It is illegal in almost every state for a landlord to retaliate against a tenant for asserting their legal rights. This is known as a retaliatory action.
Under most landlord retaliation statutes, a landlord can't evict, harass, or raise the rent of a tenant for doing something legal. A landlord may not like the renter's actions, but they cannot seek revenge.
A common retaliation tactic is trying to evict a renter after they complain to a government agency. This is called "retaliatory eviction." A landlord might also try a rent increase to push out a renter after they request legally required repairs. This sometimes is called "retaliatory rent."
If a landlord-tenant dispute goes south and a tenant decides to inform the authorities, the tenant is protected against the landlord from certain retaliatory activity.
The kinds of retaliatory acts covered by most state statutes include:
A tenant must prove that these actions were done in retaliation, of course. That is where state laws against landlord retaliation come into play.
Tenants are protected against vengeful landlords by state landlord retaliation laws. If a landlord tries to evict a tenant for informing government agencies of code violations, it is likely against the law. They also cannot be punished for requesting that the landlord make repairs and maintain the rental property in a "fit and habitable" condition.
It is illegal in almost every state for a landlord to retaliate against you for acting within your legal rights when you:
Remember that state laws will protect you only for activities in your state's landlord retaliation statute. Not all states protect tenants from all types of retaliation.
Be sure to check what landlord retaliation statutes your state has on the books.
Landlords who try to go after tenants' rights can be stopped and sued. That said, the tenant's path to enforcing their rights may be a time and money consuming endeavor. You may be stuck in the same building and have to pay rent during the whole case. This depends on the circumstances of your case.
The process usually looks like this:
If you do end up in court, the good news for tenants is that the law may presume the landlord's bad conduct was retaliatory. Many states give tenants an edge when it comes to exposing prohibited treatment or evictions.
More than 20 states have laws presuming landlord retaliation if:
The amount of time varies by state and ranges from three months to a year, but typically it is a six-month window. In these states, the landlord has the "burden of proof." This means it is the landlord that needs to prove there was another valid, non-retaliatory motive for their actions.
While it's illegal for a landlord to retaliate against you for reporting unsafe conditions or other defects, enforcing these rights is a whole different story.
Such lawsuits are costly and time-consuming, but your chances of success increase when you have the right legal representation.
If you believe that your landlord's conduct was retaliatory, it's a good idea to discuss your particular situation with a skilled landlord-tenant lawyer who can explain how the laws apply to your case and advocate on your behalf.