7 Steps for Fighting – and Beating – a Bad Landlord

Don’t let a landlord run your life or ruin it. They may own the property, but you have rights. You just have to know how to use them.

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Someone coined the phrase “slumlord” for a reason – some landlords just don’t care. And if you’ve ever rented an apartment or a house, you probably have at least one horror story to tell. This is mine.

I moved into a rental duplex two years ago. The landlord was full of promises, the place was clean, and the price was right. Unfortunately, I had yet to learn the 5 Ways to Spot a Bad Landlord. I didn’t ask enough questions, I didn’t talk to current tenants, and I didn’t do any background research.

So it’s no surprise I ran into problems. But the severity of the problems was downright creepy – four long months later, he was sending me nasty text messages, and we had a (very) public fight on my front lawn.

Ultimately, I left before the lease was up. I lost my security deposit and had to find a new apartment on 24 hours’ notice. But you don’t have to suffer the same fate – and frankly, neither did I, if I only knew then what I know now. You can fight your landlord and win. Here’s how…

1. Start a written record

The problems with my landlord started almost immediately after I moved in. Within a week, he was knocking on my door at odd hours – often before 6 a.m. or after 10 p.m. – just to “check in.”

A month into my lease, I was getting ready for bed when I heard a key in the front door. I came into the living room to find my landlord entering the house. I threatened legal action if he didn’t leave. He did, but two weeks later, my neighbor met me outside one night to tell me the landlord had gone into my property again.

As a tenant, I knew I had some basic rights – like the right to privacy – so I started to log my landlord’s visits on a spreadsheet. I noted the time, reason for his visit, and duration every time he stopped by.

If you’re having problems with your landlord, keep good notes. If the problems escalate, those notes will help you prove your case against the landlord in court. Hopefully, it won’t get that far. Often, reasonable landlords will be swayed if you…

2. Check your lease agreement

If your landlord agreed to something in your lease, he has to follow it. Sometimes, landlords simply forget what’s in a lease until you remind them. Once you do, they might grumble, but they back down.

In my case, the biggest source of conflict was my dog. After I threatened to sue or even call the cops over my privacy, my landlord started retaliating by making strange demands.

One day, he came by and told me to “get rid” of my dog. When I told him he had signed a pet agreement, he said it didn’t matter because he “knew the eviction judge.” I ignored the request because I knew I had protection under the lease. Keep a copy of that lease in a safe place. It’s kryptonite to a super-bad landlord.

3. Send written requests

Not surprisingly, my landlord ignored a maintenance request I made after a door came off the hinges while I was trying to open it. I sent him a certified letter asking again for the repair. He never fixed it, but I had proof of that by keeping a copy of the letter.

Failing to make repairs is one of the most common tenant complaints. Sometimes your landlord just doesn’t care, but sometimes they’ve just forgotten. Follow up with your landlord – in writing. What should those letters look like? Here are some excellent examples from Oregon’s Lane County Legal Aid and Advocacy Center, which can be adjusted to work in any state.

4. Decide if you have a case

The relationship with my landlord continued to deteriorate. Within two months, I no longer felt comfortable in my own home. But I wasn’t sure that my landlord had really done anything bad enough to warrant a court case. I lived in New Orleans, so I went online and looked up Louisiana’s landlord and tenant laws.

I learned your landlord can’t raise your rent during your lease, invade your privacy without cause, or refuse to do repairs – but the state laws vary on the details. The legal website NOLO has a list of the landlord and tenant laws by state. Look up yours and learn your rights.

5. Seek legal assistance

Everyone has a breaking point. Mine came the morning I woke up to find a note on my front door. It claimed my dog had been barking all night and that I’d have to get rid of him that same day – or “vacate the property.”

When I called the landlord, he told me the dog had been barking at 10:30 p.m. and the neighbors had complained. I told him the dog was with me, out of the house, until well past midnight. Later that day, he showed up at my front door and demanded the keys. I refused. The landlord started shouting. The next thing I knew, we were arguing on the front lawn. When he left, I called a lawyer I knew, and he assured me I didn’t have to move.

If you can’t get a response from your landlord, or he keeps breaking the lease or the law, you’ll need legal help. Legal Aid provides low-cost (or free) legal advice to tenants based on income level. The Legal Services Corporation website has a list of Legal Aid groups by state.

6. File a civil lawsuit

I never got to the point of suing my landlord. I left my rental the same day we had the heated argument on the front lawn. At that point, I just wanted to get away from him. But maybe I should’ve sued. I might have, if I knew I could quickly find help.

If you qualify, Legal Aid may be able to attend court on your behalf. Otherwise, you should hire a landlord-tenant lawyer. FindLaw has a database of landlord-tenant lawyers by location. If a judge decides in your favor, he may award you monetary damages or force the landlord to take action. That can more than make it worth the fee you paid the lawyer.

7. Fight discrimination

If there’s one thing my crazy landlord didn’t do, he never discriminated against me – apparently, he treated everyone like dirt. But it does happen. I know someone who was refused a rental because she was a college student. Another friend of mine was asked to move after she had a baby.

If you feel your landlord is discriminating against you based on your sex, race, or disability, you can file a complaint with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Local HUD offices may be able to take legal action against your landlord. The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights’ website has a list of housing discrimination enforcement agencies by state.

The bottom line: Don’t let your landlord lord over your rights. The law is on your side.

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Comments

  • Ronna Geddes

    Hi everyone. I am happy that I accidentally came across this discussion.
    A year ago I put a security deposit down on a apartment. I get HUD, and the landlord called me 2 days later, and said, “If HUD doesn’t come by Tuesday, there are 3 other people that would like to rent the apartment.”
    So, I had to call HUD, tell the demand, and wait for them to get back to me.
    I stressed, until HUD contacted me with a time and day for the date.
    He had told me immediately, that he was a landlord that wasn’t around, and I would never see him unless he had to fix something.
    While I was moving in, he came up and threatened me, that I wasn’t able to move any more of my belongings in. I called HUD, they said that I could have all of my belongings. Within a couple of days, he threatened to call code enforcement on me for ,”fire hazard”. I never thought the next 11 months would become a nitemare . Within a couple of weeks, he decided to paint the mansion, which I rented the whole upstairs.
    it took him approximately 3-4 weeks to paint the downstairs . He immediately started asking my friends thier names…. Including last names. He sent me a text saying that he was doing background checks on them.. My daughter stayed a few weeks with my Grandchildren. He came up, and told them not to run, he told me not to let them by the Windows, not to run, keep the tv down, and said they couldn’t stay there because of HUD, and he didn’t want them using the facilities….this also included their homeless mother(my daughter).
    My daughter , unfortunately has been going through a great deal of problems, and became a addict a year and a half ago. Which is why they were visiting at my apartment, along w her boyfriend.. The boys went to S.Carolina. A couple weeks later, the Child Protection service went with their other grandma, until my daughter could get well. They showed up, with a report, that said that I reported her. First of all, I wouldn’t report her, I would just take them for her. Secondly, they were in S.Carolina. it’s a mystery, of who did it, but with people having private information, it could be anyone, I guess. He has now been “painting” nearly3 months. In August, my place had been burglarized, and reported… Thousands of dollars worth of my belongings were gone. This happened a few times. It is also a mystery. There were ladders up to my apartment Windows for months…1 in the kitchen, and two leading to my 2 bedroom Windows. I woke up one morning, and he was in my bedroom window. I went outside and told him that I wanted24 hours notice of him being in my bedroom Windows. The next day he was there again. I went to the police dept. They called and gave him a warning. I was burglarized a few times, and asked for a deadbolt A few weeks after that, a girl came in my apartment. She acted like she was welcomed, but I didn’t invite her i, she just walked in. She ended up choking me. 2 warrants out for her arrest , and a stay away order sitting at the bench, she came back to beat me. She put me in the ER. I ended up w a blind spot in my eye, a bad black eye, and 1 not so bad…. After the second burglary, I had asked for a deadbolt.. 3 ladders up IN my Windows, and a hollow door with no deadbolt. He refused to put one on. He eventually said I could, if I paid for the lock and installation. I couldn’t afford it. I just couldn’t. Meanwhile, I had asked the neighbors, (who had a deadbolt) if he asked them to tell him what I was doing….He Sid that he had been, then said,he does that to all the tenants….No, he didn’t. I didn’t report my neighbors to him, and he never asked me too. My neighbors hated me for no reason, but except for the simple reason that he made them hate me. I was so uncomfortable that half of my stuff was in boxes in the attic. ( I have a throbbing headache right now) .. He would text me things saying that I needed psychiatric help. I realized that I was heating the hallway, which I never was informed of. It got cold a couple of times, when I turned my heat way down , so I checked to see if it went on and off, by turning the thermostat on and off. It did… He text me saying that I was imagining things again. My daughter would stop by,,, he would let me know that he knew she was there, and said” We are watching ”
    Her and her bf, were arrested with manufacturing methanphatamines. He said that him and the police were going to sweep through the apartment. That the whole state of New York, and even Florida, was on to me…. What? Now that my daughter is a addict…I am too?_ I never told him or the neighbors that I went to Florida.After the arrest of my daughter, the cops showed unannounce 3-4 to find my daughters boyfriend. I know that they weren’t there for that…. one officer looked in my bedroom closet for a minute or so…um he really wasn’t in the hamper of clothes. He text me that the premises were being watched, that he was going to check the walls with a,”meth detector”. If there was meth on the walls, he was going to sue me for the cleanup. He said that he would even take my assets, my belongings. …He would text me to move, and he wrote me a letter to evacuate.
    He called HUD on me, multiple times!! He called and said that my youngest daughter was arrested in my apartment for manufacturing methamphetamines, and taken out by the drug task force, in handcuffs. That there was sheriff’s, state police, and city police there. Along with fire trucks That my neighbor spoke to a trooper. I brought the phone down, with my landlord on it , and asked, if he had told him that… My neighbor sad, that he had. But said , he only said that he spoke to a State trooper that was in the back yard. …the rest was a lie. It would have been immediate termination of my HUD. I was so angry….the daughter he was referring to has never smoked a cigarette, never drank, and would never try drugs. She is a honor roll student, graduating this year. She is going to college to work at the DEC. That’s defamation!!! He about killed me, … I had to move…. After him telling me to get out, then saying, “you can’t, because HUD won’t brake the contract”. I didn’t care…one more month is all I had left…I found a smaller apartment that costs me more. I’m almost positive that I have a ulcer…when I put a small amount of pressure between my ribs, on my stomach area, it hurts terribly. I have been completely out, of that apartment, for almost 3 weeks. After all that he has done…everyone says how I should let him keep my security deposit….He even said in a text, that the cops were afraid of my instability. And I couldn’t be in my own apartment when he went in….4 inspections the first 6 months…. He is not getting my security deposit!!…He followed my Uhaul, while I was moving, and my brother noticed him… The landlord sat anxiously for my brother to start unloading.( I had gone to pick a guy that was going to help us. I thought the uhaul had broke dow, because it was just sitting there on the wrong street, I went to approach it. I saw my landlords truck sitting there…I stopped… I said… What are you doing, following me? He said, yes. I said, “why?” He said …”because be wanted to know where I would be at”. I called the cops,
    the cops said, that me, and 3 of my friends, would have to take polygraphs… We all agreed to.
    they said that all of this stuff doesn’t amount to stalking.. apparently it isn’t even harrassment. Apparently, they don’t care about me.

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