What a Landlord Cannot Do

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Written By Alina Sokirko

Landlords own the property that tenants occupy, and therefore they have control over much of what goes on in that building. However, as a tenant, you have certain rights that a landlord must respect, and failure to do so constitutes a breach of their legal responsibilities. Here is a look at some of the acts that landlords are prohibited from committing by law. 

12 Things a Landlord Cannot Do

  • Increase Rent Mid-lease
  • Terminate the Lease Early Without a Lease Violation
  • Take Your Personal Property
  • Enter the Unit Without Notice
  • Perform a Self-Help Eviction
  • Neglect the Unit or Building
  • Discriminate Against Tenants
  • Refuse a Service Animal
  • Keep a Security Deposit for Normal Wear and Tear
  • Turn Off Utilities
  • Change the Locks
  • Refuse to Respond to Reasonable Requests

Increase Rent Mid-lease

Landlords must respect the lease, and cannot raise the agreed-upon rent. Lease agreements exist to outline the responsibilities and financial obligations of the tenants to the landlord and vice versa. Therefore, whatever rent is written in the contract must stay consistent throughout the duration of the lease. Once the lease term is up, the landlord may raise the rent if they so choose but must provide proper notice. 

Terminate the Lease Early Without a Lease Violation

The landlord is not permitted to terminate the lease early unless the tenant has committed a clear violation of the terms. Violations could include failure to pay rent, causing severe damage to the property, or some other behavior that is expressly prohibited by the contract. Even if you have a disagreement or you do something they don’t particularly like, they can’t just tear up the lease unless they have evidence of a clear violation of the contract terms and go through the proper process to have you evicted. 

Take Your Personal Property

The landlord doesn’t have any right to your personal property. Even if you fail to pay rent or damage something, they can’t just decide to keep your personal property as payment. But likewise, they are also not responsible for your personal property if it’s lost or damaged either (which is why renter’s insurance exists). 

Enter the Unit without Notice

Landlords cannot enter the unit unannounced, even though technically they own the unit. If they need to enter the unit for any reason, they must give you proper notice to do so. You must oblige if the request is reasonable, such as they need to get in to fix a leak or to show another tenant toward the end of your lease. But they must give you advanced notice and come at a reasonable time. 

Perform a Self-Help Eviction

A self-help eviction is when a landlord attempts to evict the tenant without going through the proper legal process. Most states have a ban against self-help evictions, and it can be considered harassment if the landlord tries to forcibly evict you without the permission of the court. 

Neglect the Unit or Building

Landlords have a duty to maintain a habitable environment for their tenants. So, if they neglect to make repairs in the unit or the common areas of the building to the point that it impacts your daily life, they are in breach of the lease agreement. Therefore, you have a right to request that repairs be made and can even legally break the lease if they are not made within a timely fashion (although make sure to take the proper precautions before doing so). 

Discriminate Against Tenants

The Fair Housing Act of 1968 made it illegal for landlords to discriminate against tenants for being members of a protected class. Protected classes include race, color, religion, sex, familial status, disability, or national origin. So if a landlord refuses to rent to you or doesn’t perform their regular duties as a landlord because of your race, ethnicity, or other protected status, they are breaking the law. 

Refuse a Service Animal

Not all landlords accept pets. But they must allow you to have a service animal, as long as you have the proper certification. The only exceptions are if the animal is dangerous or if housing it would be physically unreasonable (for instance, if your service animal is a miniature horse). But as long as your request is reasonable, landlords must oblige. Failure to do so could be considered discriminating against a tenant due to a disability. 

Keep a Security Deposit for Normal Wear and Tear

Landlords request a security deposit to ensure that you don’t do too much damage to a unit while you live there. While they may choose to keep the security deposit to repair major damages, they are not permitted to keep it to repair normal wear and tear. Normal wear and tear refer to the typical deterioration that apartments go through over time as a result of being lived in – such as minor scuffs and scratches, dirty windows, small chips in the paint, etc. Apartment damage includes broken windows or doors, large stains on the carpet, unapproved alterations, etc. The landlord may keep some or all of the deposit to pay for apartment damage, but normal wear and tear is their responsibility to fix. 

Turn Off Utilities

Landlords are not permitted to turn off essential utilities such as heat, hot water, and electricity. Even if you stop paying rent, this is not considered an appropriate response. Landlords must maintain a habitable environment, and turning off essential utilities is a major violation of this duty. If they have to do so temporarily (such as turn off the water to fix a broken pipe), they must give you proper notice. 

Change the Locks

Landlords cannot decide to suddenly change the locks without your knowledge or permission. If they have to change the locks for safety concerns in the event of a robbery or if a key goes missing, they must warn you and provide you with a new set of keys as soon as possible. But again, even if you stop paying rent or do something else they don’t like. They can’t simply come over in the middle of the day and change the locks while you’re at work. 

Refuse to Respond to Reasonable Requests

Landlords have a responsibility to respond to any reasonable requests within a timely fashion. Reasonable is somewhat up for interpretation but includes anything that falls within their responsibilities as a landlord. Depending on the circumstances, they may refuse your request if it’s not something required by law or written in the lease. But they have a duty to at least respond and shouldn’t just ignore your calls or messages.