When Can You Sue Your Landlord?

News » When Can You Sue Your Landlord?

When a person signs a rental agreement and begins paying rent, respect is expected from the landlord or company in charge of the rental property.

Too often, the tenant landlord relationship becomes fraught with conflict.

In certain situations, a tenant may feel that they have grounds to sue their landlord for certain liabilities that may cause injury or death to the tenant, or for unethical practices regarding the lease and payments.

It's important for a person to be aware of tenants rights and their ability to hold a landlord accountable for actions that violate the lease or rental agreement.

In this blog, we discuss common reasons tenants take legal action against their landlord, what it means to sue your landlord, and the steps you need to take to sue your landlord.

Suing Your Landlord | What Can a Landlord or Rental Agency be Sued for?

Landlord tenant issues arise where legal action may be necessary.

If problems occur and you're wondering whether you can sue your landlord, be sure to gather evidence and contact a landlord tenant attorney as soon as possible. They can help you to understand your legal rights and advise you on the best steps forward.

Below is a list of common reasons a tenant may reach out to an attorney who specializes in landlord tenant laws:

Security Deposit Violations

When you sign a lease agreement, a security deposit is often required to move in. A security deposit is meant to cover any damage or costs incurred to the landlord that aren't reasonably attributed to normal wear-and-tear. A security deposit cannot be withheld for normal wear on a property.

If a landlord doesn't identify any reason to charge you for damage to a dwelling, you should expect a security deposit returned soon after you move out.

In the case that your landlord refuses to return your security deposit with no reason, you may be able to file suit. Refusing to return a security deposit is among the most common lease violations attorneys see.

*Laws surrounding the returning of security deposits are strict. If your landlord does not return your security deposit, and does not provide adequate written reason for doing so, you may be able to sue your landlord.

Uninhabitable Living Conditions

If a house or apartment is uninhabitable, and the landlord has not done their part in fixing an issue, the tenant may be able to sue for breach of contract. Issues that can make a tenant's property uninhabitable can include lack of heating or air conditioning, unsafe drinking water, and other essentials.

You, the tenant, are entitled to safe and quiet enjoyment of your dwelling. If you feel unsafe you may have the ability to sue your landlord.

The tenant's ability to sue for breach of contract depends on the laws of the area they're renting in. Cities across the United States have different laws pertaining to breach of contract. Be sure to reach out to an attorney for more information on whether or not you can file suit.

Hazardous Conditions

A rental unit is expected to be safe upon move-in. Landlord's neglect to address hazardous conditions in a property could be grounds for a lawsuit.

Black mold, asbestos, and other contaminants can render a rental unit hazardous and unsafe to live in, and it's the landlord's responsibility to address those issues quickly.

Wrongful Eviction

Wrongful eviction or illegal eviction is when a landlord does not follow established laws and regulations relating to the vacating of a rental property.

Wrongful eviction cases are difficult for tenants and can have long lasting effects on their credit score and ability to secure stable and safe housing in the future.

Tenants have a legal right to proper eviction if deemed legally allowed. Landlords are also expected to follow city and state laws regarding eviction processes and adequate written warning.

If a landlord wrongfully evicts a tenant, they can face major legal trouble.

Housing Discrimination

The Federal Fair Housing Act protects people from housing discrimination based on race, color, national origin, religion, sex (including gender identity and sexual orientation), familial status, and disability.

If you're denied housing based on any of the factors mentioned above, you may be able to file suit.

Illegal Activity on Property

If a landlord knew of illegal activity occurring on their property, and did nothing to stop it, the tenant may be able to sue for negligent security.

These illegal activities can also result in injury or death to a tenant and the landlord can be held liable.

Retaliation

If a tenant brings up issues with a rental property, and the landlord or property owner retaliates in any way, the tenant may be able to file a lawsuit.

Retaliation could mean a landlord attempts to evict a tenant, avoid maintenance duties, or other retaliatory actions.

Injury

If a renter is injured due to a landlord's negligence, they may be able to file suit. Injury can result from dangerous or hazardous conditions, lack of repairs, and more.

If you're injured due to a landlord's negligence, consider hiring a personal injury attorney.

Privacy Violations

A tenant's privacy relates to both their physical environment and their personal information. Renters are entitled to a safe and quiet enjoyment of their dwelling, proper notification of landlord entry for necessary repairs, and written notice of any eviction proceedings.

Landlords often have access to their renters' personal information, such as their social security number, bank account information and more.

While one would expect that a landlord tenant relationship will be treated with respect and dignity, a landlord may overstep their boundaries and violate a renter's privacy and the lease agreement they both signed off on.

If your privacy is violated, in terms of both your physical environment and your personal information, you may be able to sue your landlord.

Violating Lease Clauses

If your landlord refuses to make repairs or violates your rental agreement in any shape or form, you may be able to sue your landlord and/or withhold rent until the proper action is taken.

There are different laws and state rules on a tenant's ability to withhold rent, so be sure to read up on your area's regulations and the exact requirements surrounding these issues before you take action.

Failure to Reimburse Repair Costs

If your landlord fails to reimburse a renter for the repairs they made on a property, the renter may have grounds to sue.

Home repairs are often expensive and labor-intensive. As the property owner, the landlord must make adequate and timely repairs. If the renter makes those repairs and improves the home in any way, the landlord owes the cost of parts and labor.

Send a Demand Letter BEFORE you Sue Your Landlord

Before you officially address the legal issue to a small claims court, have a lawyer help you draft a demand letter explaining precisely the issue you're experiencing and how you want it resolved.

Send this demand letter via certified mail to ensure that your landlord knew of the issue present. The ball is then in their court to make the necessary repairs and fix any issues in a reasonable amount of time.

If problems still persist after sending a demand letter, you have even firmer ground to stand on when you present your case in small claims court.

What is Small Claims Court? How will my court case be handled?

Before you try to take your landlord to court, you should be aware that legal action can be time consuming.

Oftentimes, landlord tenant issues are resolved in local small claims court. Small claims court is a local court where disputes over smaller sums of money are handled quickly, often without legal representation.

Small claims court, while less formal than higher courts, can still be an expensive and stressful ordeal.

Should I Hire a Lawyer for a Small Claims Court Case?

It's advised that if you are suing your landlord, you should hire an attorney to represent you in small claims court. While you can go without legal representation, pleading your case in a court of law can be difficult for the average person.

If you're wanting to sue your landlord, you must be aware that there are certain court costs, filing fees, and potentially more legal fees if you lose your case in small claims court.

How can a Lawyer help in Small Claims Court?

A landlord tenant attorney can help you win your case in small claims court. Though you're not required to have a lawyer represent your case in small claims court, they can help you make your argument and find additional evidence to support your case.

Learn About Your Rights as a Tenant

Tenants in the United States have certain rights that cannot be violated. The Department of Housing and Urban Development provides a directory of state-by-state tenants rights. 

Though rights often vary between states, there are a few that are widely applicable:

  • Right to not be discriminated
  • Right to a safe and habitable property.
  • Right to privacy and quiet enjoyment. 
  • Right to own and house a registered service animal.
  • Right to fair cost of security deposit and adequate return. 
  • Right to fair eviction proceedings with advance notice. 

Contact a Landlord Tenant Attorney for a Consultation

If you're experiencing issues with your landlord and are considering legal action, do a quick Google search for a law firm or attorney in your area to see what your options are.

You should always "shop around" for an attorney and find the legal representation that is right for you. It's not guaranteed that a lawyer will take your case on contingency, so you may have to pay an attorney's fees as well as court fees.

Your lawyer will help you to gather all your evidence, assess your damages, and present your case to small claims court judges, or a higher court if relevant.

An educated and experienced attorney will help you through a confusing and overwhelming situation, and will in the end guarantee the maximum amount of compensation or restitution necessary to make you financially whole.

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