Legitimate Reasons You Can Sue Your Landlord (And Win)

Know your rights as a tenant

By Canaan Suitt, J.D. | Last updated on June 3, 2022

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If you’re renting a house or apartment, you want your tenancy to be free of problems and conflicts. If issues come up, you want them solved quickly.

If problems do arise with your landlord, it’s essential to understand what you can do and when legal action could be necessary. Knowing your options is key to restoring peace as quickly as possible.

Can You Sue Your Landlord?

The short answer to this question is: yes, you can. If you are a tenant, there could be many situations when suing your landlord is the best or only option available.

However, there are pros and cons to taking legal action against your landlord. Pros include:

  • Enforcing your legal rights as a tenant
  • Recovering for expenses or damages to your property
  • Getting persistent problems fixed

The biggest cons to suing your landlord include:

  • The amount of money involved, including filing fees, attorney fees, and court costs
  • The amount of time and effort involved in bringing a lawsuit

Your situation may be one where legal action is needed. Other times, the cons will outweigh the pros.

It is important to consider your options carefully before acting. Getting legal advice from an attorney who practices real estate law can be essential for making the right decision.

Are There Options Other Than Suing?

Yes, before resorting to legal action against your landlord, you could:

  • Talk to your landlord about the problem. This may seem obvious, but making your landlord aware of issues can often resolve matters.
  • Write a demand letter. If you have talked to your landlord to no avail, try writing them a demand letter. Explain your problem and its impacts on you, your efforts to address the issue, and your intention to take legal action if they don’t promptly address the issue.

Legitimate Reasons You Can Sue Your Landlord

There are several legitimate reasons you could sue your landlord. Below are some of the biggest:

  • Illegal clauses in the rental agreement. There are some provisions that landlords cannot legally put in lease agreements. For example, landlords can’t add a clause saying they can force you out whenever they want. They can’t deny responsibility for repairs. They can’t prohibit service animals. If your landlord has put provisions in your lease that violate landlord-tenant laws or other state laws, you could sue them.
  • Security deposit violations. A couple of problems could arise with security deposits.
    • First, your landlord charges more for a security deposit than your state’s law allows.
    • Second, your landlord illegally keeps your security deposit at the end of your tenancy. If damage to the unit goes beyond normal wear or you’ve failed to pay rent, your landlord could deduct from your security deposit, even taking all of it. However, if you have paid rent and taken care of your rental unit, you could sue your landlord for keeping your deposit.
  • Violation of your quiet enjoyment. One of the most important tenant rights is called quiet enjoyment. As a tenant, you have a legal right to use and enjoy your property without obstruction or intrusion from others. If a landlord enters your home without giving notice or having a good reason, you could sue them. Typically, landlords can only enter your home if they need to check for damage, make repairs, investigate rent violations, or show others the apartment.
  • Uninhabitable premises. In almost every state, renters have an implied warranty of habitability. This warranty ensures that the property is suitable for its use. When it comes to apartments or houses, suitability means the property is safe to live in. Many issues could make a home uninhabitable, including:
    • Mold
    • Lead paint
    • Faulty wiring
    • Leaky roof
    • No water or electricity

You could sue if your landlord ignores these issues or refuses to make repairs. The amount to sue for will depend on how long the problem lasted and whether it caused you other issues or expenses, such as having to live somewhere else.

  • Injury from landlord’s neglect. Suppose you are injured because your landlord neglected repairs. In that case, you could sue your landlord for any damages you’ve received, including any loss of work that may have resulted.
  • Reimbursement. If you had to make repairs because your landlord wouldn’t, and then your landlord refuses to reimburse you, you could sue in small claims court to recover your expenses. Another option could be to withhold however many months’ rent would cover the cost until your landlord pays.
  • Wrongful eviction. Landlords can legally evict renters for nonpayment of rent, violating other lease agreement terms, or causing damage to the rental property. If none of these reasons apply and you think your landlord is trying to evict you illegally, you can sue them. Even if your landlord has a legitimate reason to evict you, they must follow the proper procedures of an eviction case. Without a properly enforced court order, landlords can’t physically remove you or shut off your utilities. If they try to take matters into their own hands, you can sue them in small claims court or raise a defense in an eviction lawsuit.
  • Discrimination. The federal Fair Housing Act prohibits housing discrimination based on race, gender, familial status, religion, or national origin. If you believe your landlord has discriminated against you, you could file a complaint with your state’s Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) office to conduct an investigation.

Questions for an Attorney

If you consider legal action against your landlord, getting good legal advice is essential. Many attorneys provide initial free consultations to prospective clients. These meetings are an excellent resource for both attorney and client because it allows the attorney to hear the facts of the case while the client can determine if the attorney meets their needs.

The best way to decide whether an attorney is the right fit is by asking informed questions. Here are some good questions to ask during your initial conversations:

  • What is your fee, and what options for billing do you offer?
  • Should I take legal action to address my problem?
  • What is the likelihood of success in a lawsuit, given the facts?
  • What kind of court should I sue in?
  • What legal services do you offer?

Finding the Right Attorney For Your Needs

It is essential to approach the right type of attorney—someone who can give you legal help through your entire case. You can visit the Super Lawyers directory and use the search box to find a lawyer based on your legal issue or location. 

For legal advice in suing your landlord, consider looking for a lawyer practicing landlord-tenant law.

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