Illegal Things Landlords Do and What You Can Do About It

Renting a new apartment can be an exciting experience. However, it can also become incredibly stressful — especially when there’s landlord drama involved. Whether you like it, one of your landlord’s goals is to make money. Unfortunately, in some cases, that means he or she might engage in illegal activities. If your landlord has been making your life miserable, depending on the behavior in question, you might be able to fight back and get some peace of mind.
Here are eight illegal things landlords do and what you can do about it.

1. Your landlord withholds your security deposit for no good reason

Sad man looking at his wallet
You should get your deposit back unless there’s a problem. | SIphotography/iStock/Getty Images

Some shady landlords will put up a fight when it comes time to hand over your security deposit. As soon as you ask for your money back, they’ll suddenly disappear or claim you’re not entitled to receive your money back. If the apartment is returned in good shape once you decide to leave and there haven’t been any major issues between you and your landlord, in most cases your security deposit should be returned.
Next: What you can do

What you can do

Businessman signing papers
Get it in writing if you can. | BernardaSv/iStock/Getty Images

Know your lease terms. If you find yourself in this situation, there are a few things you can do before and after a problem arises. First, get a clear understanding of your lease terms. Shane Lee, a data analyst at RentHop, told The Cheat Sheet when you first rent an apartment, you make sure the landlord spells out all terms regarding the security deposit, including how, when, and in what situation your deposit will not be returned. All these terms should be clearly outlined in your lease.
Make sure the apartment is in good condition. It’s also essential that you leave the apartment exactly as you found it. Do your best to maintain your dwelling, so your landlord doesn’t have a reason to keep your money. Also, gather receipts for any apartment repairs that were made.
Write a letter. A verbal request won’t be enough if your landlord is giving you a hard time. Mail a written request concerning the return of your security deposit (and send it through certified mail with a request for a return receipt). Lee notes that this letter might be helpful if you decide to sue your landlord.
Next: Your landlord won’t make repairs.

2.Your landlord refuses to make major repairs

Get them to fix what’s wrong. | AndreyPopov/iStock/Getty Images

Is your apartment in need of a major repair? Has your landlord refused or keeps putting your request on the back burner? Having your landlord turn into a slum lord can become a real problem. Unattended repairs could put you and your neighbors at risk. In this situation, you’ll need to be a bit more aggressive with your approach. If it’s a major repair time is usually not on your side, so you’ll have to act quickly.
Next: What you can do

What you can do

man working on house
Take pictures of the problem, and write a letter. | iStock/Getty Images

Document the issue. As always in a situation like this, first make your request in writing. Also, take pictures of the repairs that need to be made, so you can have enough proof of the problem should you take legal action. “Pictures are worth a thousand words. If I can show a judge proof of a code violation in a picture it can make the case a slam dunk,” said Ed Griffin, a Washington, D.C., and Maryland-based attorney practicing at Adelphi Law.
Call your state or local official. If your request continues to go unaddressed, you can contact your local or state department of health or department of buildings (depending on the problem). This way, a formal complaint will be logged. From there, an inspector will be sent to take a look at the property. If there are violations, your landlord might have to appear in court or pay a fine.
Next: Your landlord enters your apartment without notice.

3.Your landlord enters your apartment without prior notice

hand opening a door with keys
Yes, they have the keys, but they should still call first. |

Your landlord cannot enter your apartment whenever he or she feels like it. You must be given reasonable notice beforehand. The only time a landlord may enter your apartment without notice is if there is an emergency that would put you and others in danger, such as a water or gas leak, said Marcia Stewart, author of Every Tenant’s Legal Guide, in her column for legal information site Nolo. Stewart also said a landlord may enter without notice if he or she believes the property has been abandoned.
Next: What you can do

What you can do

Signboard do not disturb
First, talk to your landlord. | spukkato/iStock/Getty Images

Talk to your landlord. Tenant privacy laws vary by state, but your first step should be to give your landlord a warning. Stewart advises first speaking with your landlord if he or she has entered your home without prior notice. If the behavior continues, you can write a demand letter, stating you will sue if your privacy rights continue to be disregarded. Make sure to keep a copy of all communications with your landlord and document what was said during your conversations.
Next: Your rent is increased without notice.

4. Your rent has been increased without formal notice

rent sign
They should let you know. | iStock/Getty Images

Did your last rent statement give you a shock? Are you trying to figure out how you’re going to scrape up the cash to pay your living expenses? Although rent increases aren’t unusual, you shouldn’t have to worry that your rent is going to vary wildly from month to month. Fluctuations in your monthly rent are not only unfair but also make it difficult to prepare financially. If your landlord plans to raise your rent, he or she must give you appropriate notice.
Next: What you can do

What you can do

person writing
Ask for things in writing. | iStock/Getty Images

Ask for everything in writing. Your landlord should generally give you at least 30 days’ notice in the event of a rent increase. Request that he or she give you a revised lease outlining the new payment. It’s in your best interest to get the new amount down in writing, so you can show the differences in rent if you need to fight it out in court. Also, know that your landlord is allowed to raise your rent as much as the market will bear, provided he or she gives proper notice and is not violating a rent control ordinance.
Next: Your landlord tries to force you to leave.

5. Your landlord tries to force you to leave

Couple sitting on the floor looking upset
They make you feel like you don’t have a choice. | Antonio Guillem/iStock/Getty Images

Your home should be a place of refuge. If you’re facing a situation where your landlord is trying to force you out, that makes it hard to have peace of mind and feel relaxed in your abode. Rest assured that your landlord cannot force you to leave your apartment or house without good reason. There are ways for you to fight back against this illegal behavior and have peace once again.
Next: What you can do

What you can do

Law concept open book with wooden judges gavel on table in a courtroom or law enforcement office, blue background.
The courts might have to settle it. | Getty Images

Go to court. If this is happening to you, attorney Shaolaine Loving told The Cheat Sheet you’ll likely have to take the matter before a judge. A landlord should not threaten you or force you to sign away your rights to stay in the home. “The contract controls your tenancy, both in terms of rent owed and how long you can stay there. Don’t let a landlord pressure you into signing a new agreement or amendment for altered terms. If the landlord threatens to evict you, you can challenge it in court,” Loving said.
Next: You’re being charged excessive fees.

6. You’re being charged excessive fees

woman holding money
Question any extra fees. | iStock/Getty Images

If you’re noticing excessive fees that your landlord can’t seem to explain, you don’t have to sit back and take it. All fees should be explained to you in advance. Fees related to your apartment or house should also be listed in your lease agreement for easy reference. Don’t assume this additional fees were a mistake. Take time to go through your rent statement and challenge each fee you don’t recognize.
Next: What you can do

What you can do

money and gavel
This is another problem for housing court. | iStock/Getty Images

Ask about the fees. If you’ve addressed the charges, but your landlord won’t waive them and continues to charge outrageous fees, this is another matter you’ll likely have to take to a housing court. “If a landlord charges excessive fees to the tenant for cleaning, repairs, late fees, or other items, the tenant can ultimately challenge the charges in court. Similarly, the tenant can seek legal relief if the landlord fails to return a security deposit within the legal time frame that your state requires,” Loving told The Cheat Sheet.
Next: Your landlord challenges your rights as a protected class.

7. Your landlord challenges your rights as a protected class

service dog
Your service dog is protected. | adogslifephoto/iStock/Getty Images

What should you do if you need a service dog, for example, but your landlord won’t allow pets? The good news is you can’t be forced to move out if you need special accommodations due to an illness or disability. “If you are a protected class in any way, be aware of your rights both on the national and state level. Two common issues that come up are service animals, which are almost always allowed in properties even if they have a no-pets policy, and family accommodations, where many states allow at least two tenants per room,” Scott Bierbryer, co-founder of, told The Cheat Sheet.
Next: What you can do

What you can do

Two friends talking at home
Try educating first. | AntonioGuillem/iStock/Getty Images

Educate your landlord. Know that not all landlords are aware of fair housing laws. They might be new to the business or just never took the time to learn. So the solution could be as simple as educating your landlord on what is and is not allowed concerning your specific situation. Bierbryer said protected-class laws are strict, so it’s in your best interest to become familiar with both federal and state fair housing laws. Make an effort to inform your landlord if a proposed restriction is a violation of your rights.
“Many landlords are not as mindful of fair housing laws as they should be. These laws are very clear, and if any special circumstances apply to you, know your rights and quickly inform a landlord that they are breaking the law and report them to the proper authority as needed,” Bierbryer said.
Next: Your landlord changes the locks.

8. Your landlord changes the locks

Door lock
This is definitely not how it should be done. | tongdang5/iStock/Getty Images

Did your landlord decide to change the locks without telling you about it? Nothing can put a damper on your day like coming home after a long day of work and then not being able to get inside your apartment. Yuriy Moshes, principal at Law Office of Yuriy Moshes, P.C., told The Cheat Sheet that changing the locks without an eviction order is not legal. “If the landlord does not like the tenant or believes that the tenant should be evicted, the landlord may not take self-help actions,” Moshes said.
Next: What you can do

What you can do

police car
Call the police to force your landlord to let you in. | Karen Bleier/Getty Images

Call the police. Your landlord does not have the right to lock you out of your apartment. However, you should resist the urge to pull out a hair pin and try to pick the lock. If you come home to find the locks changed, your best course of action is to first contact your local police department, so your landlord can be forced to allow you to regain access to your apartment. Your next step should be to hire an attorney and proceed with a law suit.
Follow Sheiresa on Twitter @SheiresaNgo.