Courts in the United States generally do not allow the winner of a lawsuit to collect their attorneys’ fees from the loser of the lawsuit. Recovery in general cases is usually only granted when a party has acted in a particularly malicious, reckless, or reprehensible manner without excuse. Housing and landlord-tenant disputes typically revolve around the nonpayment of rent or a rent increase, and are considered general cases. However, some housing lawsuits involve alleged discrimination based on race, gender, national origin, color, age, religion, sex, or disability.

When Can I Collect Attorney Fees in a Landlord-Tenant Case?

There are federal and state statutes in place to protect the rights of tenants, including the Fair Housing Act (FHA), the Fair Housing Amendments Act of 1988 (FHAA), and the Housing for Older Persons Act. The Department of Urban Development (HUD) and the Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity (FHEO) are in charge of administering the FHA. This housing legislation includes "fee shifting" provisions, which allow for the recovery of reasonable attorneys’ fees by the winner.

Landlords have a duty to adhere to FHAA requirements and other statutes. If they do not, then their acts are considered a wrong against the public. Such acts are punishable with extra "punitive" damages and with the payment of the other side’s attorneys’ fees. The amount he court allows the other side to collect for attorneys’ fees depends on: the difficulty of the work, the time spent, the reputation of the attorney, and the typical fee for housing discrimination cases.

However, though attorney fees may be awarded in landlord-tenant cases, a tenant must be careful. Attorneys’ fees will only be awarded to the "prevailing party," i.e., where there has been a final judgment. If the landlord wins in the end, then the landlord will be deemed to be the prevailing party and the tenant will have to pay his landlord’s attorneys’ fees.

Should I Hire an Attorney?

If you have a conflict with your either your landlord or tenant, it is important to consult with an attorney. An experienced real estate attorney will be able to walk you through your options and see if the issue can be settled without litigation. If the case requires going to court, an attorney will be able to help you file your case and represent you in court.