The relationship between landlord and tenant is not always peaceful. A landlord may attempt to harass or intimidate a tenant as a form of retaliation or to get the tenant to move out. Learn when a landlord’s actions are harassment, when the actions are legal and what a tenant can do about it.
What Is Landlord Harassment?
Harassment is the use of aggressive methods by the landlord in an attempt to pressure or intimidate a tenant. A landlord may perform these actions to disrupt the tenant's quiet, peaceful enjoyment of the rental unit, force the tenant to move from the unit or force the tenant to refrain from pursuing a legal right they have.
The landlord's action usually must be ongoing and not an isolated incident. The harassment could be against a tenant who lives in the rental unit or against a guest of a tenant.
16 Examples of Landlord Harassment
There are endless ways a landlord could harass a tenant. Some examples include:
- Illegal Entry: Advance notice is usually required before a landlord can enter the tenant’s apartment. Emergencies are an exception to this rule. Entering a tenant’s property without warning or prior approval could be considered harassment.
- Shutting Off Utilities: This violates the warranty of habitability, which means that tenants have the right to basic necessities, such as running water, sewer and heat in the winter.
- Cutting Off Amenities That Were Included in Lease Agreement: This could include taking away a tenant’s parking spot or cutting off their access to laundry services.
- Refusing to Make Repairs/Perform Maintenance: A landlord could attempt to make the conditions at the property uncomfortable by refusing to make repairs to the unit or perform requested or necessary maintenance.
- Changing the Locks: A landlord may change the locks on common area doors or on the actual entry doors to the tenant’s unit or even barricade these doors in order to get the tenant to move out of the property.
- Removing Possessions From Unit: A landlord could physically move a tenant’s possessions out of the rental property.
- Raising Rent: Most states will require a landlord to give a tenant at least 30 days’ notice before the landlord is allowed to increase the tenant’s rent. Demanding more money without the proper notice could be a form of harassment.
- Improper Notice: Landlord-tenant law requires landlords to give a certain amount of notice for events such as entry, nonpayment of rent or evictions. If the landlord does not give the proper notice, it could be considered harassment.
- Buyout: A buyout is when a landlord tries to get the tenant to accept a sum of money to move out of the unit by a certain date. The landlord may want to convert the unit to a condo, avoid dealing with the eviction process or force a rent stabilized tenant out of the property. Repeated attempts to buy out the tenant after the tenant has refused may be considered harassment.
- Verbally Threatening the Tenant: A landlord may use their words to intimidate the tenant over the phone, in person or in writing, such as in text messages, emails or written letters.
- Physically Threatening the Tenant: A landlord could try to pressure a tenant using physical harassment. This could include using their body to block a tenant’s exit from a room, getting in a tenant’s face or even putting their hands on the tenant.
- Refusing to Accept a Rent Payment: A landlord may attempt to intimidate a tenant into moving or threaten the tenant to take back a complaint by refusing to accept the tenant’s rent payment.
- Filing False Charges Against the Tenant: Another form of harassment involves a landlord filing false charges against a tenant, such as falsely stating the tenant violated a no-pets policy, in an attempt to evict the tenant.
- Filing a Fake Eviction Against the Tenant: A landlord could try to get the tenant to move by sending a fake eviction notice to the tenant. For example, the notice may state that the tenant is being evicted and only has three days to move out of the unit.
- Construction Related Nuisances: If a landlord begins construction with the sole purpose of disturbing the tenant, this could be considered harassment. It could include working during early morning or late at night, leaving construction debris everywhere or physically blocking the entrance to the tenant’s apartment.
- Sexual Harassment: A landlord could harass a tenant by making crude remarks to the tenant or other obscene sexual advances.
7 Landlord Actions That Are Not Considered Harassment
There are many actions that are within the legal rights of a landlord. These include:
- Entering Rental in an Emergency: A landlord does not have to provide notice to a tenant to enter the tenant’s unit in an emergency. For example, if there is a fire in the building, the landlord can open the tenant’s door to try to make sure no one is left in the property.
- Filing an Eviction for Nonpayment of Rent: A landlord is legally allowed to file for an eviction against a tenant if the tenant has not paid their monthly rent. A landlord will often have to send the tenant a Notice to Pay Rent or Quit before being able to file for the eviction.
- Raising the Rent With Proper Notice: A landlord can increase a tenant’s rent by a certain percentage, as long as the landlord gives the tenant proper notice. In most states, this is 30 days before the rent increase will take effect.
- Sending Tenant Notice to Quit for Violating Lease Terms: If a tenant is violating the terms of their lease, the landlord has the legal right to send the tenant a notice to quit the behavior. If the tenant does not stop the behavior after this notice, the landlord may have the right to file for an eviction. Sometimes the landlord is required to send the tenant multiple notices before an eviction can be filed.
- Tenant Did Not Pay Utility Bill: If a tenant does not have heat or electricity because he or she did not pay their utility bill, it is not landlord harassment. As long as the boiler works and the electricity has the ability to turn on, it is up to the tenant to get current on their bills so their utility services are turned back on.
- Sending Tenant a Buyout Request: Landlords are allowed to offer the tenant a buyout to move out of the unit as long as they follow legal measures to do so. Check your local laws. Some states require the request to be made in writing, notifying the tenant of their rights, including their right to refuse the buyout attempt. A landlord is usually only allowed to make a buyout attempt once within a certain number of days as repeated attempts could be considered harassment.
- Changing Locks for Victims of Domestic Violence: While a landlord cannot randomly change the locks on a tenant’s unit, the landlord can change the locks at the request of a tenant who has been the victim of domestic violence.
5 Tenant Remedies
If a tenant feels they have been a victim of landlord harassment, the tenant has several options:
- Document the Incident: The tenant should document any alleged incidents that occur including the date, time and nature of the harassment. The tenant should keep any evidence of the harassment, including a voicemail, text message, email, letter, photo or video that captures the incident.
- File Complaint: In many cities, a tenant can file a complaint with their local government. The agency will investigate the claim to see if harassment has occurred.
- File a Restraining Order: With the proper evidence, a tenant can file to get a restraining order against the landlord. This usually occurs if the tenant wishes to move out of the rental property, since landlords and tenants will typically have to interact in the course of business.
- Get an Injunctive Order from the Court to Stop the Behavior: A tenant can go to court to get a legal order from the court for the landlord to stop the harassing behavior.
- Sue the Landlord: A tenant could also sue the landlord for damages due to the harassment.
State Laws About Landlord Harassment
Many states have specific laws to help protect their tenants from landlord harassment.
A landlord could be fined between $3,000 and 11,000 for each harassment offense they are convicted of. In addition, they are unable to increase the rent on a tenant who they have been convicted of harassing until the Division of Housing and Community Renewal lifts this ban. If a landlord in New York is convicted of a felony for physically injuring a tenant, he or she could face jail time, as well as a fine.
Massachusetts has a Consumer Protection law which is designed to protect against unfair or deceptive practices, including harassment. The tenant can send a Consumer Demand Letter to the landlord within 30 days of the harassment and has the ability to sue the landlord in small claims court if seeking damages under $7,000.
San Francisco, California:
Tenants in San Francisco are protected by Prop M. This proposition defines the actions that are considered landlord harassment in the city and possible remedies for the harassment, including a potential decrease in rent, as well as the tenant being awarded up to $1,000 for each offense.