Your Landlord Is Harassing You? DoNotPay Can Provide Help!

In a different movie, you would live in a cozy, affordable, rent-controlled apartment in a city of your liking, with enough space for everything and everyone you need. Your landlord would be kind, understanding, trustworthy, and fair. All of you happy renters, together with your awesome landlord, would look into a beautiful sunset from your windows, and then—cue the end credits with some upbeat jazz cover. 

In real life, renting an apartment rarely looks that rosy. Sometimes the relationship with your landlord can take a rather grim turn, leading even into proper harassment. Landlord harassment is a category of its own, but it can often overlap with other types, like sexual harassment.

According to the study published in the Missouri Law Review, one out of ten women with low income have experienced sexual harassment from their landlords. It doesn’t have to get this dark, but if you have experienced landlord harassment of any sort, you should know that you are not alone and that there are things you can do with the help of DoNotPay.

What Counts as Landlord Harassment?

Landlord harassment can include sexual advances, but it can also be many other things. In some instances, your landlord might even not be aware that what they are doing is problematic, so it is crucial to get familiar with what it means when someone is harassing you.

Any aggressive method used by a landlord to pressure, intimidate, or coerce you to break your lease or move out of the premises can be considered landlord harassment. In most cases, harassing actions must be repeated several times—isolated incidents will not count as strong enough grounds for legal action. 

It’s useful to know that harassment can target both tenants and their guests. The landlords must ensure that other people working for them or representing them cannot act in a way that counts as harassment. 

Examples of Landlord Harassment

Landlords usually start harassing their tenants in situations related to rent raises. If they don’t want to wait until your lease expires or they don’t want to bear the expenses of legal eviction, the landlords might reach for questionable methods. Greedy landlords might utilize different harassment practices to make you leave sooner so they can get new tenants who will pay more. 

Here is a non-exhaustive list of the most common examples of landlord harassment across the United States:

  • Poor maintenance/lack of repairs—a landlord might withhold necessary maintenance to create difficult living conditions for a tenant they want to get rid of. One Reddit user reported harassment on the grounds of poor maintenance which resulted in a physical injury
  • Tenant lockouts—a landlord blocks access to the building or a specific rent unit by changing locks, barricading the entry, etc.
  • Withholding previously agreed-on amenities—a landlord takes away your parking spot, pool privileges, landscaping services, etc. although your lease agreement includes them. This can include even the necessary amenities such as water, heat, electricity, etc. 
  • Illegal entry—a landlord cannot enter the rental unit without obtaining your consent or notifying you in advance, unless there is an emergency
  • Raising or overcharging rent—the laws might differ a bit from state to state, but if the rent is increased without a timely notice before the lease expires or the increased amount gets unreasonable, a landlord might be accused of harassment
  • Verbal and physical threats—landlords use abusive language over the phone, in person or in writing, they try to put their hands on you, block access with their body or get in your face. In some cases, the landlord’s verbal abuse can continue online, and become cyberstalking
  • Buyout—if a landlord constantly offers to buy out your lease, contacts you at work about it, or writes to you regarding the issue within 180 days after your refusal, that counts as harassment
  • Refusing rent—harassment is also when a landlord refuses to accept or acknowledge your rent payments because they want to scare you into moving out or taking back your complaint
  • Landlord retaliation—takes place after you submit a legal complaint to authorities and can involve any of the harassment examples mentioned above as a method of revenge against you; one Reddit user even reported a bizarre situation where the landlord had her face painted on a mural after she started a lawsuit 

Landlord Stalking

In some instances, the harassment from your landlord can turn into proper stalking. If your landlord is relentless and keeps verbally abusing you in person, online or via harassing phone calls, these can be the grounds for stalking claims. 

Stalking can be anything from the landlord keeping track of your movement or contacting your friends and family. Things can get even more difficult for you if stalking is interrelated to sexual advances on the landlord’s side or threats of physical violence. 

While DoNotPay can help you stop a stalker, you should know that you can always report such incidents to the police or even start the procedure to get a restraining order against your landlord. Situations like this can often occur after you reported initial harassment to authorities as a form of landlord retaliation.

What Doesn’t Count as Landlord Harassment?

Landlords can use legal means that may seem intrusive to many people. You would be well advised to research in detail your state’s specific laws about the landlord-tenant relationship, but in most cases, landlords have it within their legal rights to:

  1. Enter the premises in cases of emergency: if there is a fire or a gas leak or some other emergency, the landlord is not obliged to provide any notice beforehand, as per Seattle’s Department of Construction and Inspection
  2. File an eviction if you don’t pay rent: this seems straightforward, but it is useful to know that they still have to notify you in writing, at least three days beforehand, like in California
  3. Raise rent with a notice: a landlord can increase your rent if you have a periodic rental agreement (month-to-month or week-to-week), but they have to provide a 30-day notice for increases of 10 percent or less, or a 60-day notice for bigger increases, as per California’s Department of Consumer Affairs
  4. Send tenants a Notice to Quit: if your actions, like making too much noise or not keeping your unit in a habitable condition, are violating the lease agreement, a landlord can send you a Notice to Quit before filing for eviction; for example, in California, this notice can be sent anywhere between 3 and 90 days, depending on the contract or housing type
  5. Offer the tenant a buyout: it is legal for your landlord to offer you a buyout, but this has to be done under local regulations; for example, in New York, the landlord has to do this in writing offering you a chance to refuse, or speak to your lawyer. The notification also has to explain that you can tell the landlord to stop offering you a buyout for 180 days if you write a letter
  6. Change locks for victims of domestic abuse: in Oregon, if you request a change of locks from your landlord, due to being a victim of domestic violence, the landlord is obliged to do so without verification of sexual abuse, domestic violence or stalking

What Landlord Harassment Federal and State Laws Are There?

While the tenant-landlord relationship is commonly regulated on a state or local level, several federal laws can come in useful if you ever experience landlord harassment. Here is a general overview of the most relevant ones:

Name

Brief Description

The Fair Housing Act

This law prevents discrimination based on race, color, national origin, sex, disability, religion, age, familial status, etc. While it mostly guarantees that landlords offer equal opportunities to everyone, this act might be useful if your landlord starts getting verbally abusive e.g., using racial or ethnic slurs.

The Fair Credit Reporting Act

This law specifies that a landlord needs a tenant’s permission to run a credit report for possible screening purposes.

Americans with Disabilities Act

This law guarantees that a landlord cannot hold it against you if you have a trained helper animal, so this cannot be grounds for fabricated lease agreement breaches.

State Laws About Landlord Harassment

You should get acquainted with state laws regarding the tenant-landlord relationship even if you’re not a victim of landlord harassment. For example, did you know that air conditioning is not a required appliance in Texas or that a landlord cannot pressure you into declawing or devocalizing your pets in California? Besides these random rules, state laws regulate: 

  • Rights and responsibilities of tenants and landlords
  • Security deposits
  • Leases
  • Lease termination guides
  • Required disclosures
  • Repairs
  • Safety features
  • Evictions

If you experience landlord harassment in any capacity, before taking any actions, try to research the legal framework of your relationship by consulting official government websites.

The state and city laws regarding the tenant-landlord relationship are pretty similar in most states, but there might be some important differences, and you should be aware of them. 

This advice applies to legal consequences as well, since the amount of money that you can get for a harassment case is not the same in every area. Make sure to familiarize yourself with the state legislation, and check out the table below for examples from 3 major cities:

Location

Examples of Legal Consequences for Landlords

New York

  • Harassment conviction can result in $3,000–$11,000 fines 
  • The rent cannot be increased for the harassed tenant until the Division of Housing and Community Renewal lifts its ban
  • The landlord will face jail time and a fine if they physically hurt the tenant

San Francisco

  • A tenant can get up to $1,000 if they win a landlord harassment case
  • The rent can be decreased if a landlord is found guilty of  harassing the tenant

Boston

  • A tenant can take their landlord to a small claims court for up to $7,000, if there are legal grounds for a lawsuit

How Can DoNotPay Help You with Landlord Harassment?

DoNotPay is on a mission to assist you in solving various problems. While some of them can be easy to fix, landlord harassment can get pretty serious. Experiencing harassment in any form can take a toll on your emotional and mental health. 

Most people struggle with understanding their rights and adequate courses of action due to the complexities of the legal system. That is why DoNotPay created a new user-friendly and streamlined service designed to protect you from harassment. It is particularly useful if your landlord turns into a stalker. Check how simple it is:

  1. Open DoNotPay in your web browser or get the iOS app
  2. Hit Relationship Protection
  3. When prompted, choose Safety and Stalking
  4. Have a short chat with our chatbot while following its simple instructions
  5. Provide additional information that you find important for your case

After you finish the chat, DoNotPay will prepare the appropriate documents and courses of action suitable for your case. The actions can range from writing a cease and desist letter that you can send to the harasser to reporting and blocking the landlord bully on social media.

What Else Can You Do in the Meantime?

If you decide to take legal action against your landlord, it would be best to find another place to live. Since this is not always possible, you might have to stay in the same apartment while waiting for a court date or conclusion to the whole process. In such cases, here’s what you should do: 

  • Honor your lease agreement: Make sure to follow the rules stated in your lease to the letter. Any violation can weaken your claim or hinder your success in court. Don’t throw loud parties, don’t get a pet, and avoid doing anything that the landlord might use against you 
  • Keep paying your rent: Don’t stop doing it no matter how unpleasant the harassment you suffered is. If you are under a lease, you are still legally obliged to honor your part of the agreement, unless your lease says otherwise. Make sure to do it on time as well, because all late payments can strengthen the case against you

It is difficult to list all variations of harassment, but make sure to check the most common ones below.

Verbal or Physical Harassment

  1. Record everything you can—Write things down in detail, try to take video or voice recordings during the harassment occurrences. Take photos or screenshots if you’re exposed to online harassment. All of these will serve as important evidence if you end up suing your landlord in court
  2. Send a letter—Ask your landlord to stop harassing you in written form. Be as detailed as possible about the situations when they verbally or physically attacked you. Save a copy of your letter
  3. Call the police—Do not hesitate to call 911 if the violence escalates, and you don’t feel safe at your place

Tenant Lockouts

  • Make records—If your landlord locks you out, make sure to record it somehow. You can take a video of yourself trying to enter your unit, explaining what happened. The more information you include, the stronger your claim in court, if it comes to that
  • Complain to the landlord in writing—Make sure to state that you know your tenant rights and that lockouts are a clear violation of the law. Demand for such harassment to stop. Copy the letter and save it with other harassment evidence you obtained

Utility Shut-Offs

  1. Call the utility company—If the shut-off is not a result of unpaid bills on your end, and it comes from the landlord harassing you to leave, try contacting the utility service provider, explaining what happened and asking them to resume service
  2. Keep a list—An isolated incident cannot be treated as harassment and, if your landlord is harassing you, the chances are they will shut off your gas, cable, electricity, or heat multiple times. Whenever it happens, keep a detailed list of shut-offs stating the dates, the time, and the duration. If applicable, include all the negative consequences of the shut-offs that you experienced
  3. Talk to your neighbors—If the landlord is harassing you to move out before your lease expires, so they can increase the rent, it’s very likely they are doing it to other tenants as well. Check if any of your neighbors experienced any harassment. If it comes to a lawsuit, you can act as witnesses for one another

How Else Can DoNotPay Help You, Besides Fighting Landlords?

Harassment of any sort is a serious issue, but the odds are that you have experienced some other problems that DoNotPay can fix as well. Instead of wasting time researching the policies and regulations for every administrative or legal issue that troubles you, you can get an efficient solution by consulting DoNotPay help in just a few clicks in your web browser or taps in your iOS app. Contact us if you’re struggling with: