Landlord-tenant disputes arise over many different issues. Here are the most common ones and what you can do about it if you’re a tenant.
- Breach of lease agreements
Study the lease agreement carefully. Know your rights and responsibilities, some of which include:
- The right to habitable premises (read: unsafe conditions, bad wiring, gross infestation of vermin, no lead-based paint)
- Federal anti-discrimination law
- The right to service animals
- Disclosure rights under the federal Fair Credit Reporting Act
- The right to provision of utilities (your landlord can’t just cut off electricity, water or heat)
- The right not to be harassed by your landlord
- Your security deposit shouldn’t exceed the state limits
- The right to privacy
And more. Read up and review your lease before your sign: landlord tenant laws vary from state to state – you may need to look into resources that advise you on local tenant laws. Make hard copies and notes of all correspondence related to problems with the rental property or your tenancy.
It’s good to trouble-shoot in advance. Start thinking and looking into which forms of lease agreement breach issues come up – how they are handled, and typically mishandled.
Being in breach of your agreement means you have broken the rules of your lease or tenancy agreement with the landlord/owner. Breach of lease agreements can lead to eviction. Hugely stressful, even with laws in place to protect you as a tenant.
Do check the United States of Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) list which details landlord tenant laws per state.
Don’t ignore problems on the lease agreement. Bring them up transparently. This can help eliminate disputes that arise from breach of contract.
Landlord-tenant lease breach disputes are so common that you may require the help of an attorney.
- Responsibility for repairs to the rental property
Landlords are generally slated with the obligation of making repairs and maintaining the rental property, but the laws vary from state to state.
Your lease agreement and state tenant rights are the first place to look for stipulations on repairs. For example, your landlord may be required to receive a written notice of defects in the condition of your rental property before they are obligated to make any repairs.
A landlord is required to keep your rental property in habitable condition, but there are minor problems they are not required by law to fix. That dripping faucet, or the grime and the grout in your bathtub?
Unless your lease agreement states that the landlord will fix those problems for you, then the landlord is under no legal responsibility to do so. For example, as a tenant you may have contracted for services to improve your rental property – repairmen, landscaping, resurfacing and the like. But your lease agreement may not cover these services.
Of course, some minor repairs are actually a violation of a building or housing code. The landlord will be held responsible for these issues by government authority, but you may risk ruining your relationship with your landlord if you bring in an authority right away without having a preliminary talk with your landlord first.
These are delicate situations that are best handled by seeking authoritative advice, especially if you have a potential lawsuit on your hands.
Do put your request for minor repairs in writing. Show respectfully how this repair would benefit the landlord.
Don’t withhold rent or repair the problem yourself while deducting from rent – this will not only escalate the situation (and not to your strategic benefit), but sour your relationship with your landlord in the long run.
- Non-payment cases
As a tenant you can be evicted for not paying your rent (go figure), which is distinct from chronic late payments.
Before you can be sued, generally the landlord or someone working on their behalf must demand the overdue rent from you and give you a warning. As a tenant you can file a lawsuit against your landlord if your security deposit hasn’t been returned or has been unfairly handled.
Bottom Line: Conflicts Are Abundant
The imagination is your limit when it comes to the mundane forms of conflict that can arise. State laws might fine your landlord for litter in front of the rental property, which tenants may or may not have caused.
And how about smoking? Classic tenant dispute. Cigarette smoking produces an odor that spreads its joy or misery – however you happen to look at it – from room to room, unit to unit. The benefits of smoke-free housing are significant: fewer apartment fires, a larger pool of responsible tenants, shorter vacancies, and decreased maintenance costs.
Perhaps you’re happy with the idea of smoke-free housing, but your apartment mates on the second floor aren’t. What if your landlord never created a smoke-free clause in the lease for each unit in the apartment building? What if your landlord doesn’t intend to directly handle any problem tenants? What if your health is acutely impacted by the secondhand smoke because you have asthma?
If you can’t find a reasonable short-term solution, you’re looking at a potential relocation to another apartment. It’s possible that the landlord can help to relocate you to another apartment or building.
It’s a difficult situation to find yourself in. It’s natural to want to proactively take steps to reduce your exposure to secondhand smoke without escalating conflict in a multi-unit building. Unfortunately, the only full-proof way to avoid the infiltration of smoke is to live in a smoke-free building.