While the majority of Americans today own their homes, nearly 37% of US households rent their place of residence.
As more people choose to rent instead of buy, and vacancy rates remain stagnant, the pressure is on for both landlords and tenants. That pressure can lead to tense relationships and, in some cases, landlord harassment.
But what’s considered landlord harassment? Do you know what your landlord is allowed to do and what your rights are as a tenant?
If not, you should empower yourself with more information. Keep reading to learn more about landlord harassment laws and what you should do if you feel victimized.
What Is Landlord Harassment?
Landlord harassment is also called tenant harassment. It refers to a situation in which the tenant feels harassed or threatened by their landlord.
Generally speaking, landlord harassment involves a landlord using pressure, intimidation, threats, and other actions against their tenant in an aggressive way. But landlord harassment isn’t limited to the tenant. It can also involve a guest or guests of the tenant.
The purpose behind these actions is to make the tenant or their guests feel uncomfortable living in their unit. Usually, it’s intended to make them feel like terminating their lease agreement and leaving the unit.
Regardless of the reason for the harassment, any attempt to make a tenant or their guest(s) feel uncomfortable is illegal. Tenants have the right to live in their space for as long as the lease is valid, as long as they’re not violating any of the terms of the lease agreement.
However, isolated incidents aren’t normally considered harassment. The actions of the landlord must be ongoing in order for it to constitute harassment.
Examples of Landlord Harassment
There are a number of actions that can be considered landlord harassment. We’ve outlined the most common below.
Access to the Property
In most cases, a landlord cannot enter a unit without prior notice. The only exception to this rule is emergencies.
In the same vein, landlords cannot remove your possessions from the property. They’re also not allowed to change the locks on your entry door or the common area doors.
Any attempts to enter your property without proper notice as determined by landlord-tenant laws, remove your possessions from the property, or keep you from gaining access to the property, can be considered harassment.
Utilities and Amenities
Under most landlord-tenant laws, you have a right to habitability. Not only does that mean that you have a right to a home that’s safe, but you also have the right to basic necessities such as heat and running water. Cutting off the utilities in your unit is therefore considered harassment.
You also have a right to all the amenities that are outlined in your lease. Your landlord can’t take away your parking spot, your access to laundry services, or any other item that’s part of your lease agreement.
Repairs and Maintenance
Your landlord is usually responsible for making repairs in your unit. They’re also responsible for performing requested and necessary maintenance. Refusing to do so in order to make your living situation uncomfortable is against the law.
Landlords cannot refuse to accept your rent payments as a way to intimidate you. They must accept your rental payments when they’re given.
In terms of raising your rental rate, your landlord is allowed to do this. However, they’re usually required to give you a least 30 days notice before they can demand a higher rent. As a side note, the need to give notice also applies to enter your unit as well as evictions.
If your landlord has asked you to accept money in return for vacating the unit, this is called a buyout. Trying to buy a tenant out of their unit repeatedly after the tenant has refused is a form of harassment.
Threats can include both verbal and physical threatening of the tenant by the landlord.
Verbal threats involve the use of words for the purpose of intimidation. Verbal threats can appear in emails, text messages, written letters, over the phone, and in person.
Physical threats don’t have to go as far as an assault to be considered harassment. Physical harassment can be as simple as getting in a tenant’s face or using their body to stop someone from going where they’re trying to go. Of course, physical force or contact of any kind is the extreme form of physical harassment.
A landlord might try to make living at the property uncomfortable by disturbing the tenant with nuisances. For example, they may begin construction early in the mornings or late at night. They may also leave debris in common areas or in areas that hinder your access to the property.
Crude remarks, sexual advances, and unwanted sexual touching are all forms of sexual harassment. A landlord might try this tactic to make a tenant uncomfortable. Sexual harassment is a serious offense and should be acted on immediately.
Fake Charges and Documents
Landlords might try to get a tenant kicked out of the property by making false claims against them. A landlord might file false charges that the tenant has broken a part of their lease agreement. For example, they may file a charge that says a tenant broke the no-pets policy in order to get justification to kick them out.
Similarly, a landlord might send a fake or invalid eviction notice to a tenant. Make sure you know your rights before following any suspicious eviction notices.
Why Would a Landlord Harass a Tenant?
Landlords sometimes resort to harassment when they want the tenant to do something that they want. We’ll go through some of the more common reasons below.
A common reason for landlord harassment is getting a rent-controlled tenant out of the property. Vacancy rates are low and more people are renting – meaning there’s money to be made from rental properties.
But rent-controlled tenants don’t have to pay the market price that a landlord could otherwise be getting from a new tenant. They may turn to harassment to intimidate a tenant to leave so that they can make more money.
Another reason landlord harassment happens is in retaliation for complaints. When a tenant makes a complaint against a landlord, the landlord might want them to move out of their property out of anger or to avoid having to deal with the complaints/issues at hand.
Unfortunately, racism, classicism, stereotyping, and the like are sometimes the reason for harassment. Landlords may hold discriminatory beliefs about a race, ethnicity, class, gender, disability, or another identifying characteristic.
What Isn’t Landlord Harassment?
Before you start taking any steps to protect yourself from your landlord, you should be sure that you’re within your right. The following situations are not considered harassment:
- Entering the property without notice but for emergency reasons
- Raising the rent with proper notice and to meet the market rate
- Installing security measures around the property such as outdoor cameras
- Routine inspections and drive-by inspection with proper notice
- Regular calls to collect rent that is overdue
- Sending notices of lease violations
- Requiring money for property damage that goes beyond wear and tear
- Not making repairs to appliances owned by you and not the landlord
Your landlord is also within their right to send you an eviction notice for lease violations. If you don’t pay your rent, they’re allowed to give you an eviction notice as well.
How to Rectify Landlord Harassment
In any situation of harassment, the first step you should take is trying to rectify the situation. Actively communicating with your landlord, property manager, or owners of the management company might be all it takes to solve the problem.
But in the case the harassment is severe, or attempts to communicate have been met with more harassment, you should take the necessary steps to protect yourself. These include:
- Write your landlord a letter asking them to stop harassing you. Keep a copy of the letter as well as a proof of mailing.
- Log your conversations and encounters with your landlord. Include the date and time as well as the details of the encounters.
- Keep notes regarding witnesses or any other evidence that supports your claims.
- Ask for a witness to be present in all encounters with your landlord.
- Make copies of your lease agreement as well as any letters and notices sent by the landlord.
- If you feel physically threatened by your landlord, you should call the police for assistance. Keep a copy of the report and note the attending officer’s names. You might also consider contacting an attorney.
Keep in mind that your landlord is not allowed to retaliate against you for asserting your rights. Retaliation by the landlord after you’ve made an official complaint is considered illegal in most states.