Is Your Landlord Breaking the Law?

Most renters understand the common-sense basics of landlords overstepping their authority. A landlord cannot raise your rent in the middle of the lease, evict you because he wants to move someone else in, or refuse to make a necessary repair.

Those items aside, there are some landlords with annoying habits that you just have to deal with. Or maybe not.

While landlords are often tasked with more than collecting the rent and making the occasional repair, some of their worst habits might be illegal.

Entering unannounced

If your landlord shows up unannounced or lets himself in when you aren't home, he's probably breaking the law. Almost every state gives tenants the right to privacy, meaning your landlord can enter your rental only if he gives you notice first -- typically 24 to 48 hours.

There is one exception to this rule. If you need an emergency repair, such as a busted waterline or a leaking dishwasher that could flood the entire place, your landlord can enter to make the repair without providing notice.

Working odd hours

Some landlords also have day jobs that prevent them from calling or texting during standard working hours. However, if your landlord frequently calls late at night or early in the morning and doesn't stop when asked, you may have the right to take legal action.

In some states, late-night phone calls are considered harassment, especially if you have previously asked the landlord to stop contacting you at that time.

Ignoring your requests

If your landlord doesn't return phone calls or reply to your emails, he may be violating the landlord and tenant act laws in your state.

In most states, your landlord is legally required to hold up his end of the bargain and that means making arrangements to have repairs made. If your phone calls or emails requesting repairs are ignored, you may have the legal right to perform the repairs yourself and deduct the cost from your rent payment. Legal recourse varies by state, so check your landlord and tenant laws before you proceed.

Charging excessive fees

Many landlords use large late fees to deter tenants from paying their rent late, but fees that are too large may not hold up in court. An example is when your landlord charges a $75 late fee and an additional $50 for every day thereafter. You can take your landlord to small-claims court, which may decide if the fees are excessive.

If you think your landlord is charging too much, contact your local housing authority office. A representative can tell you what's normal and what's excessive for your area.

Making midlease changes

Some landlords will try to make changes to rental rules during the middle of the lease, and many tenants simply go along with them. You may assume that because the landlord owns the building, he has the final say -- but that isn't always the case.

Your landlord cannot make changes to the lease without your permission during the lease term. For example, if your lease does not say how many guests you can have, your landlord can't impose a one-guest rule three months into the lease.

If you believe your landlord's bad habits might be violating your rights, contact a real estate lawyer or your local housing authority for assistance.

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