If you think being a landlord is easy, think again. Leasing an investment property requires not only efficient property management but also a thorough understanding of landlord-tenant laws. Landlords, property owners, and property managers must follow federal and state laws, otherwise, they may find themselves at the receiving end of a lawsuit.
Tenants can sue their landlords for various reasons, so it’s crucial to be well-versed in the intricacies of the law. By doing this, you can avoid settling disputes in court, saving you thousands of dollars while protecting your reputation.
Remember, if one tenant sues you and wins, that is enough to deter prospective tenants. If your rental property is your primary source of income, you need to do everything to ensure that you keep vacancies at a minimum.
In this article, we will discuss the circumstances where a tenant may consider suing their landlord.
#1 Wrongful Eviction
Wrongful eviction is when a landlord forces a tenant out of the rental property without following the proper procedure. Generally, landlords have the right to evict a tenant for valid reasons, such as non-payment of rent, breach of the lease agreement, and so on. They do not, however, have the right to kick their tenant out whenever they want to.
Landlords must strictly follow the eviction process to allow the tenant to defend themselves. During the eviction proceedings, the court determines if the grounds for eviction are valid. So, when a landlord changes the locks, cuts off the utilities, or does anything that would coerce a tenant to leave without undergoing the proper procedure, they may be sued for wrongful eviction.
#2 Failure to Return the Security Deposit
Landlords have the authority to collect a security deposit at the beginning of the tenancy. However, laws regarding its use vary by state. In general, landlords can use the security deposit to cover the following:
- Unpaid rent
- Cost of repairs and replacements (e.g. broken windows and damaged furniture)
- Cost to clean the unit
In addition, landlords are allowed to deduct a reasonable amount from the security deposit. The remaining amount should be returned to the tenant when they move out. For instance, if the tenant paid a $1,000 security deposit and the landlord discovered holes in the wall during the move-out inspection, the landlord should keep $100 to cover the cost of repairs and return the $900 to the tenant.
A tenant may sue the landlord if the latter charges the former excessively. Similarly, tenants may take legal action against the landlord if the latter refuses to return the security deposit, whether partially or fully.
The Fair Housing Act (FHA) prohibits discrimination in housing. Its purpose is to provide everyone the equal opportunity to buy or rent a home. Hence, landlords cannot discriminate against prospective tenants based on their race, religion, color, national origin, sex, disability, and familial status.
Discriminatory acts include refusing to rent out the home, lying about a unit’s availability, charging different rental rates, and so on. If a tenant feels as though they experienced discrimination at any point in time — even during the tenancy — they may file a complaint with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).
#4 Illegal Entry
Owning the rental property does not give the landlord the right to enter the home on a whim. Landlords are required to provide their tenants with “reasonable notice” — again, this varies by state. For example, landlords in California are required to notify their tenants at least twenty-four hours before entering the property. On the other hand, landlords in New York must provide one week’s notice for repairs and twenty-four hours’ notice for inspections.
In certain circumstances, however, the landlord is allowed to enter the property without obtaining the tenant’s consent. It includes emergencies (e.g. floods and fires) and abandonment. Aside from those reasons, the landlord should always provide reasonable notice, otherwise, they may be charged with trespassing.
#5 Breach of Quiet Enjoyment
Tenants are entitled to the “implied warranty of quiet enjoyment”. In its most basic sense, it refers to the right to use the property without interference. A breach of quiet enjoyment occurs when the tenant experiences disturbances that affect their day-to-day activities. Common examples of these disturbances include:
- This occurs when the landlord violates the tenant’s peace and privacy by entering their home without due notice, showing up at their doorstep to discuss rental-related matters, interrupting their utilities, and the like.
- This includes barking dogs, remodeling work, noisy neighbors, and so on. If the tenant complains about the noise, the landlord should address the issue by talking to the next-door neighbors or the homeowners association.
- Your tenant does not want to fall asleep to the sound of rats’ feet pitter-pattering in the attic. Aside from being disruptive, pests are a health hazard. Failure to get rid of the pests is a violation of the “implied warranty of habitability”.
#6 Uninhabitable Conditions
A tenant may sue their landlord fails to ensure that the rental home meets basic living and safety standards. For example, if the landlord does not provide proper heating during the winter, the tenant may file a lawsuit against the landlord. Similarly, if the landlord refuses to fix the plumbing, the tenant may withhold rent until the landlord addresses the issue.
When it comes to habitability, the landlord is granted “reasonable time” to fix the issue. For example, if the tenant has no heat or hot water, the landlord should fix this within twenty-four hours.
The Bottom Line
There’s a reason why the U.S. is considered the “land of the lawsuits”. A tenant who can sue will sue, hence, it’s important to understand your tenant’s rights and your obligations as a landlord.
To avoid getting involved in a lawsuit, hiring a property management company is a worthwhile investment. At Luxury Property Care, we work with attorneys who specialize in real estate and landlord-tenant laws. By partnering with us, we’ll make sure that your rental property is managed properly, and that your tenants are taken care of.