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Can I Sue My Landlord?

Yes. You can sue your landlord. In an ideal world, the landlord or property manager and tenants would enjoy a smooth relationship throughout the tenancy. Unfortunately, this is not always the case. Some renters must go to court to protect their tenant rights.

Understanding Legal Actions

Before you start a lawsuit against your landlord, you should understand the basics of a lawsuit. All lawsuits begin with a complaint. This legal document, filed with the court, explains the underlying reasons or "grounds" for your lawsuit. You will need to have a legally sufficient reason to sue your landlord. You must also pay court costs to file the lawsuit and have a copy of the complaint served on your landlord or property manager.

Once the landlord or property owner gets a copy of your complaint, they have a specified amount of time to answer. Depending on the complexity of your case, you or your lawyer may file other documents to support your case. This includes discovery, a process through which opposing parties gather information. The court will set a date for a hearing, and if your case goes to a hearing, the case will conclude with a court order.

Grounds to Sue Your Landlord

You will need a reason or grounds for legal action against your landlord. This is something the landlord or property manager did or didn't do. For example, if you sustain an injury on the rental property due to your landlord's negligence, this is grounds for a lawsuit.

Other grounds to sue your landlord include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Uninhabitable rental unit
  • Housing discrimination
  • Landlord negligence, including a failure to make necessary repairs
  • Interference with the right to quiet enjoyment
  • Illegal eviction
  • Failure to return a security deposit

The Implied Warranty of Habitability

You have a right to live in housing that is:

  • Safe
  • Clean
  • Decent

Many jurisdictions outline the requirements for habitability in their housing or building codes. These laws ensure you live in a home that is fit for human life, that includes the following:

  • Heat
  • Hot water
  • No lead paint
  • No pest or rodent infestation
  • Working electrical systems
  • Working plumbing systems
  • Working smoke and carbon monoxide detectors

Tenants have several remedies if their landlord or property management company does not make timely repairs. Tenants in some jurisdictions can use repair and deduct to fix the problem and deduct the costs from their monthly rent. They can report the landlord's negligence to the local housing code inspector. If these remedies don't work, they can file a lawsuit in small claims court for relief.

Housing Discrimination

Under state and federal law, it is illegal for a real estate professional to make an adverse decision based on a protected characteristic. The federal Fair Housing Act bans discrimination in real estate transactions on the national level. States also have fair housing laws that address housing discrimination.

Protected characteristics include, but are not limited to:

  • Race
  • Gender
  • Sexual orientation/gender identity
  • National origin
  • Familial status
  • Disability

Landlords and property managers can't discriminate against those with disabilities. For example, a landlord cannot deny a rental application because the application includes a service animal.

Housing Discrimination Complaints

Renters facing housing discrimination can file a complaint with the federal government through the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). They can also file a complaint with their local department of housing. Often, renters must file complaints with a government agency before they can file a lawsuit.

The agency will investigate the complaint. Depending on the investigation's results, the parties can opt to go to court.

Illegal Eviction

An eviction is a legal process through which landlords and property managers can legally remove a renter from a rental property. They can't use self-help, like changing the locks or shutting off utilities to remove a tenant. Instead, they must use the eviction process.

Typically, landlords need a reason to evict a renter. Common reasons for an eviction include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Nonpayment of rent
  • Criminal/illegal activity
  • Lease violations

If your landlord has no reason for the eviction, you should determine whether you are facing a wrongful eviction. For example, under Maryland law, landlords and property managers cannot evict a tenant for filing a good faith complaint with a government agency. This applies to good faith complaints about serious threats to the tenant's health or safety.

You can sue your landlord in state or small claims court for an illegal eviction.

Failure to Return Your Security Deposit

Most renters give their landlords a security deposit before they move into the rental unit. A security deposit offers financial protection for your landlord if you:

  • Damage to the rental unit beyond normal wear and tear
  • Nonpayment of rent
  • Cleaning the rental unit

Typically, landlords must return the security deposit within a few weeks of you moving out. Renters should give a forwarding address and phone number for the security deposit return. Check your rental or lease agreement for more specific information on forwarding information. Landlords must return the security deposit within the timeframe specified by the law.

The Right To Quiet Enjoyment

You have the right to quiet enjoyment in your rental property. You can enjoy your place without interference from your neighbors or your landlord. Your landlord can only enter your rental unit with reasonable notice. They can also enter the rental unit for reasons under your state laws and the rental agreement. For example, some rental provisions have a clause with rules for landlord entry. If your landlord violates this right, you can sue them to prevent them from repeating this conduct.

Alternative to Lawsuits

Suing your landlord is an expensive proposition. You will have to pay costs, including the following:

  • Filing fees
  • Attorney's fees
  • Other court costs

Suing your landlord can be costly, and you will likely pay a lot of money, including filing and attorney's fees. So, finding other ways to resolve the issue before you take the matter to court is better.

demand letter is one way to do this. You can explain the issue to your landlord and allow them to rectify it before going to court.

Get Legal Help

You have a legal right to sue your landlord if they violate your rights or landlord-tenant law. An experienced landlord-tenant attorney can evaluate your case and give sound legal advice. Speak to a local landlord-tenant attorney today.

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