Should You Sue Your Landlord?

By Brittany Loeffler on June 28, 2019

Hopefully, as a tenant, you will never run into a situation where you have to sue your landlord. However, sometimes landlords do not follow the law and breach the lease, which can give you grounds to sue them. This could involve providing an uninhabitable property, entering the property without notice, withholding the security deposit, and more.

Before moving forward to sue your landlord, it’s important to check with your state’s landlord/tenant laws because each state is different. However, the following reasons to sue your landlord are covered in all states.

sue your landlord

via Pixabay

Reasons to Sue Your Landlord

There are a few things that your landlord can do that will give you grounds to sue them. The following reasons are applicable in all states, but it is important to carefully read about your state’s landlord/tenant law to see if there are other stipulations before you sue your landlord. It’s always a good idea to consult an attorney, someone who specializes in real estate and landlord/tenant law for advice and to receive a firm confirmation that you do have a good reason to sue your landlord.

The Property is Uninhabitable

As a homeowner renting out their property, a landlord must provide their tenants with a safe and habitable home. Examples of what makes a property uninhabitable include lead paint on the walls with a child living in the house, the heat does not work during the winter, there is no running water, or the structure of the house is unstable and becoming dangerous. These issues should be brought up to the landlord so you can ask them to make the necessary repairs. If they refuse to make these repairs, you will have grounds to sue your landlord. If your health and safety are at risk from living in the property, then that means the property is uninhabitable under the law.

Landlord Enters Without Notice

While your landlord lawfully owns the property you are living in, that does not mean they have the right to enter the premises without giving tenants notice first. Typically, landlords are required to give tenants at least 24 hours notice, unless it is stated otherwise in your lease. If your landlord constantly enters the property to make repairs, do showings of the property, or any other reason without letting you know first, you can move to sue them.

If there are emergency situations, such as a major pipe leak or flooding in the basement, then the landlord may enter the property without giving the necessary notice. This definitely will not happen often, so if your landlord does enter the property habitually without notice, you do have a reason to sue them.

sue your landlord

Infographic by Brittany Loeffler

You’re Injured in the Property 

When there is a repair that must be made in the property, you should always let your landlord know through written communication. This can be either a text or an email. So, if there is something that must be repaired in the property that you have made your landlord aware of, and it has caused you injury, you may be able to sue your landlord.

An example of this could be a loose step that you asked your landlord to fix and they refused. Then one day, while walking on the step, it breaks and you sprain or even break your ankle. This injury will give you a reason to sue your landlord.

Landlord Discriminates Against You

According to the Fair Housing Act, certain types of people cannot be discriminated against when it comes to housing. These protected categories include race, gender, color, handicap, familial status, national origin, and religion. However, some states offer protection under this law to more categories such as sexual orientation.

This law can get to be a little tricky because it does not apply to all landlords. The Fair Housing Act does not apply to single-family homes that are not leased through a real estate broker, a building with less than four units that is occupied by the landlord, and member-only private organizations and clubs.

If you feel that you have been discriminated against when it comes to renting a property or while living in the property, you can file a complaint with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. They will open an investigation and you will be able to move on to sue your landlord.

You’re Unlawfully Evicted

Evictions are long and hard processes that give landlords huge headaches. An eviction is when the landlord has a reason to ask you to leave the property within a certain amount of time, typically 30 days. However, if your landlord is trying to bypass this headache, they may unlawfully evict you. An example of unlawful eviction can be changing the locks without giving you any notice that you have been evicted. Another example is telling you that you must get out of the property even though you have not breached the lease.

This can be a scary situation, especially if you do not have anywhere to stay during this time. However, take comfort in knowing that this is a valid reason to take your landlord to court and sue them.

Landlord Does Not Pay for Repairs

Sometimes as a tenant, you get impatient waiting for your landlord to make repairs in the property, so you go ahead and do them yourself. You put down your own money to make the necessary repairs so you can live in a functioning home with the expectation that your landlord will reimburse you. But they do not. No matter how much you ask for the money, they may put it off or let you know that they will pay you later. However, when it comes time to move out, you still haven’t been reimbursed, you can sue your landlord for that money.

Before making a repair in a rental property, always let your landlord know about the issue and that you intend to repair it. Keep all of the receipts and invoices from the repair or replacement as proof to your landlord as to how much you spent.

Landlord Withholds the Security Deposit

When signing a lease for a rental property, landlords will ask for a security deposit. This is typically equal to one month’s rent and is used to repair any damages you may have caused while living in the property. However, if you have left the property in the same condition it was when you moved in, you should receive your security deposit back in full.

Depending on the state’s law, your landlord has a certain amount of time, typically 30 days, to give you the security deposit back. If there was damage in the apartment, they must provide an itemized list of the repair costs and how much you will get back. Always remember to leave a forwarding address where your landlord can send the security deposit to, though.

Unlawful Clauses in the Lease

Before renting a property, it is imperative that you read the lease very closely. Not all leases are the same and the landlord has the right to write up a lease as they choose as long as all of the clauses are legal.

An example of an illegal clause would be that the landlord does not allow service animals into the property. While the landlord has the right to refuse pets in the rental property, service animals must be allowed at all times. However, there may be an additional security deposit required when a service animal lives in the property.

Send Your Landlord a Demand Letter

If your landlord has done one or more of the things listed above, you have the right to sue your landlord. However, before you serve them with papers, it’s a good idea to send them a demand letter. A demand letter states your demands and if they are not met that you will proceed to take them to court. Be sure to keep the letter professional and include exactly what you want to be done, your name, address, and address it directly to your landlord.

If your landlord does not respond to the demand letter and does not meet your demands, then it is time to look into the process of suing them for the money that they may owe you.

sue your landlord

via Pixabay

Preparing to Take Your Landlord to Court

Depending on the situation and why you want to sue your landlord, you may want to consult a real estate attorney. They will have expert knowledge about the law and can help you make your case to sue your landlord. However, lawyers can be expensive and may not be worth hiring if you are suing your landlord for a small amount of money. A good rule of thumb is that if the lawyer is going to cost more than the money you’re owed, it’s better to go to small claims court and represent yourself.

Gather Evidence

Before taking your landlord to court, you should do your due diligence and gather every piece of evidence that proves your landlord has broken the law or owes you money. This evidence should include texts and emails between you and your landlord about the issue, any receipts or invoices, and bank account statements if necessary. This hard evidence will help you make your case against your landlord and will help a judge decide if the landlord must meet your demands.

Small Claims Court

Depending on the amount of money your landlord owes you, you may be able to represent yourself in small claims court. This is less formal than having a lawyer build a case and present it to a judge. Instead, you will present your case and evidence to a judge for them to decide who owes whom money. This is ideal for when your landlord withholds your security deposit, you’re injured in the property, or your landlord does not pay you back for repairs done in the property. This is not ideal for situations where discrimination may have been involved.

Risks of Suing Your Landlord

Of course, there are some risks when you sue your landlord. Depending on the lease, there may be a clause towards the end stating that if you sue your landlord and you lose, that you are responsible for all court costs, including the landlord’s costs. So, it’s important to build up a strong case where you know you will win.

Going to court can be expensive and time-consuming. If you decide that you would like to sue your landlord, be prepared to have extra stress added to your day for a couple of months while you go through the motion of filing your case, gathering evidence, and attending court. This may involve taking time off of work or school.

If you still live in the property, it can create great tension between you and your landlord. They may fight back and stop answering you if you need something. Just remember to always pay your rent on time and still be respectful of the property.

Try to Stay Out of Court

If possible, try to settle your situation with your landlord outside of court. As mentioned before, suing your landlord can be pretty pricey and time-consuming. Try to talk it out with your landlord and work with them to come to a fair agreement. Hopefully, after sending a demand letter, your landlord will be more willing to talk to you about the situation. If needed, you can also go to mediation rather than court to solve the problem.

Should You Sue Your Landlord? 

If your landlord has violated any laws that protect tenants, you do have the right to sue your landlord. However, it’s important to keep in mind that the process is long, expensive, and can get messy. Depending on the reason for suing your landlord, you may want to consult a real estate attorney to get another opinion and some guidance as to how to handle the situation. Other times you may have to represent yourself in small claims court. Always gather as much evidence as possible to prove that your landlord has either violated the law or owes you money.

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