Illegal or Legal: How Does Your Landlord's Crazy Behavior Stack Up?

OK, we'll say it. Being a landlord may not always be easy, but being a tenant isn't a cakewalk, either. Unless you're the luckiest renter on the planet, your landlord can probably make you a little cray.

Sometimes even fuming, call-them-up-and-give-them-a-few-choice-four-letter-words kind of cray.

But is your landlord really crossing the line, or should you suck it up and deal?

To find out, we presented an expert with some situations that would make us go to DEFCON 1, and asked him to choose a side.

Scenario 1

You finally found a cute private rental home with a backyard, so you go overboard and decorate that mother up. Then your landlord shows up and tells you to take it all down.

Verdict: Illegal

There is some gray area here. If the yard looks like Clark Griswold's house at Christmas and you're blinding the neighbors, your landlord is probably justified. But otherwise the landlord needs to prove it isn't allowed, and sometimes that's no easy task.

If you're in a private rental home or a condo, the landlord may have to answer to a homeowners association -- and show you where the HOA rules (known as covenants, codes, and restrictions, or CC&R) say the decor isn't allowed.

"The yard or porch can only have restrictions if there are restrictions in the landlord's CC&R," says Jonathan G. Stein, a consumer law attorney in Elk Grove, CA.

If you're in an apartment complex, the rules on outside decor (e.g., plants, grills, bikes, etc.) should have been laid out in your lease. If they weren't, your landlord doesn't have much to stand on.

Scenario 2

Your college buddies -- and their four friends -- are in town and need a place to crash for a week. Your landlord finds out and says they need to go.

Verdict: Legal

Sorry, party people. As much as it pains us to admit this, your landlord gets a say in this situation.

"They can limit guests, especially the number," Stein says. "They can also limit how long a guest stays."

But here's the catch: Your landlord should have stated the limits in your lease. If he didn't, and you're not bothering the other tenants, there isn't much he can do. Read your lease!

Scenario 3

You're minding your own business, paying your rent, and generally trying to avoid your landlord, but he isn't trying to avoid you. Just this week he's called four times and sent nine texts and seven emails. This is harassment! Right?

Verdict: Legal

Your landlord might like you a little too much, but if he's sticking to reasonable hours, there isn't much you can do. Still, check your state's landlord and tenant laws for a cap. In California, for example, your landlord has to limit communications to between 8 a.m. and 9 p.m. unless there's an emergency, according to Stein.

Scenario 4

Thanks to your well-placed webcam (you knew that would come in handy!), you found out your landlord came into your apartment without telling you first. When you question why, your landlord says he needed "to check something."

Verdict: Illegal

Your landlord can't get all in your business without warning unless there is an emergency. And it has to be a legitimate one.

"If there was water leaking from an upstairs unit into a downstairs unit, that would be an emergency. If there is a smell of fire or someone sees smoke, that would be an emergency," Stein says. "A barking dog is not an emergency, nor would be a situation where the landlord thinks someone may be smoking."

Scenario 5

Your landlord has decided to sell, and now he wants to show the property all the time.

Verdict: Illegal (mostly)

"The tenant can limit the landlord from showing the property to regular hours and must give notice prior to anyone -- including the agent -- entering the property," Stein says.

But you can't keep your landlord out forever. As long as he's giving notice, you have to let him show the place to prospective buyers.

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