When things get frustrating for landlords, retaliation against tenants occasionally happens. Feeling out of control of the property they own, landlords sometimes make the mistake of overstepping their legal boundaries and committing landlord retaliation.
Retaliatory action, however, is a serious offense. These actions typically move landlords further from conflict resolution and closer to fines or fees. Learning what is and is not allowed when addressing tenant actions is key to avoiding accusations of landlord harassment.
Do you understand what is and is not legal when working with renters who are not your ideal tenants? No matter what your reasoning is, there are some things that you simply cannot do as a landlord.
Today, follow along to learn how to avoid accidentally committing retaliatory actions and get a better look at what happens when harassment or retaliation does occur.
Table Of Contents On Landlord Retaliation
Even if you would never intentionally act out against tenants, there is a lot of value in getting a glimpse into what retaliation looks like, how tenants report it, and what happens next. Get the full picture today:
- What Is Landlord Retaliation?
- Landlord Beware: Can A Landlord Retaliate Against A Tenant?
- Retaliation Laws, Reports, And Lawsuits
- FAQs On Landlord Harassment
- Can A Landlord Retaliate Against A Tenant?
Landlord retaliation refers to actions taken by a landlord in response to a tenant exercising their legal rights. For example, a landlord who tries to evict a tenant or raise their rent after the tenant reports unsafe conditions would be guilty of landlord retaliation.
State statutes include specifics on what is and is not considered retaliatory in that area. Most states include the following retaliatory classifications:
- Increasing rent
- Terminating a lease
- Evicting a tenant
- Pursuing eviction if a tenant stays to fight against retaliation
- Decreasing services or access to amenities
Landlord-tenant laws cover the ins and outs of what rights and responsibilities both parties have. When either party violates landlord-tenant law, they can be held responsible for their actions. Landlords who overstep these boundaries or harass tenants for exercising their rights are committing landlord retaliation.
It is not considered retaliation when a landlord begins eviction proceedings after a tenant violates their side of the lease agreement. For example, tenants using the rental property for illegal purposes may be evicted—they do not have a legal right to unfettered unlawful activity.
As a landlord, you need to know what landlord retaliation is and how you can avoid ending up in a tense situation involving such accusations. It is illegal to retaliate against a tenant, so you must act carefully and ensure that you do not act against a tenant who is within their legal rights.
Though it can be frustrating when you and your tenants can’t see eye-to-eye, you cannot harass, demean, or take other action against tenants who do any of the following:
- Complain to the health department or another agency about unsafe conditions
- Assemble and present their views collectively
- Use the property in any way that is within their right according to their lease and applicable laws
- Withhold rent until necessary and promised repairs are made
- Refuse entry to the unit without notice from the landlord
- Turn down proposed changes to a lease mid-tenancy
The list could go on and on. But this is the most important thing to remember: Your tenant has rights. It is within your responsibilities as a landlord to honor and protect those rights.
One of the biggest mistakes landlords make when feeling stuck and frustrated by a tenant is trying a self-help eviction. In this type of illegal eviction, a landlord changes the locks, turns off utilities, or otherwise attempts to force a tenant to leave without proper eviction proceedings. Self-help evictions are landlord retaliation, which is never the appropriate way to resolve a dispute.
What happens when a landlord is accused of landlord retaliation?
Situations vary, but things often go like this:
- The tenant complains to the landlord or an agency, or otherwise exercises their right as a tenant.
- The landlord retaliates against the tenant for their action.
- The tenant goes to an attorney, who then files a lawsuit in small claims court.
- Everyone collects evidence and witnesses and presents their side of the story in court.
- The judge determines who wins, what damages will need to be paid, and who, if anyone, will need to leave the property.
The goal of any landlord facing a lawsuit over landlord retaliation accusations is to prove their side of the story. This will require proof of the tenant’s actions, the landlord’s attempts at conflict resolution, documentation of any actions the landlord has taken, and any other information that can show the landlord followed the necessary procedures in all situations.
One of the first things that an angry tenant will try to do is learn how to prove landlord retaliation. You do not need to know how to do this, but understanding the approach an upset tenant is likely to take will help you prepare your side of the case.
Typically, tenants will look for situations where you may have used a story to hide your attempts at harassment or retaliation. For example, they may say that you made repairs for three days in their apartment when it should have taken only one day.
Think about what may be brought up, and ensure that you have the necessary evidence to show that the repairs, timeline, or any other details were appropriate and legal.
Landlords who’ve taken improper action against their tenants often cite a similar problem: frustration. They feel stuck and incapable of taking control of their property, so they get desperate. This is not an excuse, but it provides insight into how to avoid this situation.
Avoiding frustration with tenants who aren’t on the same page as you often goes back to tenant screening. A solid tenant screening process helps align the tenants entering your properties with your expectations as a landlord.
Screening can be overwhelming. RentPrep can help with background checks, credit reports, and other screening services to simplify part of the process. Learn more about our pricing and packages today to improve your tenant screening.
Landlords cannot retaliate against tenants, but what exactly is retaliatory conduct? Most states consider retaliatory behavior as any type of eviction, threat, harassment, charge, or other discrimination against a tenant for exercising their legal right.
For example, telling a tenant they cannot grill in their backyard and will be evicted if they do would be considered retaliatory if their lease agreement or state law permits grilling.
Like all states, California has specific laws against landlord retaliation. California is known to be a renter-friendly state, so some landlords may find the retaliation statutes to be overbearing. Regardless of your opinion on these laws, they must be followed if you work within California’s rental industry.
Complete information about landlord retaliation laws in California can be found in California Civ. Codes §§ 1940.35, 1942.5.
By law, landlords in California cannot retaliate against tenants for any of the following exertions of a tenant’s legal rights:
- Complaining to the landlord about unsafe conditions
- Complaining to a government agency about dangerous conditions
- Presenting as a tenant union or forming a tenant collective
- Exercising a right, such as withholding rent due to the landlord not addressing major issues
Additionally, landlords cannot retaliate against a tenant through eviction or lease termination due to their citizenship status. They are also prohibited from disclosing a tenant’s immigration or citizenship status to a government authority. If they do, they could be liable for associated damages.
California considers the following as retaliatory actions when done in response to the above situations within a period of 180 days:
- Terminating a tenancy
- Filing an eviction lawsuit
- Increasing the rent
- Decreasing services or access to amenities
Depending on the severity of the claim and how a landlord chooses to respond to claims of landlord retaliation, the issue could be presented in front of a small claims or eviction court.
If you are dealing with a tenant issue that leads to accusations of retaliation, it’s recommended to meet with an attorney who’s experienced with the problem as soon as possible. They can provide the best conflict resolution practices and protocol for moving forward, to prove that you are acting within your rights as a landlord.
Yes. Most states have a specific system for how to report landlord retaliation when it occurs.
Tenants who feel they’re being harassed, evicted, or charged unfairly can follow the necessary protocol to report a landlord. During this time, there may be a hold on rent payments or eviction while the case is sorted out. This can be frustrating for landlords who know they did not harass their tenants, but it is a necessary part of proving that you followed the letter of the law.
Do not take retaliatory action against tenants for reporting their concerns. Even if their complaint does not turn into a case against you, any action against the tenant for filing their report would undoubtedly be considered harassment.
If you have concerns that you are being reported without cause or with ill intent, it is possible to file a counterclaim in most states. Work within your local jurisdiction to learn the procedure and necessary steps.
It can be hard to imagine doing something that would qualify as landlord harassment. However, some landlords have a misconception of what is considered retaliation and what is not.
Most states include the following as forbidden retaliatory acts:
- Increasing rent without notice or with prejudice
- Withholding a security deposit without cause
- Claiming rent wasn’t paid
- Refusing to renew a lease
- Ending a lease without cause or notice
- Starting an eviction lawsuit to force the tenant’s hand
- Removing amenity access, such as cable TV or pool access, without legal cause
- Shutting off amenities for a self-eviction
Every state has specifics written into its laws, but it’s important to remember that situations differ. This means there will always be some level of interpretation needed, and it will be up to a court of law to make that interpretation in most cases.
As with all landlord-tenant policies, the specific rules and regulations vary by state. Be sure to research the statutes that apply in your area before deciding how to proceed when dealing with tense tenant interactions.
You can research your state directly or use a quick reference chart to understand what types of anti-landlord retaliation laws exist. Even if you are careful never to overstep your rights as a landlord, it’s always a good idea to get a refresher on what is and is not allowed when exerting your rights.
As you strive to be the best landlord you can be, ensure that your actions towards tenants are within your legal rights. Everything from evicting tenants to raising rent must follow a particular procedure. Acting outside of procedure, especially against targeted tenants, is a big problem and will lead to even more significant issues.
Make sure that you never do the following while working on your rentals; these are the biggest types of landlord harassment that lead to long-term problems for landlords:
- Lock doors, cut cables, or otherwise try to force the tenant into a specific action
- Turn off utilities when rent is not paid
- Claim rent is not paid even though it was
- Claim there was no security deposit
- Punish a tenant for reporting an issue to the appropriate agencies
- Refuse to renew a lease without reason
By understanding the definition of landlord-tenant rights and responsibilities in more detail, however, it is not difficult to avoid these issues. Educated landlords can prove false allegations thanks to their thorough knowledge of the law; join this group by staying educated on the intricacies of what landlords can and cannot do.