Suing A Landlord: 4 Big Mistakes That Can Cost You

If your conflict with your landlord has reached the point where you need to file a lawsuit, tread lightly because the stakes are high. Follow this list of the four biggest mistakes to avoid so you'll be prepared for the fight to come. The information provided here is for general information only and should not be used as legal advice.

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4 Big Mistakes People Make When Suing A Landlord

  1. Not having any evidence. You'll need to prove the state your apartment was in, so make sure you've got all the necessary documents, including filling out a renter's inspection worksheet and a proper lease agreement.
  2. Violating the lease. If you withhold rent or sublet your apartment when it's against the rules, you won't have a solid legal defense.
  3. Not putting things in writing. Always have a paper trail, so submit a proper complaint letter and a security deposit refund letter that makes your position clear.
  4. Trying to do everything yourself. The law can be confusing, so consult an attorney with any questions you have before proceeding.

Help With Fighting Your Landlord

Rank by population State Resource
1 California Tenants Together
2 Texas Texas Tenant Advisor
3 Florida Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services
4 New York Tenant Protection Unit
5 Pennsylvania PaLawHelp
6 Illinois Illinois Legal Aid Online
7 Ohio Franklin County Law Library
8 Georgia Georgia Legal Aid
9 North Carolina North Carolina Consumers Council
10 Michigan Michigan Legal Help

Can I Withhold Rent If My Landlord Won't Make Repairs?

Rank by population State Is Withholding Rent Legal?
1 California Yes, but only with proper notice and some limitations
2 Texas Not unless it affects your immediate health or safety
3 Florida Yes, after seven days' notice
4 New York Yes
5 Pennsylvania Only with permission from the state department of health
6 Illinois No, but repairs can be deducted from rent
7 Ohio Yes
8 Georgia No, but you can repair and deduct
9 North Carolina No, except in highly specific circumstances
10 Michigan Yes, in certain circumstances

How Long Does My Landlord Have To Return My Deposit?

Rank by population State Deposit Return Deadline
1 California 21 days
2 Texas 30 days
3 Florida 15 to 60 days
4 New York Reasonable amount of time
5 Pennsylvania 30 days
6 Illinois 30 to 45 days
7 Ohio 30 days
8 Georgia 1 month
9 North Carolina 30 to 60 days
10 Michigan 30 days

Many states also have varying requirements regarding how tenants must provide written notice of vacating the premises, and how landlords must provide documentation of deductions. For specific information regarding your situation, consult an attorney.

Tenant Advocates In Major US Cities

City State Resource
San Francisco California Housing Rights Committee Of San Francisco
New York New York City of New York
San Jose California SanJoseCA.gov
Boston Massachusetts Massachusetts Laws About Landlord and Tenant
Los Angeles California LA Tenants Union
Washington D.C. Office of the Tenant Advocate
Oakland California Oakland Tenants Union
Seattle Washington Solid Ground
San Diego California Housing Opportunities Collaborative
Miami Florida Miami-Dade Police Department

Metropolitan Areas With The Highest Eviction Rates

Rank City State Eviction Rate
1 Memphis Tennessee 6.1%
2 Phoenix Arizona 5.9%
3 Atlanta Georgia 5.7%
4 (tie) Indianapolis Indiana 5.6%
4 (tie) Dallas Texas 5.6%
6 Las Vegas Nevada 5.5%
7 Louisville Kentucky 5.3%
8 Houston Texas 5%
9 Virginia Beach Virginia 4.9%
10 Cincinnati Ohio 4.8%

Eviction Laws By State

Rank by population State Information Resource
1 California California Courts
2 Texas Texas State Law Library
3 Florida Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services
4 New York New York State Unified Court System
5 Pennsylvania Pennsylvania Landlord and Tenant Act
6 Illinois Southern Illinois University School of Law
7 Ohio Franklin County Law Library
8 Georgia Georgia Legal Aid
9 North Carolina North Carolina Bar Association
10 Michigan Michigan Legislature

Types Of Eviction Notices

Notice Type Situation What It Means
Pay Rent or Quit Tenant is behind on rent Rent must be paid in full by the date given or tenant must vacate the apartment by that date
Perform Covenants or Quit (or "Cure or Quit") Tenant has violated the terms of the rental agreement in a way that can be remedied (such as owning a pet without permission or housing guests that are not permitted by the lease) Tenant must correct the violation within the supplied time frame or move out
Unconditional Notice to Quit Tenant has violated the terms of the lease repeatedly or in ways that cannot be remedied Tenant must vacate the unit within the time frame given
No-Cause Notice (or "Notice of Non-Renewal") Tenant's lease is up or is month-to-month Tenant has a set amount of time (generally 30 to 60 days, but varies by state and type of lease) in order to vacate
Tenancy-At-Will Notice Tenant does not have a firm lease Tenant must vacate, usually in a shorter amount of time if the tenant has not been in the unit for long enough to establish full tenancy

Does My State Have Rent Control Laws?

Each state is different regarding the laws that govern how much a landlord may charge for rent, and how much a landlord can increase your rent in any given year. Because of growing housing markets in some cities, rent control has become a contentious issue. It's a good idea to know what the laws are in your state. You can consult this chart to find out more.

10 Most Expensive Cities To Rent An Apartment In The US

Rank City State Median Rent For One-Bedroom Apartment
1 Danville California $4,361
2 Cupertino California $4,159
3 Melville New York $3,871
4 Los Altos California $3,864
5 Watchung New Jersey $3,684
6 Florham Park New Jersey $3,675
7 Edgewater New Jersey $3,624
8 Marina del Rey California $3,593
9 San Mateo California $3,511
10 Rancho Palos Verdes California $3,456

Information on more cities can be found at Apartment List.

In Depth

Conflicts with shady landlords can lead to big trouble, and your only recourse might be a lawsuit. But make the wrong moves, and you could end up broke, evicted, or worse. These are the four biggest mistakes people make when suing a landlord that you need to watch out for.

Mistake #1: not having any evidence. If your disagreement goes to trial, you'll have to present your case, and if you can't prove that your landlord broke the law or violated your agreement, there's no way you can match a well-funded legal team. That's why it's critical that you prepare for a potential conflict from day one.

It's a good idea to record video of the state of your residence when you move in, so you can show what damage was there before you arrived. You should also have a renter's inspection worksheet that shows you and the landlord both knew of any problems upon move-in. And you're going to need a proper lease that has been signed by both parties. Without a lease, they can evict you without the required notice because you can't prove you were a tenant.

It's a good idea to record video of the state of your residence when you move in, so you can show what damage was there before you arrived.

These documents need to be properly drafted and filled out in order to hold up in court, so don't ignore the details. For more resources, consult our full guide to suing a landlord. Check it out right beneath this video.

Mistake #2: violating the lease. Many frustrated tenants get the idea of withholding rent until necessary repairs are made as a last resort bargaining tactic. The problem with doing this is that by not paying your rent, you've violated your lease, and your landlord may try to evict you.

In some places, it's within your rights to withhold rent if the landlord has violated the agreement, or to use that money to make repairs and deduct it from your rent. But you still owe the money, and you may have to fight them in court, prolonging the conflict. And in Arkansas, you can be arrested if you don't pay your rent, meaning you could end up in jail if you don't win this fight.

But you still owe the money, and you may have to fight them in court, prolonging the conflict.

We aren't lawyers, and this isn't legal advice, but however bad your house is, jail is probably worse. The laws regarding withholding rent for repairs differ in each state, so make sure you do your research. Check out our full guide right on this page. Scroll beneath this video to read it.

Mistake #3: not putting things in writing. Telling your landlord in person that repairs need to be done, that you're moving out, or that you want your deposit back isn't going to cut it when you have to sue them.

When asking your landlord to make repairs, you'll want a paper trail, because If you don't put your complaint in writing, they may do what some Chicago landlords are accused of doing, ignoring tenant requests and claiming they were never told about the problems as a way of skirting responsibility. An official complaint letter sent by certified mail will give you proof that you told them what needed to be done and when.

When asking your landlord to make repairs, you'll want a paper trail, because If you don't put your complaint in writing, they may do what some Chicago landlords are accused of doing, ignoring tenant requests and claiming they were never told about the problems as a way of skirting responsibility.

And when asking for your deposit back, send a letter requesting the money be sent to your new address. Your landlord has a set amount of time to return it to you depending on which state you live in. If they ignore your letters or violate the law, you'll have a great case when going to trial.

Mistake #4: trying to do everything yourself. You'd like to avoid ending up in a courtroom if you can, but sometimes disagreements with landlords can become extremely contentious. Arguments over the treatment of someone's home can escalate quickly, like the case of the homeowner in Australia who found the $4 million home he'd rented out damaged and covered in blood, so he showed up with a gun and was arrested.

Landlords can be very petty when they think they've been wronged, and can even turn violent. Tenants have been threatened with everything from table legs to chainsaws, and there have been some instances where landlords physically harmed their tenants. Regardless of how tough you think you are, if it gets that serious, you should definitely call the police.

Landlords can be very petty when they think they've been wronged, and can even turn violent.

To avoid confrontation, it's best to find an attorney who can help you explore your legal options. A good lawyer can help you get needed repairs done, stop an illegal eviction, and help you get a security deposit back. To learn more, check out our full guide to suing a landlord. You can find it right beneath this video.

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