When a renter has a problem, a good landlord will try to fix it as soon as possible. After all, they want their tenants to be happy and stay with them long-term so they’ll have a lower turnover and spend less money on advertising, move-in renovations, etc. But then there are the proverbial landlords from hell.
Before your situation escalates into a screaming match, research your rights. A good place to start is the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. From there, you should be able to look up local city and county housing rights centers. Local laws often trump state and federal ones in these instances, so be sure to talk to a few housing experts in your area before taking any serious action.
Always start with a polite letter that clearly outlines your problem. Date it and request a delivery signature to start building a paper trail. Before you do anything, though, look over your list of renters’ rights so you have a thorough understanding of each policy and how to make it work for you.
There’s a Limit to Raising Rent
Few cities still have rent controls that keep your rent exactly the same for decades, but there are still laws in place that govern how often and by how much a landlord can raise your rent.
If you have a lease, the rental amount can only be changed when that lease expires. In the case of month-to-month rentals, your landlord is required to notify you of the increase at least 30 days ahead of time. Most cities or counties have a cap on how much the rent can be increased by per year (usually a percentage of the current rental fee).
Landlords Can’t Enter Your Unit at Will
A landlord must give you 24 hours notice before entering your apartment, whether you’re home or not — unless, of course, it’s an emergency such as a fire, break-in, etc. Whether the landlord is showing the apartment to prospective new tenants, making repairs, or letting a work crew inside, the entry also has to take place during typical business hours.
Landlords Have To Keep Your Home in Livable Condition
While you typically can’t insist on upgrades that simply make your place more attractive, you do have the right to live in a space that has no broken doors, windows, roofs, ceilings, or walls. You’re also entitled to clean running hot and cold water in all pipes, reliable and safe electricity, and an environment free of insects and/or vermin. Your living quarters should also be free of mold and any other substances that might put your health at risk.
You Still Have Rights and Protections on Illegally Converted Housing
Illegal conversions have been around almost as long as rental housing has. Mother-in-law units, garages, added rooms — many of these are not mandated by zoning laws or building codes but are still rented out. If you live in an illegal unit, every law that covers legal units in your area still applies. Just be sure to write the address of your home down on your payments so you have proof of what you’re paying for.
Your Landlord Can’t Simply Ignore You
If your rental is in such disrepair that it’s inhabitable, you technically don’t have to pay rent until the problems are corrected. However, it’s in your best interests to keep paying rent and carefully document your complaints. This method clarifies the fact that you are honoring your obligation, and if you end up in court, the landlord will likely have to reimburse you for the rent you paid on an uninhabitable property.
You Are Entitled to a Return on Your Security Deposit
You are legally entitled to get your security deposit back within 21 days of moving out. If any money is withheld by your landlord, you should receive an itemized list of everything that was damaged and their respective replacement/repair costs. On rent-controlled property, you should also receive a certain amount of interest back on your deposit. This varies by city/county, so check with local agencies for current rates.
Ignored 60-Day Notices Require Legal Action
If your landlord ignores the city’s notice to make your place habitable, you’re going to need to sue them to recover all the rent you’ve paid. Local housing agencies can refer you to qualified local attorneys to help you.
Your Eviction Rights
When it comes to rent-cntrolled apartments, you can be evicted for not paying rent, causing a disturbance, damaging the rental unit, causing unreasonable interference with the safety or comfort of neighboring tenants, conducting illegal activities, and/or violating the terms of your lease. If your home is not rent-controlled, the landlord can evict you for any reason at all. Remember that despite all the notices you may receive, an eviction typically takes five to six weeks to complete. Ask your local housing authority for details on the eviction process in your area.
When to Involve a Third Party
If you talk to your landlord about major problems with your property, follow up with a dated letter and time-stamped photos of the infractions, and still get no response, then it’s time to take your case to the local housing authority to request a formal inspection. Contact your local tenant association to learn how to start this process.