Retaliation by a landlord occurs when a tenant seeking improved housing conditions through enforcement of housing codes, withholding of rent, or some other court action, is treated unfairly by their landlord as a direct result of the tenant’s actions. Naturally, retaliatory acts are motivated by a desire for retaliation, and examples include:
- Increasing the rent;
- Decreasing the services provided to the tenant;
- Filing an action for eviction;
- Refusing to renew a tenant’s lease; or
- Threatening to do any of the above.
Many tenants are unwilling to take advantage of rent withholding options or to file a complaint against their landlord because they are afraid of landlord retaliation, specifically of being evicted. But the reality is, you as a tenant have protected rights and it is unlawful for your landlord to retaliate as a result of you asserting or attempting to assert any of these right. Examples of tenant rights include:
- The right to demand required or promised repairs;
- The right to call the building inspector;
- Demanding that your landlord only enter for purposes allowed by your local landlord regulations;
- The right to refuse entry to your landlord without proper notice;
- The right to file a complaint against your landlord with Consumer Protection or some other agency;
- The right to assert or exercise any right in your lease or in a statute, ordinance, code or court decision;
- The right to demand peaceful enjoyment; or
- The right to refuse to allow your landlord to make any material changes to the terms of your lease while the lease is in effect.
The laws regarding landlord retaliation vary from state to state. For example:
- In California, it is unlawful for a landlord to retaliate against the tenant because the tenant has exercised his or her rights, or because of a complaint to an appropriate agency, as long as the tenant is not in default as to the payment of rent. The landlord may not recover possession, cause the tenant to quit involutarily, increase the rent, or decrease any services within 180 days of the tenant exercising his or her rights.
- In New York, landlords are prohibited from harassing or retaliating against tenants who exercise their rights.
- In Illinois, a landlord may not terminate or refuse to renew a lease or tenancy on the ground that the tenant has complained to any governmental authority of a bona fide violation of any building code, health ordinance, or similar regulation. Also, any provision or agreement in a lease which would permit the landlord to terminate or refuse to renew a lease or tenancy for such reason is void.
- In Florida, it is unlawful for a landlord to discriminatorily increase a tenant’s rent or decrease services to a tenant, or to bring or threaten to bring an action for possession or other civil action, primarily becaus the landlord is retaliating against the tenant.
If you think that your landlord is retaliating against you as a result of asserting your legal rights as a tenant, you should contact an experienced real estate lawyer to discuss your situation. It is also a good idea to document everything. Make sure that you keep a record of everything that is going on, including the dates of each event to present to your attorney.
If you have filed a complaint with your building inspector, Consumer Protection, or any other agency, you should also request a copy of the report. Depending on your jurisdiction, some courts may even require that your landlord pay for resulting damages as well as court costs and attorney fees. Remember, the law is there to protect you from landlord retaliation.