If your landlord is refusing to make necessary repairs or is holding your security deposit hostage, here's what you need to do.
You laughed along with Bad Santa. You were splitting your sides at Bad Teacher. You’ve chuckled at the Bad Moms and Bad Grandpa. Now get ready for the next installment of the Bad Cinematic Universe… [record scratch] Bad Landlord?!
Wait a second, that doesn’t sound funny at all! Dealing with a bad landlord is such a pain. Your home is meant to be a sanctuary where you can relax after a tough day, so having a bad landlord can throw your whole life out of whack. It could even end up as a drain on your finances.
Let’s address a couple of the most common ways that landlords can be bad and some good general strategies you can employ to deal with them. Hopefully, you’ll soon be back to once enjoying the serenity of your home as you watch Bad Lieutenant on TV.
They aren’t making repairs.
This is probably one of the most common ways that a landlord will be “bad.” One of the advantages that renting has over owning is that the landlord or management company is obligated to pay for repairs. This advantage goes away if your landlord is not doing that!
“The landlord is responsible to make to make repairs in a tenants apartment, the tenant should not make the repairs on their own,” established NYC Tenant Attorney Sam Goldberg. “If there are defective conditions in a tenant’s apartment they should call 311 and schedule an inspection date for an HPD inspector to check the tenant’s apartment for violations.
“Once HPD issues a violation, HPD will give the landlord a certain amount of time to repair the violation depending on its violation class. If the landlord still fails to make the repairs, the tenant should bring an HPD proceeding in housing court. The proceeding is predicated upon the HPD violation report and the judge will tell the landlord to repair the defective conditions in the tenant’s apartment. If the landlord fails to make the repairs, the judge could order civil penalties and in some cases, even hold the landlord in contempt of court.”
If you do not want to go to court, there are other paths you can take. However, those paths may still end up with you in court, so be prepared.
“Some tenants choose to withhold rent when there are defective conditions in their apartment because they want an abatement in their monthly rent,” explained Goldberg. “If a landlord brought a non-payment proceeding against the tenant, one of the tenant’s defenses to the non-payment proceeding would be ‘warranty of habitability.’
“The tenant can use the HPD violation report to demonstrate that the defective condition existed in their apartment and use the violation report as part of their evidence to get an abatement on rent in the non-payment proceeding.”
They won’t return your security deposit.
You managed to get through your entire lease and you’re finally leaving that bad landlord behind. It’s a dream come true! But that dream can morph into a whole new nightmare very quickly.
“Another issue tenants run into is after they vacate their apartment is the landlord fails to return their security deposit,” warned Goldberg. “In NYC the Landlord has 30 days to return a tenant’s security deposit. When a tenant vacates their apartment they should take pictures and videos and make sure that the photos and videos are time stamped.
“A tenant should do this so if a landlord withholds their security because of alleged damages, they have photographs and videos to argue against the damage claim from the landlord. If the security deposit is below $5,000.00, a tenant can bring a small claims action against their landlord to try to recover their security deposit back after 30 days.”
Check that lease!
If you do end up in a legal battle with your landlord, knowledge of your lease will be your greatest weapon.
“Believe it or not, many people do not take the time to thoroughly read and understand their lease,” advised Ron Humes, VP of Operations Southeast Region for Post Modern Marketing. “This is the document that will govern the landlord-tenant relationship along with actions and consequences. A lease should have a section regarding the process for reporting substantial repairs needed on the property and the timeframe and consequences of the associated resolution.
“If a landlord is not responding to needed repairs this may be a valid reason for voiding the lease contract and receiving a return of deposits. Again, read the lease and understand the process. Since the lease represents the mutual and voluntary agreement of the two parties, this document will be critical to the judge and final decision.”
You already know to take pictures of any damages that were there when you moved in. But that’s not all! Keep track of everything, especially your interactions with the landlord.
“Try to work out any issues directly with the landlord,” recommended attorney Matthew J. Kidd. “However, keep a detailed log of your interactions and try to get everything in writing. As frustrating as the situation may be, always be civil and as reasonable as possible when dealing with your landlord. Don’t let this minor civil issue turn into a possible criminal matter.”
And stand together.
Even with all of this knowledge under your belt, you’re still going into this situation as the underdog. The landlord controls the space where you live, and that’s a lot of leverage! That’s why you should consider working together with others to even the odds.
“When at all possible, see if there are others in your building or unit that are experiencing the same or similar problems,” urged real estate professional Chantay Bridges. “There is strength in numbers. There is a difference between a one-person complaint versus fifty.
“You all should work together and make certain the owner is aware that the tenants are not going to tolerate living in an unhealthy, unsafe environment, whatever the scenario is. Let your voices be heard.”
As with most challenges in life, dealing with a bad landlord will be easier with research, preparation, and teamwork!
Chantay Bridges is America’s leading mogul, who utilizes her gifts and abilities in outreach to her community and world around her. She is an exceptional Realtor, (translation: the one you want to hire), Author, Speaker and a keen philanthropist with a strong business acumen.
Samuel E. Goldberg, Esq. is an experienced tenant’s rights attorney and advocate who provides exemplary representation to tenants throughout the NYC area in all courts and governmental agencies.
Ron Humes is currently the VP of Operations Southeast Region for Post Modern Marketing (@PostMM); a full-service digital marketing company. He has been a realtor as well as an owner and principal broker of his own realty company for 20 years. He has been a custom home builder and owner of a remodeling company. He is an active investment property owner of flips and rentals. He has been a Property Manager for 20 years. He trains investors to purchase, flip and rent properties.
Matthew J. Kidd (@MattKiddLaw) is an attorney in Boston. Kidd was recognized by Super Lawyer as a 2018 “Rising Star”. Kidd was also awarded the “Silver Client Champion” award by Martindale-Hubbell and Avvo Clients’ Choice Awards in 2017 and 2018. Kidd handles a variety of civil issues including bankruptcy, employment, landlord-tenant and personal injury issues in his practice.
Andrew Tavin is a writer, comedian, and a full-time content manager for OppLoans. He graduated with a BFA in TV Writing from Tisch School of the Arts in New York City, worked as a writer for BrainPOP, and created a branded comedy video series for the National Retail Federation called “Interview Day.” He performs around the country and his writing has also appeared on Collegehumor, Funny or Die, and Sparklife.
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