to Get the Tenant to Move:

A landlord may take illegal actions because he or she wants the tenant to move out of the rental. The landlord may harass the tenant or neglect the tenant to make the living conditions so uncomfortable that the tenant leaves the property.

Increasing a tenant’s rent is another way landlords try to get tenants to move.

5. Want to Charge Higher Rent:

Sometimes a landlord wants a tenant out of the rental property so that he or she can charge a much higher rent than he or she is currently getting for the unit. This is commonly seen when there are rent stabilized apartments or apartments where protected tenants reside.

In rent stabilized apartments, the rent can only be increased by a certain percentage each year, so if the tenant has been there for 30 years, they may be paying far below market rent for the unit. Protected tenants are similar in that you can only increase the rent by a certain percentage each year. These tenants cannot be evicted for reasons such as changes in property ownership.

6. Do Not Want to Rent to Certain Tenants:

An illegal landlord action may be the result of a landlord trying to prevent certain tenants from renting their property. A landlord may prefer to keep their property free from children. The landlord may not want individuals of a certain race or religion living in their property. The landlord may also be trying to avoid having to make reasonable accommodations to their property for tenants with a disability.

7. Do Not Know the Law:

A landlord may do something illegal because they are unfamiliar with the rules of being a landlord. They may not know the landlord tenant laws in their state or town and are actually unaware that the action they are performing is illegal.

8. Increase in Property Expenses:

If a landlord has seen an increase in property taxes, insurance, utilities or other costs to operate the property, the landlord may perform illegal actions to make up for the increase in costs. This could include trying to get tenants to move who are paying lower rents, hiring unskilled workers to perform repairs or refusing to schedule required property inspections.

9. Make More Money:

A landlord may take illegal actions in an attempt to make more money. The landlord has not seen an increase in costs to operate the property, such as property taxes or utilities.

The landlord just wants more money in their pocket and may try to increase rent or skimp on repairs.

14 Illegal Actions Landlords Take

1. Refusing to Make Repairs:

In an attempt to make a tenant’s life uncomfortable or in an attempt to save money, a landlord may refuse to make repairs to the rental unit. The landlord may also attempt to cut off necessary services to the tenant, such as heat or hot water, which is also illegal.

A landlord is required to keep the rental property in a habitable condition, so it is illegal to refuse to make repairs that affect a tenant’s health or safety. The landlord could also make the repairs, but illegally hire unlicensed contractors to do work, such as electrical or plumbing, that the town requires licensed individuals to perform.

2. Trying to Cover Up Safety Issues:

The landlord may be aware of a health or safety issue at the property and instead of fixing the issue, the landlord may instead try to cover it up. For example, there could be known lead paint hazards in the property. The landlord could try to avoid costly lead paint remediation by installing decorative molding over the hazard.

3. Discriminatory Practices:

A landlord is legally responsible for following Fair Housing Laws. There is a Federal Fair Housing Law and certain states have additional fair housing rules that landlords must follow. These rules prevent landlords from discriminating against certain classes of people when renting out their properties.

For example, it is illegal for a landlord to refuse to rent to a tenant because of the color of their skin, the religious group they are affiliated with, the fact that they have children or because they have a disability. Two of the most common times a landlord violates these fair housing laws is when he or she is posting ads to fill a vacancy or when the landlord is actually screening and interviewing tenants to fill the vacancy.

4. Entering Without Giving Proper Notice:

Another prohibited act is not respecting a tenant’s legal right to privacy. A landlord has the right to enter a tenant’s apartment in an emergency, but in most other situations, must give the tenant proper notice in order to enter the tenant’s apartment. The amount of notice a landlord must give is usually spelled out in a state’s landlord tenant law and if not, should be written as a clause in the lease agreement. In addition to proper notice, the landlord can only enter the apartment for legal reasons, such as showing the unit to prospective tenants or to make repairs.

5. Increasing Rent:

There are specific rules for how often a landlord can increase a tenant’s rent and how much the landlord can increase the rent by. It would be illegal if the landlord increases a tenant’s rent without giving the proper notice, such as 30 days’ prior to lease renewal, or increases the rent by more than is legally allowed, such as a 10 percent increase when the maximum allowed by the state is a 5 percent annual increase. It would also be illegal if a landlord followed the rules to increase a tenant’s rent, but only increased the tenant’s rent as a form of retaliation because the tenant complained about a health or safety issue at the property.

6. Renting Illegal Apartments:

A landlord may attempt to rent out a space in their property that has not been legally approved for occupancy. Common attempts at this include renting out basement apartments or turning a legal one family home into an illegal two family home. Illegal apartments can be very dangerous as they have not met required health and safety codes.

Another illegal practice is when landlords who own a co-op, a condo or a property that is part of homeowners’ association, illegally rent out units short term through sites such as Airbnb. These rentals are in violation of the bylaws of the condo, co-op or homeowners’ association. These bylaws usually restrict short term temporary rentals because they feel these renters will not have same respect for the community or apartment as a long term renter would.

7. Not Getting Required Inspections:

There are some landlords who rent out apartments without getting the required inspections done. Some states require a new Certificate of Occupancy or a habitability inspection every time the unit is rented or every number of years. Some states or towns will require fire inspections prior to renting, which confirm that the unit has the proper number of carbon or smoke detectors and that they are in working order.

Municipalities will often charge fees for these inspections which can range from tens of dollars to hundreds of dollars. Landlords may put off these inspections so they do not have to pay these fees.

8. Illegal Deductions From Security Deposit:

A landlord may try to keep a tenant’s security deposit for bogus repairs, damage to the property that occurred prior to the tenant moving in or other fake breaches to the lease agreement. Legitimate reasons to keep a security deposit include unpaid rent and damage to the unit, not including ordinary wear and tear.

9. Illegal Lease Clauses:

A landlord may sometimes include clauses in their lease agreements that are forbidden under landlord tenant law. For example, they may require the tenant to put down a security deposit that is more than the statewide maximum or may include a clause that states the landlord is not required to make any repairs to the unit.

10. Violating Terms of the Lease:

It is illegal for a landlord to attempt to take away privileges from the tenant that were included and agreed to in the lease agreement. For example, if the tenant was entitled to one parking space under the lease, the landlord cannot decide to suddenly take this space away from the tenant. If the tenant was allowed to have one pet in the apartment as part of the lease, the landlord cannot force the tenant to get rid of the pet if the pet is not causing any problems.

11. Monitoring Devices:

Certain landlords will place cameras or recording equipment inside a tenant’s apartment. This is completely illegal no matter what the reasoning behind it.

12. Changing Locks:

Trying to force a tenant to move out of the rental property by changing the locks on their apartment is illegal.

13. Intimidation:

Physically or verbally threatening a tenant in an attempt to get them to pay rent, move out or for any other reason, is illegal.

14. Retaliatory Eviction:

Filing to evict a tenant as a means of retaliation is illegal. For example, filing to evict a tenant after the tenant complained to the town that their apartment is too cold in the winter is considered a retaliatory eviction and it is illegal.

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