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What Is Landlord Harassment and How Do You Handle It?

Here's what to do when your landlord crosses a line.

[Updated: Feb 04, 2021 ] May 20, 2020 by Maurie Backman
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Landlords and tenants don't always get along. Sometimes, those clashes are minor and can be resolved amicably. But in some cases, you may reach a point when legal action is needed. If you've fallen victim to landlord harassment, you should know that you don't have to stand for it. After all, you have certain rights as a tenant. Here, we'll talk about what landlord harassment looks like and explain what to do if it's been happening to you.

What is landlord harassment?

Landlord harassment can take on different forms, but at its core, it's when a landlord actively and willingly creates a living situation that makes you uncomfortable as a tenant -- so uncomfortable that you want to break your lease or withhold rent.

Generally, for a landlord to be guilty of harassment, he or she must engage in ongoing behavior that infringes on your rights as a tenant. You're unlikely to be able to convince a court that you're a harassed tenant if your landlord behaves poorly on a one-off occasion. Rather, there generally needs to be a pattern.

Examples of landlord harassment

Some common types of landlord harassment include but are by no means limited to:

  1. Entering your apartment or dwelling unit illegally. Generally, landlords are required to provide advance notice if they want to access a tenant's rental unit, so if yours doesn't, and enters your space repeatedly, it's harassment.
  2. Withholding amenities you're entitled to. Your lease agreement should outline the amenities you're entitled to as a tenant. Sometimes, unscrupulous landlords will threaten or harass tenants by limiting or removing access to those amenities. For example, if your lease agreement includes Wi-Fi, your landlord might cut off your internet access. Your landlord might also go as far as to shut off your utilities or heat.
  3. Failing to perform repairs or maintenance in a timely fashion. As a tenant, by law, you're entitled to a home that's comfortable, safe, and habitable. If your landlord intentionally neglects to make repairs, especially if out of retaliation, it's considered harassment.
  4. Creating excess noise. Chances are, your landlord won't just stand outside your door screaming all day. But if your landlord purposely engages in construction right outside your housing unit for the purpose of causing you emotional distress, that's harassment.
  5. Imposing an illegal rent increase. Generally, landlords are required to give tenants at least 30 days' notice before being allowed to increase their rent. If you're slapped with a rent increase overnight, consider it harassment.
  6. Sexual harassment. Just as sexual harassment is illegal in workplaces, it's also illegal in the context of your tenancy. If your landlord makes inappropriate comments about your appearance every time he or she sees you, or seeks you out to make such comments, you're being harassed. And if your landlord lays a hand on you, it's considered sexual assault, in which case you shouldn't just call a lawyer; you should call the police. Keep in mind that it's not just female tenants who fall victim to sexual harassment.
  7. Illegal eviction. Landlords can't just evict tenants on a whim. If your landlord posts an eviction notice on your door and is aggressive in trying to get you to vacate your home before your lease is up, that's harassment.
  8. Refusing a rent payment. If you don't pay your rent, you're considered to be in violation of your lease agreement. But if you attempt to pay your rent and your landlord refuses to accept your payment, he or she could be doing so to make a case for eviction, even if that case is rooted in a lie.

What's not considered landlord harassment?

You may not like your landlord, or appreciate the hiccups that come with living in his or her rental property, but certain behaviors that may irk you aren't actually harassment. These include:

  1. Entering your rental unit in an emergency. If there's a fire or gas leak that's threatening not just your home, but an entire building, your landlord does not need to provide notice to enter your space.
  2. Pursuing a legal eviction. If you've failed to pay your rent, your landlord is allowed to try to evict you. You may have a good reason for not paying, such as being out of a job, but unfortunately, your landlord may not be in the business of running a charity.
  3. Raising rent with notice. Once your lease expires, your landlord has the right to raise your rent. If you've been given notice -- generally, 30 days' worth -- that's not harassment.
  4. Changing the locks to your apartment if there's a domestic violence complaint on file. Though landlords can't just change the locks to tenants' doors on a whim, if there's a tenant who's fallen victim to domestic violence, a landlord can change the locks so that the violator can't access his or her unit.

What to do if you're a victim of landlord harassment

If your landlord is clearly harassing you, there are a few steps you can take.

  1. Document each incident. A big part of proving harassment is showing a pattern of illegal or inappropriate behavior on your landlord's part. Note the date, time, and details of each incident that's out of line.
  2. Ask to legally break your lease. If your landlord is treating you poorly, chances are, he or she wants you out. If that's the case, you may be able to break your lease and move elsewhere -- ideally, to a home where you're not subject to inappropriate behavior on your landlord's part. But be careful -- your landlord may try to squeeze more money out of you in exchange for breaking your lease, or insist on keeping your security deposit. Don't subject yourself to financial losses in an effort to escape a bad housing situation.
  3. Enlist the help of an attorney. Your landlord's behavior may warrant a legal complaint or lawsuit, and while you could spend the time researching your state's laws, a better bet may be to call a lawyer who knows the rules inside and out. An attorney will be able to tell you what legal solutions might be available to you. For example, you may be able to sue your landlord for punitive damages or at least get a court order requiring your landlord to put an end to his or her behavior.

What if your tenant is harassing you?

It's not just tenants who can fall victim to harassment; tenant harassment is a huge problem for landlords and property managers. The following types of behavior are considered tenant harassment:

  • Refusing to pay rent for no reason
  • Complaining excessively when there are no legitimate grounds for complaints
  • Sending threatening letters to a landlord
  • Sexually harassing a landlord
  • Showing up at a landlord's home making demands

If you're a landlord who's experienced this behavior from a tenant, don't just sit back and take it. First, send a letter demanding that your tenant's actions cease. Next, document all incidents of tenant harassment. From there, you can try asking your problematic tenant to break his or her lease early, and if that doesn't work, your best bet may be to engage the help of a lawyer who can help you pursue the appropriate legal action.

When landlord-tenant issues get out of hand, the results can be disastrous. If you've been a victim of landlord or tenant harassment, do something about it. You shouldn't have to live in fear of harassment, nor should you have to be uncomfortable in your own home.

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