landlords guide to avoid harassment

Updated December 2023

As a landlord, navigating the complexities of tenant relationships is a critical aspect of property management. Unfortunately, disagreements between landlords and tenants do sometimes escalate to the point where actions taken by either party may be considered harassment, which is an illegal activity with serious potential consequences.

In this guide, we delve into landlord harassment, detailing behaviors that can be deemed harassing for both landlords and tenants. Examples illustrate what types of behaviors can be considered harassment, alongside insights on reporting and the legal repercussions.

We’ll also provide practical advice on avoiding inadvertent tenant harassment. Communication strategies, respect for tenant rights, and legal compliance serve as a roadmap for maintaining a harmonious landlord-tenant relationship.

Explore this comprehensive guide to safeguard against legal issues and foster respectful interactions.

Table Of Contents For Landlord And Tenant Harassment

Dive into the world of landlord-tenant relationships to understand, prevent, and navigate harassment issues, ensuring a smoother and more legally secure property management journey.

What Is Landlord Harassment?

What Is Landlord Harassment?

Landlord harassment is when the landlord creates adverse conditions to encourage the tenant to break the lease agreement or leave the rental property they currently occupy. Landlord harassment is a specific set of behaviors the law recognizes, and landlords can face repercussions for this activity.

While landlord harassment can sometimes be difficult to prove, more and more jurisdictions are recognizing this behavior and imposing appropriate legal penalties when these issues are brought before the court.

10 Examples Of Landlord Harassment

It’s not only direct and hostile behavior that can be considered harassment—the law also regards property neglect and undermining living conditions as landlord harassment. This type of landlord harassment can include:

  1. Failing to perform maintenance tasks in a timely and responsible manner
  2. Withholding amenities that were previously allowed, such as pool privileges or landscaping services
  3. Notices of improper conduct that are made up or exaggerated
  4. Notices of inappropriate conduct that single out the tenant while violations from other tenants are ignored
  5. Refusing to accept or otherwise acknowledge proper payment of rent
  6. Entering the property without just cause or proper notice, often repeatedly
  7. Creating a nuisance (for example, loud noise or throwing trash) that disrupts the tenant’s ability to quietly enjoy the rental unit
  8. Deliberate destruction of a tenant’s personal property
  9. Threats of financial injury, such as reporting the tenant to a credit bureau or refusing to provide positive references to future landlords
  10. Physical intimidation and threats of physical violence

Landlord harassment often happens when landlords feel like they cannot wait for the proper time and methods to raise the rent or not renew a lease agreement. Many cases occur in strict rent-controlled areas where landlords want to get rid of current tenants in favor of higher-paying newer tenants.

Landlords who resort to these actions are often trying to avoid the expense of eviction and the hassle of removing a tenant in a proper, legal way.

Even if the tenant is violating the lease agreement or the landlord has decided not to renew the lease when it expires, there is no excuse or valid reason to harass tenants.

Potential Legal Consequences Of Landlord Harassment

Harassment of tenants is a serious legal issue in the United States and can have significant legal consequences for landlords. Exact penalties depend on the laws in your state, but below are some potential legal consequences.

Civil Lawsuits

Tenants can sue landlords for harassment, seeking damages for any harm they’ve suffered. This can include compensation for emotional distress, punitive damages, and sometimes attorney’s fees. Courts may also issue injunctions, ordering landlords to cease the harassing behavior or to take specific actions to remedy past harassment.

Criminal Penalties

Depending on the severity and nature of the harassment, landlords can face misdemeanor or felony charges. This is more common in cases involving physical harm or threats of violence. Convictions can lead to significant fines and, in severe cases, imprisonment. In New York City, for example, a landlord can be fined anywhere between $1,000 and $10,000 for harassment.

Loss Of Rental Licenses And Permits

Many local governments can revoke or suspend a landlord’s rental licenses or permits if found guilty of tenant harassment. This can effectively put them out of the rental business.

Rent Control And Stabilization Penalties

In jurisdictions with rent control or stabilization laws, landlords may face additional penalties for harassment. For instance, they might be barred from increasing rent or evicting tenants for a certain period.

Housing Discrimination Claims

If the harassment is based on the tenant’s race, color, religion, sex, national origin, familial status, disability, or other protected class, landlords can also face housing discrimination charges. This can lead to lawsuits under the Fair Housing Act, resulting in further penalties and damages.

Reputation Damage

Beyond legal consequences, landlords who harass tenants often suffer reputational damage, which can impact their ability to rent properties in the future.

Reporting Landlord Harassment

Reporting Landlord Harassment

Dealing with landlord harassment can be a distressing experience for tenants. However, there are established procedures for reporting such behavior and seeking resolution. Here’s how tenants can effectively report landlord harassment.

Document The Harassment

Document every instance of harassment, including dates, times, and a description of each incident. Save any emails, texts, or voicemails from the landlord that may be considered harassment. Take photos or videos if the harassment involves physical conditions of the property.

Review Your Lease Agreement

Check your lease for any clauses your landlord may be violating. This will also help you understand the legal grounds you may have for a complaint.

Communicate With Your Landlord

Sometimes, initial steps involve directly communicating with the landlord about the issue if doing so is safe and feasible. Send a formal letter to your landlord detailing the harassment and asking for it to stop. Keep a copy of this correspondence.

File A Formal Complaint

Report the harassment to your local or state housing authority. They can provide guidance and may initiate an investigation. Contact tenant advocacy groups for support and advice.

Seek Legal Advice

If the harassment continues or escalates, consult an attorney specializing in tenant rights. For those who cannot afford a private attorney, you can look for local legal aid organizations offering housing-related services.

Consider Mediation

Mediation can sometimes be a helpful tool to resolve disputes without going to court. This involves a neutral third party helping the tenant and landlord reach an agreement.

Report To Law Enforcement

If at any point you feel in immediate danger, or if the harassment includes criminal behavior like assault or illegal entry, contact the police.

Maintain A Safe Environment

If you feel unsafe in your home due to harassment, consider staying with friends or family while the issue is being resolved.

Reporting landlord harassment is a step-by-step process that starts with documentation and can escalate to legal action if necessary. Tenants should know their rights, utilize available resources, and seek professional advice when dealing with such situations.

A Landlord’s Guide To Avoiding Tenant Harassment

For landlords, maintaining a professional and respectful relationship with tenants is a legal obligation and essential to successful property management. Here’s a guide to help landlords avoid behaviors that could be construed as harassment:

  • Educate yourself: Familiarize yourself with local and state tenant laws, including rights to privacy, habitability, and non-discrimination. Ignorance of the law is not a defense in cases of harassment.
  • Respect boundaries: Recognize the tenant’s right to quiet enjoyment of their rented property. This means not entering the property without proper notice, except in emergencies.
  • Have clear policies: Communicate your policies regarding rent collection, property maintenance, and other key issues clearly and from the outset.
  • Document communication: Keep all communication with tenants professional and documented, especially concerning requests for access, complaints, or notices.
  • Make sure rent increases are legal: Ensure any rent increase complies with local laws and is communicated to the tenant well in advance.
  • Follow the legal eviction process: If eviction becomes necessary, follow the legal process meticulously. Never attempt to force tenants out through intimidation or by cutting off utilities.
  • Perform regular maintenance: Address repair requests promptly and keep the property in habitable condition.
  • Keep records of repairs: Document all repairs and maintenance performed and any communication with the tenant regarding these issues.
  • Follow notice requirements: Understand and adhere to local laws regarding giving notice before entering a tenant’s home, usually 24 to 48 hours, unless in the case of an emergency.
  • Try conflict resolution: If disagreements arise, address them professionally. Consider mediation if necessary.
  • Avoid retaliation: Never retaliate against tenants for exercising their rights, such as complaining about unsafe conditions or organizing a tenants’ union.
  • Remember the human element: Keep in mind that tenants are people with rights and deserve respect. Treating them fairly and with empathy can prevent many issues from escalating.

By understanding tenant rights, maintaining open and professional communication, and following legal procedures, landlords can avoid actions that might be perceived as harassment. A respectful and law-abiding approach to property management helps minimize legal risks and foster a positive landlord-tenant relationship, which is essential for a thriving rental property business.

10 Examples Of Tenant Harassment Of Landlords

Tenant behavior can also be classified as harassment of their landlord in certain circumstances. Below are some examples of behavior commonly considered harassment:

  1. The tenant refuses to pay rent, citing repair issues
  2. The landlord constantly receives noise complaints about the tenant
  3. The tenant sends threatening emails or texts to the landlord
  4. The tenant pays rent in large amounts of change
  5. The landlord goes through the proper procedures to raise rent, but the tenant refuses to pay or leave the rental
  6. The tenant violates the warranty of habitability of other tenants
  7. The tenant shows up at the landlord’s home
  8. A tenant assaults the landlord
  9. The tenant refuses to follow parking guidelines
  10. The tenant claims to have sent cash by mail for the rent and refuses to pay rent now

Potential Legal Consequences For Tenants Harassing Their Landlord

Tenant harassment of landlords, though less frequently discussed, is a real and serious issue that can lead to various legal consequences. When a tenant engages in threatening, disruptive, or intentionally harmful behavior toward their landlord, they can face significant repercussions under the law.

Civil Lawsuits

Landlords can sue tenants for any damages caused by harassment. This might include compensation for physical damage to the property, legal fees, or other losses incurred due to the tenant’s actions. Courts may issue orders restraining the tenant from continuing their harassing behavior.

Criminal Charges

If the harassment includes criminal activities like threats of violence, stalking, or property damage, the tenant could face misdemeanor or felony criminal charges. Convictions might lead to fines, community service, or even imprisonment, depending on the severity of the offense.


Harassing behavior often violates lease terms related to conduct and respecting the landlord’s and other tenants’ rights. Landlords may initiate eviction proceedings against tenants who engage in harassment, leading to potential loss of housing and associated costs.

Restraining Orders

In cases of severe harassment or threats, landlords may seek restraining orders against tenants, legally barring them from specific actions or from coming into contact with the landlord.

Impact On Future Rentals

Tenants found guilty of harassing their landlord may have difficulty renting in the future, as such incidents can be noted in their rental history or references.

Financial Consequences

Tenants facing legal action for harassment will likely incur significant costs in defending themselves in court. If found liable, tenants may have to compensate the landlord for any damages or distress.

It’s crucial for tenants to maintain a respectful and lawful relationship with their landlord. Engaging in harassment can jeopardize their current living situation and pose significant legal and financial risks.

Landlord Retaliation

Another aspect of landlord harassment happens when the tenant has complained about the landlord to the building owner, an apartment association, or a government agency.

It’s called landlord retaliation and is recognized by the law as behavior designed to punish a tenant for filing a valid complaint or organizing or joining a tenant union or similar group. Tenants can also be protected from vengeful landlords when they properly withhold money from rent for needed repairs based on their state’s laws.

If the tenant has issued a complaint about something a landlord has done or not done, some landlords may feel offended or angry and set out to punish the tenant. In addition to the behaviors described above, landlords sometimes retaliate by starting the eviction process, raising the rent, or changing something about the terms of tenancy.

Other retaliatory acts can include restricting or decreasing services. Although these things are acceptable for landlords to do when there are no issues between them and the tenant, they may be seen as retaliation when performed soon after a tenant’s complaint.

The courts generally recognize such action a landlord takes (typically within six months) after a tenant’s action as being retaliation. Therefore, if the tenant complains, the burden of proof is up to the landlord to show that their actions were not in retaliation for what the tenant has done.

The landlord would need to convince the court that they would have taken that action (e.g., to raise the rent, not renew the lease, etc.) regardless of what the tenant’s action was. If the landlord’s action takes place a longer time and distance away from the tenant’s protected action, it can still be proven to be retaliation, but the burden of proof then shifts to the tenant.

What To Do If A Landlord Is Harassing A Tenant

In most cities, an organization usually exists to represent tenants and their rights. A quick local online search should reveal if this is the case in your area. For example, here in Buffalo, NY, we have HOME (Housing Opportunities Made Equal), which any landlord or tenant can call to discuss their issues or questions.

Services like these are good resources if regular remediation techniques are not working or the tenant or landlord is abusive.


Below are answers to some of the most frequently asked questions about landlord harassment.

How Can I Prove Landlord Harassment?

To prove harassment, you should document all instances (emails, texts, notes of verbal conversations), keep a record of any witnesses, maintain a log of events with dates and descriptions, and gather any physical evidence (like photos of neglected repairs).

Can I Withhold Rent If My Landlord Is Harassing Me?

Withholding rent can be risky and depends on state laws. It’s often better to seek legal advice before doing so. In some cases, rent withholding is allowed if the landlord fails to make necessary repairs, but this should be done cautiously and with legal guidance.

Can A Tenant Call The Police For Landlord Harassment?

Yes, a tenant can call the police for landlord harassment, especially if it involves immediate threats of violence, illegal entry, destruction of property, or other criminal behavior.

What Is Considered Landlord Harassment In New York?

In New York, landlord harassment includes actions like deliberately failing to provide required repairs or maintenance, threats of eviction without cause, repeatedly disturbing the tenant’s peace and quiet, intentionally providing services (like heat or water) at an inadequate level, and any behavior intended to force the tenant to leave their apartment or waive their rights.

What Is Compensation For Landlord Harassment?

Compensation for landlord harassment may include monetary damages for emotional distress or physical inconvenience., punitive damages in extreme cases, legal fees if the tenant is successful in a lawsuit, and sometimes, compensation can also include rent reduction or lease termination.

How Do You Report Landlord Harassment?

To report landlord harassment, you can:

  • File a complaint with your local housing authority or tenant rights organization
  • Contact a legal aid service or attorney for guidance
  • In severe cases, report to law enforcement

Keep detailed records of the harassment incidents to support your case.

Can A Landlord Evict Me For Complaining About Harassment?

Retaliatory evictions (evicting a tenant for complaining about harassment or conditions) are illegal. Tenants are protected from such actions, especially if they’ve filed a complaint with a government agency or a court.

Should I Contact The Police For Landlord Harassment?

If the harassment involves threats of violence, illegal entry, or other criminal activities, contacting the police is advisable. For less severe cases, legal avenues or housing agencies are often more appropriate.

Can I Break My Lease Due To Harassment?

In severe cases of harassment, tenants may have legal grounds to break their lease without penalty. This usually requires substantial proof of the harassment.

Are There Specific Laws Protecting Tenants From Harassment?

Yes, many states and cities have specific laws protecting tenants from harassment. The Fair Housing Act also provides protections against harassment based on discrimination.

The Bottom Line

Understanding and avoiding landlord harassment is not just a legal obligation but a cornerstone of ethical property management. As landlords, fostering a culture of respect and fairness is crucial in building successful, long-lasting tenant relationships.

By staying informed about the legalities, empathizing with tenant concerns, and adhering to best practices, you can avoid the pitfalls of harassment and create a positive rental environment. This approach helps to safeguard you from legal repercussions and can enhance your reputation as a fair and responsible landlord, which means that good tenants are more likely to stick around.

Note: RentPrep does not provide tax, legal, or accounting advice. This material has been prepared for informational purposes only and is not intended to provide, and should not be relied on for, tax, legal, or accounting advice. You should consult your own tax, legal, or accounting advisors.