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What Kinds of Conduct by the Landlord Does the Law Consider Retaliatory?

Nearly every state makes it illegal for a landlord to retaliate against a tenant who is acting within his or her legal rights. Landlord retaliation can take many forms, from harassment to eviction, and tenants who are subject to such treatment may file claims in civil court. This article provides a general overview of retaliation by landlords, including the types of conduct that may be considered retaliation.

See FindLaw's Landlord Tenant Law section for related articles and resources.

Landlord Retaliation Explained

Generally speaking, unlawful retaliation occurs when someone in a position of authority (such as a government official, manager, or landlord) punishes an individual for making a legitimate complaint. In the context of employment law, for example, a manager might retaliate against an employee by cutting his hours after that employee reports an unsafe working condition to state officials.

Similarly, a landlord retaliates against a tenant when, for instance, he issues an eviction notice after the tenant raises multiple concerns about leaky pipes or a broken heater. Most state laws even protect tenants who deduct a portion of their rent to pay for crucial fixes the landlord refuses to remedy. Thus, the landlord usually may not demand full rent payment for such an action if the tenant can prove that she made a good faith effort to bring the problem to the landlord's attention.

Landlord Actions Considered Retaliatory

Although all but eight states protect tenants from retaliation, the laws differ on what types of actions are considered retaliatory. However, the following acts of landlord retaliation are prohibited by most states with such laws (provided they are done in response to a tenant's legitimate complaints or other legally protected actions):

  • Refusing to renew a lease;
  • Filing or threatening to file an eviction notice;
  • Raising rent;
  • Not performing services as requested.

It is important to understand the laws in your state before filing a claim, if you believe you were retaliated against by your landlord. For example, landlords in Texas who terminate a tenancy; file an eviction notice; increase rent; or decrease services; may be considered in violation of the law if the actions were taken within six months of the tenant doing one of the following:

  • Complaining to the landlord or a government agency about unsafe or illegal living conditions
  • Exercising a legal right (such as organizing tenants to address a grievance)

In Florida, however, exercising a legal right (other than complaining to the landlord or a government agency about a legitimate concern) is not protected by that state's anti-retaliation law.

To learn more about landlord retaliation or to initiate a legal claim, consider meeting with a landlord-tenant lawyer in your area.

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