The relationship between a landlord and their tenants can at times be contentious, and in some situations, this might be because a landlord is breaking the law or is putting their tenant at risk.
From having people live in dangerous buildings to not making repairs as promptly as they should, there are plenty of times when tenants might be within their rights to sue their landlord.
It’s always best to try other routes before going with a legal option, but if your landlord isn’t responding to your requests or isn’t doing so appropriately, do you have recourse?
The answer is yes, in some cases, and the following are things to know about suing your landlord or being in a legal battle with them.
Are There Benefits to Suing Your Landlord?
If you’re in a difficult situation with your landlord, there are possible downsides to suing them, including the fact that it can be somewhat time-consuming and costly.
At the same time, it could be that knowing you have an intention to sue them could lead your landlord to take action. Landlords will want to stay out of court if possible, so notifying them of your intention to sue could be motivation. Many landlords will agree to settle before you ever go to court.
If you do sue and then you ultimately win, you may also get the money you’re owed and maybe then some.
If you’re suing for wrongful eviction, you may end up getting to stay in your house or apartment.
Are there risks of suing your landlord?
The answer is yes, and you need to be aware of these as well.
Of course, you could always lose. If your landlord is protected by an LLC or a larger company, they might have plenty of money to hire lawyers to go up against you. There’s no guarantee you’re going to win a lawsuit.
It’s also expensive to file a lawsuit, including not just the cost to hire a lawyer, but there are other filing fees and court costs too.
Your landlord can countersue you too, and if you lose that, you could end up paying your landlord’s attorney’s fees in addition to damages.
Can You Sue Your Landlord for Not Making Repairs?
If your landlord is refusing to make repairs and it’s making your living situation potentially dangerous, you can sue them, but there are steps you should take first.
You need to be aware of what the laws are as far as repair and maintenance responsibilities where you live.
State and local laws do provide that tenants be provided a home that’s safe and livable.
There are usually two categories needed repairs can fall into—repairs that create a habitability problem and minor repairs.
Your landlord is responsible for taking care of things that can cause damage in your home or could make a space unlivable.
Minor repairs and who’s responsible for making them can vary.
Depending on where you live, you may have options available before you sue. For example, in some places, you might be able to withhold rent or make the repairs yourself and deduct the cost from your rent. You might even be able to move out without liability, depending on the situation.
You do need to let your landlord know and be sure what the local laws are where you live.
You should also make sure before you do any of this that you’ve put all of your repair requests in writing. Keep copies of all correspondence you have with your landlord.
Situations Where You Might Sue and Win
If you come to the point where you think a lawsuit is your only option, some of the situations where you’re more likely to have a strong case include:
- Your apartment is inhabitable. This was touched on above, but for example, if there are mold and mildew or major storm damage and your landlord isn’t fixing the problems, you might consider a lawsuit.
- If your landlord owes you money—for example, if they are withholding your security deposit, you may have a strong legal case.
- If you’re injured while you’re on the property because of negligence, you might sue. In this situation, you will have to show deliberate negligence on the part of your landlord.
- You might be able to sue if you believe you are a victim of discrimination. In the U.S., you are protected by the Federal Fair Housing Act.
This certainly isn’t an exhaustive list of when you might be able to sue, but these are some of the more common examples.
Preparing a Case
If you decide to file a civil suit, you will need to be prepared. You’ll need to gather evidence, such as photos, correspondence, and any invoice for expenses you paid out of your own pocket.
You might need to collect testimony from witnesses, such as repair people.
As far as whether or not you’ll need a lawyer, it depends. In some states, you can’t hire a lawyer for small claims cases. If you can legally hire a lawyer, it might not financially be worth it. The attorney’s minimum fees may be more than the amount you’re suing your landlord for.
The majority of cases involving landlords and tenants do go to small claims court, dependent on state law. In small claims court, usually the limit on the amount you can sue for is just a few thousand, although, in some states, it might go up to $15,000.
To sum it all up, yes you can technically sue your landlord, but should you? Not always. Try other routes before filing a lawsuit and be aware there are downsides and limitations, particularly for cases that go to small claims court.
Make sure that it makes financial sense to file a lawsuit before doing so. Once you do the math, you may find that it doesn’t make sense, but there could be other ways to get your landlord to make repairs.