I recently spoke with a satisfied customer who completed a sublease agreement with Rocket Lawyer. He had to create the document because his roommate was moving from San Francisco to take a new job, leaving the rest of the roommates to find a replacement. When he mentioned this matter to his landlord, she saw an opportunity to find new tenants and increase the rent on the apartment. She attempted to push her current tenants out of the apartment by claiming a subletter would be in violation of the lease. The roommates took it upon themselves to learn their local tenant rights and spoke with an attorney. They ultimately found out that what their landlord was doing was illegal in San Francisco, and were allowed to stay and bring in a new subletter.
Stories like this happen every day. We recently surveyed over 100 tenants from all over the US asking them for their craziest landlord story, and were surprised with what they had to say. We’ve compiled the top five stories below, which range from poor living conditions to massive privacy violations, plus the tenant’s rights and legal options.
Knowing your rights as a tenant is the first step when you’re facing a bad landlord situation. And if you’re ever unsure what to do next, it’s a good idea to get help from an attorney before things get worse.
1. My landlord put a camera in my shower.
The most obvious legal faux-pas in our list speaks to a clear violation of one’s privacy. There are thirteen states where the law limits the usage of hidden surveillance cameras. General restrictions are around the usage of cameras in private places, like a bathroom. However, even states that do not have specific laws about hidden cameras respect a tenant’s right to privacy, and deem this type of surveillance inappropriate.
This level of invasion of one’s right to privacy could be viewed as a tort violation, so if this happens to you, it is recommended you speak with an attorney.
2. My landlord tried to host a Bible study in my apartment because I refused to go to church.
Tenants have the right to “quiet enjoyment,” which is the right to a tenant’s unimpaired enjoyment and use of their leased property. Whether or not this is included in your rental agreement or lease agreement, most states will recognize this right by common law.
This right is violated in instances where the landlord commits wrongful acts against the tenant or property, acts of negligence, or when the property becomes uninhabitable. In the case of the apartment Bible study, this could be considered a violation of the tenant’s right to quiet enjoyment, in which case you may want to consider contacting an attorney.
3. My landlord broke into my apartment to make sure the refrigerator shelves were clean.
There are various reasons as to why a landlord may want to enter a tenant’s apartment. Most of the time, the landlord will have to provide a signed notice to enter in order to let the tenant know they are planning to come, and can legally do so if enough advanced notice is given (generally 24 hours). Only in cases of an emergency, like a gas leak, or when it’s not reasonably possible to give advance notice, can a landlord enter a tenant’s apartment without prior consent.
Unless there was an emergency having to do with the refrigerator shelves (unbearable smells?), it appears this landlord was not in compliance with the law.
4. My apartment had no heat, but my landlord refused to repair it and still wanted full rent.
Whenever you sign a rental or lease agreement, you’ll want to take note of your responsibilities for maintaining the apartment, as well as your landlord’s. Your landlord’s responsibilities typically include providing you with heating, air conditioning, water services, waste disposal, arranging for repairs, and notifying tenants of, or responding to, health concerns, such as mold.
Landlords have a responsibility to maintain a habitable environment in a residential property in compliance with local housing codes. Under most state laws, that includes an ”implied warranty of habitability,” meaning the landlord is not only required to deliver the property to the tenant in a habitable condition, but also maintain the property as such throughout the duration of the tenant’s lease. You can make a formal request to your landlord for maintenance issues by sending them a tenant maintenance request. If they remain unresponsive, try sending a formal complaint letter to your landlord, or notify your local housing authority.
5. I was accused of depreciating the property when it was significantly improved, and didn’t get my deposit back. I won the lawsuit!
As mentioned in the last point, you’ll want to take note of your responsibilities for maintaining the home. On the tenant side, this can include anything from paying your rent on time and following specific clauses (like not having pets or smoking) to keeping the property free from damage or paying for utilities. Most states will require that when you move out, your landlord refund your deposit in full and/or provide you with an itemized statement of deductions with the reasons for those deductions. The best way to protect your deposit is to document the condition of your rental unit before moving in, and have your landlord sign off on your completed renter’s inspection worksheet.
If well maintained, you should be able to get your full deposit back. If your landlord deducts funds from your security deposit for damage you didn’t cause, or keeps your deposit beyond the allotted ‘reasonable’ amount of time, many states will penalize them. In some states, the landlord is also required to hold your deposit in a separate account to be sure it is not spent and may even be required to pay you interest on those funds. If a landlord is forced to go to small claims court and the court finds in the tenant’s favor, as was the case with this tenant, the landlord will not only be required to return the security deposit in full, but he or she will also be faced with a penalty. You can check with your local and state laws to find out if your landlord is at risk for a penalty.
Rebecca Fuller, a Las Vegas-based attorney in the Rocket Lawyer On Call® network, contributed to this post.