Last Updated on October 21, 2023 by Kelvin Nielsen
Is your landlord making your life unbearable as a tenant and are looking for a legal solution to scr*w them over? If so, you’re at the right place. Read on to find out what legal action you can take against them!
Life can become unbearable when you have a difficult landlord. And to make things even worse, you’re paying them for a job that they are evidently bad at doing.
If you’re playing by the rules, by paying rent on time, caring for the unit, and abiding by all lease terms, then it’d only be fair if the landlord kept their end of the bargain. And that may mean responding to your repair requests, treating you fairly without discrimination, raising rent in accordance with the lease and local laws, and even returning your deposit after you move out.
And things can only get complicated if you’ve signed a long-term lease, which could be many months away from expiring.
Now, as a tenant, you’re contractually obligated to observe all the lease terms until the lease runs its entire course. Luckily for you, some exceptions do exist. In some situations, if a landlord isn’t able to perform their responsibilities to a certain standard, you may be able to free yourself from your legal obligations without penalty.
How to Legally Screw Over Your Landlord
As a tenant, knowledge of tenancy laws is key! The following are key laws that should always be at your fingertips.
Just like tenants, landlords are required to abide by all the terms of a lease agreement, as well as federal, state, and local laws. So, if they are not, you may be able to use that to your advantage.
State law usually requires that landlords provide renters with proper notice prior to entry. For instance, under California law, among the responsibilities landlords have is providing their tenants with a 24 hours’ advance notice prior to entry.
Does your landlord ever do that? If they don’t, this can be the perfect chance to legally scr*w over them. If they just pop anyhow they like without serving you proper notice, they would be in violation of your privacy rights.
You can move to a small claims court and file a lawsuit seeking damages. The outcome, however, would depend on the strength of the evidence. If the illegal entries have occurred multiple times, you’d have a strong case against the landlord.
Aside from filing a lawsuit to seek damages, you may also be able to terminate the lease without penalty.
Fair Housing Act
There are 7 protected characteristics at the federal level. They are: race, color, religion, sex, disability, national origin, and familial status. If you fall under these classes, your landlord would be in violation for doing certain things to you. The following are some examples.
- Denying your support animal because they have a “no pets” policy. This is a no-no under both the Federal Fair Housing Act and The Americans with Disabilities Act.
- Advertising or making any statement in the rental ad that is indicative of limitation or preferential treatment based on a protected class.
- Asking illegal rental application questions during the screening process.
- Falsely denying the availability of a rental unit.
- Refusing to rent to members that belong to a certain class.
- Setting different qualifying standards for prospective tenants belonging to a certain protected category. For example, running credit reports for Blacks and Hispanics, but not doing the same for Caucasian renters.
If your landlord has done any of the above things, you may have grounds to legally scr*w them over. You can file a fair housing complaint or a discrimination lawsuit. This can be costly for your landlord if found guilty.
Right to Quiet Enjoyment
Your landlord also has a responsibility to ensure you enjoy your rented premises in peace and quiet, away from any unnecessary disturbance. Your landlord may be in violation of this fundamental right if they do any of the following.
- Prohibit you from enjoying your property. For example, entertaining your guests.
- Failing to respond to maintenance issues within a reasonable time.
- Failing to provide essential services that are promised in the lease or rental agreement.
- Harassing you either in person or via a phone call.
- Failing to stop or minimize disruptions that infringe on your right to peace and quiet enjoyment.
- Going through your personal belongings without your permission.
You can take various steps if your landlord has done any of the aforementioned things. First, notify them of the breach to your covenant of quiet enjoyment. Describe the issue and how it has affected your wellbeing.
That can be all you need to do to make your landlord toe the line. But if they don’t, then, depending on your state laws, you may be able to stop paying rent, terminate the lease or sue them in a small claims court.
Right to live in a Habitable Home
You have a right to live in a home that meets the basic safety, health and building codes of your state. While the specific codes vary by state, landlords must provide the following:
- Working electricity
- Hot water
- Drinkable water
- Heat during cold weather
- Reasonable protection from criminal harm
- Sanitary premises
- Working bathroom and toilet
- Functioning smoke and carbon monoxide detectors
- Adequate ventilating system
- A pest-infestation free property
In addition, your landlord must also respond to maintenance issues within a reasonable time. Some states specify a time frame to repair (usually 14 days from request), while others aren’t so specific beyond a “reasonable” time period.
If your unit is no longer livable, the first step to take would be to let them know. Do it in writing so that you have documented evidence should things escalate.
The following are some options you may have depending on the state you are in.
- Fix the problem yourself and then deduct the costs from the rent.
- Break the lease early without any risk of penalties.
- Report your landlord to local authorities, like the Department of Public Health.
Additional Tips on How to Legally Screw Over Your Landlord
Tip #1: Know your rights as a tenant.
Know your rights under state law. Even without a lease, there are certain rights that state law guarantees tenants.
For example, under the California Residential Landlord & Tenant laws, a renter has a right to to withhold rent under certain situations, break the lease without penalty, and proper notification prior to lease termination.
Tip #2: Document everything.
This is also another way to stick it to your landlord legally and ethically.
Do you have any problem with your rental unit, such as a repair concern? If you do, the first thing to do is document them. Take photos and videos of the situation and then keep any written correspondences you have with the landlord. This will help you build a solid case against the landlord should the case escalate to the courts.
Tip #2: Withhold further rent payments.
As a renter, you are entitled to live in a unit that meets the state’s basic health and safety codes. The landlord must also make repairs to issues affecting the unit’s habitability.
If the landlord doesn’t, you may be able to exercise some legal options. Including, withholding rent, breaking the lease without penalty, suing the landlord for damages, or repairing the issue yourself and deducting the costs from rent payments.
Before exercising such legal options, though, familiarize yourself with state law. Or better yet, hire expert legal help.
Tip #3: Report the landlord.
If the landlord remains unresponsive to your concerns, you can consider filing a report with the relevant local authorities. They will investigate the matter and see whether there is any merit in it.
Tip #4: Consider a legal option.
Have you exhausted all other options? If you have, you can consider a legal option. That is, taking the landlord to court for any damages you have suffered.
While this may be time-consuming and costly, it can be the only way to make the landlord accountable for their negligent or careless actions.
There you have it. Tips on how to ethically and legally screw over your landlord. Don’t let a bad landlord ruin your peace. After all, you’re not living rent-free. You have rights under federal, state, and local laws, exercise them! Just remember to document the violations as they may prove valuable in court.
Disclosure: The content herein isn’t a substitute for advice from a professional attorney. It’s only meant to serve educational purposes. If you have a specific question, kindly seek expert attorney services.
Sources: https://www.justia.com/, https://www.findlaw.com/, https://www.law.cornell.edu/, https://www.nolo.com/legal-encyclopedia/tenant-rights-privacy-safety, https://www.lawinsider.com/clause/tenants-right-to-terminate
I am a real estate attorney with over 11 years of experience in tenant eviction cases. My mission here at LTRC is to help answer your commonly asked questions on everything regarding real estate laws, especially on eviction matters.
I’m a member of the following professional organizations: Attorneys’ Real Estate Councils of Florida (ARECs), Florida Bar Real Property, Probate & Trust Law Section, American College of Real Estate Lawyers (ACREL), and the Florida Association of Community Managers (FACM).