How to Recognize and Stop Landlord Tenant Harassment

Landlord tenant harassment can be defined as any aggressive technique used by the landlord to scare or intimidate a tenant. By harassing a tenant, the landlord is infringing upon the tenant’s right to the enjoyment of the property.

Unfortunately, in order for a landlord to face legal repercussions for harassment, it must occur repeatedly, meaning that one occurrence will not be enough to convince a court that the landlord is guilty. Instead, you must be able to prove to the court that the landlord has displayed a pattern of harassment.

It can be difficult to gauge what is considered harassment by a landlord, as the line between what counts as harassment and what doesn’t can be thin. In this blog, we’ll cover some common examples of landlord harassment, as well as what doesn’t qualify as landlord tenant harassment.

Shutting Off Your Utilities

If a landlord is looking to get payback for not paying rent, for example, or is looking to push you out of your unit, they may try to shut off your utilities. This action can be known as ‘self-help eviction’ or landlord retaliation. However, it is illegal as landlords do not have the power to take actions to push a tenant out of their unit—that must be done by an official such as a sheriff.

Illegally Entering Your Unit

In New York City, landlords are required to provide at least a 24 hours notice to their tenants if they intend on entering their unit. If this notice is not provided, they cannot legally enter the unit. If you have experienced instances where your landlord has entered your apartment without notice or your consent, this can be considered harassment.

Refusing to Provide Maintenance or Make Repairs

Landlords are required to provide basic maintenance and repairs to the apartment, as well as any appliances that are included in the rental unit, such as the shower or sinks. Refusing to provide a tenant with maintenance and repairs is considered harassment, and it is also seen as a way of attempting to push a tenant out of the unit. This means it is also considered a self-help eviction, which is illegal.

Changing the Locks

During a tenant’s stay, the landlord is not allowed to change the locks on a unit without providing the tenant with a key. If they change the locks and refuse to provide you with a key, this can be considered both harassment and a form of ‘self-help eviction,’ both of which are illegal.

Spontaneously and Illegally Raising Your Rent

Landlords are required to give their tenants a minimum of 30 days notice if they intend on raising the rent. If your landlord refuses to do so, or gives you a notice that is any less than 30 days, this is considered harassment. Additionally, in rent-stabilized apartments, there are very specific rules for when rent can be raised and by how much. If your landlord isn’t adhering to these rules, it could be a form of landlord harassment.

Personal Harassment

Personal harassment can be seen as threatening statements, sexual or verbal harassment, or anything that may raise concerns for your safety. If you are experiencing this from a landlord, this is both a violation of the lease agreement and a violation of the law. Unlike some other types of landlord harassment, this doesn’t need to happen more than once, and can automatically warrant legal action.

What Isn’t Considered Landlord Harassment?

Now that you know what is considered landlord harassment, here is a list of what is not considered landlord tenant harassment:

Entering Your Unit in an Emergency

While landlords are typically legally required to provide at least a 24 hours notice, this is not the case in the event of an emergency. Situations such as the fire alarm going off in your unit gives the landlord the ability to enter the unit without notice.

This is because the fire alarm may signal that there is a fire in the unit, which gives the landlord the right to enter in order to assess the situation.

Filing a Legal Eviction

If the landlord has just reason, for example if a tenant fails to pay rent or is participating in illegal activity on the property, they can legally file for eviction. However, there are many steps that are involved in filing a legal eviction, and it can be useful to inform yourself on what these steps are.

This way, if your landlord fails to abide by a step or acts illegally during the eviction process, you are able to quickly take action.

Changing the Locks Legally

While landlords cannot generally change the locks to a unit mid-tenancy, there are certain situations that permit them to do so. For example, if there was recently a break in, or suspicion that former tenants have kept duplicate keys, your landlord might change locks throughout the building, providing you with new keys. This is also done to prevent victims of sexual harassment, and is not considered landlord harassment.

How to Prevent Landlord Tenant Harassment

Now that you have some examples of what is considered landlord harassment as well as what is not considered landlord harassment, here is what you can do to stop it:

Document as Much as You Can

Upon the first experience of harassment, everything should be documented. This means you should document all communication, meetings, inspections, and any other situations involving the landlord. You should also be sure to document the time, date, and details of the incident that occurred. This will help you build a case against your landlord to ensure you have enough evidence for the court to find them guilty of harassment.

File a complaint

Once you have documented a number of landlord harassment occasions, be sure to file a formal complaint against the landlord. Once this is filed, the landlord will be investigated and authorities will determine if harassment has occurred. If they are found guilty, they will be subject to legal consequences, which can range from paying a fine to doing time in jail, depending on the severity of the harassment.

Request to legally break the lease

It may be a good idea to request to break the lease rather than seeking legal action, as that can often take up a lot of time and money. This will typically be allowed by the landlord as many times, harassment occurs because the landlord is trying to push the tenant out of the unit.

However, when breaking the lease, you should not be dealing with any additional fees or financial loss. If you are looking to break the lease due to harassment, your landlord should not be requiring you to pay any additional fines.

Get Legal Assistance

If all else has failed, you should consider hiring a lawyer or attorney that can represent you in a lawsuit. If the landlord is found guilty, they will be legally obligated to correct their actions. They will also likely be required to cover the tenant’s legal fees.

Outerbridge Law is a firm with years of experience representing tenants in landlord-tenant cases. To learn if you have a case, contact Outerbridge Law today for an initial consultation.