When Can a Tenant Sue You? 5 Reasons for Filing a Lawsuit
When you own rental properties, you must sign a legally binding rental contract with each tenant. Rental contracts protect the rights of property owners and tenants, and if they’re broken, it could lead to a lawsuit. That said, it’s crucial to recognize and follow all landlord-tenant laws. But what exactly can a tenant sue you for? Read along as we review some of the top reasons tenants file lawsuits against their landlords.
Contents of This Article:
- When Can a Tenant Sue You?
- What Is a Wrongful Eviction?
- Suing Over a Security Deposit Dispute
- Can a Tenant Sue Over Livability Issues?
- What Is the Right to Quiet Enjoyment?
- What are Tenant’s Consumer Report Rights?
- Best Ways to Avoid a Lawsuit as a Landlord
- Protect Against Lawsuits with Property Management
When Can a Tenant Sue You? Top 5 Reasons
If you own rental properties, you’re responsible for several things, like following Fair Housing Laws, local housing codes, and more. Additionally, when you sign a rental contract with your tenants, you must hold up your end of the deal. If not, depending on the situation, your tenant can legally sue you.
That said, if a tenant is suing you, it’s likely due to one of these five common reasons.
- Wrongful Evictions
- Security Deposit Disputes
- Safety and Livability Issues
- Breach of Quiet Enjoyment
- Violating Consumer Report Rights
If you want to learn more about each of these scenarios and how to avoid them while housing tenants, just keep reading.
What Is a Wrongful Eviction?
Landlords generally seek eviction due to non-payment of rent, failing to move out at the end of a lease term, or violating a lease agreement. However, it’s important to recognize that evicting a tenant is a legal process, and it must be followed carefully. Otherwise, you’re at risk of being sued by your tenant. But what can a tenant sue you for? Next, we’ll go over some common instances of wrongful eviction that could result in a tenant lawsuit.
Common Types of Wrongful Eviction
- Retaliatory Evictions
- Not Following State Eviction Procedures
- Harassment or Privacy Violations
When a landlord evicts a tenant without legal cause or any broken lease terms, it’s a retaliatory eviction. Retaliatory evictions usually happen when a landlord doesn’t agree with the tenant or there’s a personal conflict between the two. Some examples include:
- Increasing rent mid-lease or without notice
- Cutting off amenities or utilities without reason
- Taking possession of the rental property without notice
Not Following State Eviction Procedures
Another reason a tenant can sue you is for not following state eviction procedures. Every landlord must file paperwork and follow specific guidelines to evict a tenant properly. So, if you neglect to follow the correct procedures, your tenant can sue you for wrongful eviction. Landlords cannot move tenants’ belongings, change the locks, or cut off utilities to any rental property without a proper court order.
Harassment or Privacy Violations
Finally, another form of wrongful eviction is harassment or privacy violations. If you violate your tenant’s privacy or harass them to the point where they leave your rental, it’s considered a constructive eviction. If you’re accused of harassment or privacy violations, you may be responsible for all the expenses involved in the constructive eviction.
Suing Over a Security Deposit Dispute
Some of the most common landlord-tenant disputes revolve around security deposits. Although security deposits are standard practice for almost every rental agreement, tenants and landlords often face challenges. For instance, if the landlord fails to return the deposit on time, a tenant can sue for up to 3x the withheld amount, plus court fees.
Additionally, tenants may want to sue if you don’t return the entire deposit. As such, if you decide to withhold any portion of their security deposit due to damages, you must send them an itemized list with each deduction.
To avoid lawsuits over security deposits, landlords can do a few things. For instance, it’s crucial to charge the right amount, conduct move-in and move-out inspections, and know state and local security deposit laws.
Can a Tenant Sue Over Livability Issues?
Yes, a tenant can sue if you don’t provide an inhabitable residence. That said, it’s essential to recognize the difference between livable and unlivable conditions. For instance, there may be times when a tenant requests a minor maintenance or cosmetic fix. However, while practicing good customer service is important, these aren’t considered unlivable conditions.
On the other hand, if your tenant is dealing with any of the following scenarios, there’s a chance they can rightfully sue you.
- Lack of utilities, including heat, light, electricity, or water
- Severe rodent infestation
- Structural defects that pose a severe safety threat
- Any severe health or fire risk
- Lack of sewage disposal
- Not appropriately addressing lead paint hazards
What Is the Right to Quiet Enjoyment?
In most states, there’s an implied covenant or warranty that entitles each tenant to “quiet enjoyment” while renting the home. Quiet enjoyment means that tenants are guaranteed the right to live in your rental home without harassment or privacy violations.
If your tenant leaves due to harassment or privacy violations, they could take you to court. If they do, you could be responsible for legal fees, court costs, damages, and more. As such, it’s crucial to respect tenants’ privacy at all times and keep all business relationships professional.
What are Tenant’s Consumer Report Rights?
All landlords must take special care while screening tenants or utilizing a tenant’s consumer report. A tenant’s consumer report includes sensitive information about a person’s credit, rental, or criminal history. As such, if you violate the Federal Fair Credit Reporting Act or use any information against a tenant, it could end in a lawsuit.
For instance, violations may include:
- Denying a rental application for unwarranted reasons
- Not reporting tenants to the credit bureau
- Requiring a co-signer when it’s unnecessary
- Filing unnecessary or wrongful evictions
- Requiring a higher deposit amount than standard for other tenants
- Neglecting to send appropriate documentation for an application denial
That said, becoming familiar with all federal credit reporting laws is crucial for landlords to avoid being sued by a tenant. Next, we’ll go over more ways to avoid a lawsuit from a tenant.
Best Ways to Avoid a Lawsuit as a Landlord
If you own a rental business, it’s important to learn about the risks. Unfortunately, lawsuits and landlord-tenant disputes are a huge risk for landlords. As such, it’s crucial to learn how to prevent and avoid lawsuits from tenants. Now that we’ve gone over some reasons a tenant can sue let’s go over how landlords can avoid lawsuits.
- Provide Safe and Habitable Housing- If your rental doesn’t meet the standards of cleanliness, you’re at risk of being sued by a tenant. As such, it’s your job to ensure your property meets federal, state, and local housing codes.
- Charge the Right Security Deposit- To avoid disputes over security deposits, it’s crucial to follow laws and charge the correct amount. That said, most areas allow you to charge up to 2 months’ rent for a deposit. So, check your local laws and ensure you don’t go over or undercharge your tenants.
- Follow All Lease Terms- A lease contract works both ways–you and your tenant must follow the terms and conditions. Unfortunately, if you don’t hold up your end of the agreement, a tenant can sue you. Luckily, you can ensure compliance with property managers in Northern Virginia.
- Address Maintenance Issues Quickly- If your tenant requests maintenance or has significant issues with a rental property, it’s crucial to address concerns immediately. Depending on the severity of the repair, if it goes unrepaired, you may be sued by a tenant.
- Properly Handle Major Concerns- Major concerns, like environmental hazards or mold inside a rental property, need proper treatment. Otherwise, you could run into a lawsuit for uninhabitable conditions.
Protect Against Lawsuits with Property Management
While a few scenarios may lead to your tenant suing you, there are several ways you can avoid a lawsuit. That said, comprehensive rental property management is one of the simplest ways to keep your tenants happy and rentals maintained.
With full-service rental management, you don’t have to worry about why your tenant can sue you. Instead, you can feel rest assured that your tenants and rental properties are taken care of. So, if you need rental management near Northern Virginia, contact Bay Property Management Group today.