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When Can You Call Police on Your Landlord?

By Brett Snider, Esq. | Last updated on

Calling the police on your landlord shouldn't be your first response to landlord problems, but it may be smart in certain situations.

Paying rent entitles you to certain rights to your apartment. And when your landlord atempts to deny you those rights, it may be time to get the police involved.

So when are those times when you can call the cops on your landlord? Here are three common situations that may warrant police involvement:

1. Your Landlord Locks You Out.

There are legal guidelines to be followed in evicting a tenant, and both landlords and tenants are expected to be civil in an eviction. If, after a spat over your lease, your landlord decides to go ahead and change the locks on you, you can likely call the police.

Although landlord/tenant laws vary from city to city, "self-help" evictions, which are done in violation of eviction procedures, are typically illegal. You can explain to the police that your landlord has not followed city or state laws in removing you from your apartment, and in some states he or she may be arrested for a crime.

In any case, police should allow a tenant to either regain access to the apartment and/or retrieve possessions after a lockout.

2. Unlawful Entry by Your Landlord.

Landlords can legally enter apartments, but entry typically requires notice and a legitimate reason to enter.

The most common reason for a landlord to enter an apartment is to perform maintenance or inspect safety features (e.g., smoke detectors). But in either case, you should have reasonable notice of his or her arrival.

If you return to your apartment and find your landlord unexpectedly rummaging through your things, you can call the police. Although it may be uncommon, landlords can be charged with trespass for entering a tenant's unit without notice and/or consent.

3. Your Landlord Shuts Off Utilities.

Landlords are required to make their properties habitable, which can mean legal trouble if the essential utilities aren't provided. In some cities, it is even illegal for landlards to allow the indoor temperature to drop below a certain point during winter months.

However, when your landlord intentionally shuts off utilities to your apartment (i.e., heat, water, or electricity), it can be legally tantamount to locking you out. "Shut-offs" are also called constructive evictions, and police will treat them much like your landlord locked you out.

Of course, these situations aren't the only times you can call police on your landlord. And you may have other options to resolve your landlord-tenant dispute, such as mediation or filing a civil lawsuit.

If you have more questions about dealing with a problematic landlord, consult an experienced landlord-tenant attorney.

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