The Dirty Tricks Landlords pull to force you out and what to do about them

Carlee Sutera
 | 
In the midst of a global pandemic, record high unemployment rates, and the official end of the federal moratorium on evictions, renters need to be aware of their rights.

We've heard reports of landlords who are frustrated with eviction court backlogs, so they're pulling outright illegal and evil tricks. 

Here are the things they absolutely cannot do, and what you can do to fight them.

Landlords cannot report your immigration status to anyone

As a renter it is important to remember that immigration status does not affect federal fair housing rights or responsibilities. The Fair Housing Act protects every person in the United States.

The Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination in the sale, rental, and financing of dwellings, and in other housing related transactions, based on race, color, national origin, religion, sex, familial status, and disability. This kind of discrimination towards an individual is illegal regardless of their immigration status.

It is illegal for your landlord to coerce, intimidate, threaten, or interfere with your exercise or enjoyment of rights granted or protected by the Fair Housing Act. This includes threatening to report you to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

Solution: If your landlord is making threats about reporting you to ICE, report them to the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). HUD does not inquire about immigration status when investigating claims of housing discrimination.

Landlords cannot turn off your electricity or water.

While your landlord can turn off your electricity or water in certain instances, like to make repairs, they cannot turn off your electricity or water as a response to a missed rent payment or as an attempt to make a unit uninhabitable.

Electricity and water are essential services that make a rental unit habitable. If your landlord takes away these essential services and the unit becomes uninhabitable, this could be considered a constructive eviction.

A constructive eviction happens when a rental unit becomes unlivable, and the tenants have moved out because of the issues which caused the unit to become unlivable.

Constructive eviction is a legitimate defense in court and, if proven, the tenant will not be held responsible for rent from the point when the rental unit became unlivable.

Solution: If your landlord cuts off electricity or water,  sue them in civil court for actual damages, attorney’s fees, and other damages in response to your electricity or water being turned off. You may also be able to file a complaint with the appropriate state agency.

Landlords cannot lock you out

Your landlord can only lock you out if you have abandoned the rental, stopped paying the rent and moved out without telling the landlord, or if a sheriff has executed a court order (a Writ of Restitution) to evict you.

If your landlord prohibits you from entering your apartment for any other reason, including failing to pay rent, it is considered an illegal lockout.

Solution: What you can do immediately to get back into your rental varies based on jurisdiction. In some places you can call a sheriff who will come let you back in right away, other places have an emergency number you can call.

In the long term you can sue your landlord in civil court if they illegally lock you out. You may be able to sue for actual damages such as the cost of temporary housing, the value of food that spoiled when the refrigerator stopped running, or the cost of an electric heater when the gas was shut off and potentially several months’ rent.

During these unprecedented and uncertain times it is more important than ever to know your rights as a renter.

Do not let your landlord try and take advantage of you and kick you out when they do not have the right.

 

This article is intended to convey generally useful information only and does not constitute legal advice. Any opinions expressed are solely those of the author, not LawChamps.

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