Illegal Actions of a Landlord


Landlords may not change locks, add new locks, or otherwise make it impossible for the tenant to use the normal locks and keys. Even if a tenant is behind in rent, such lockouts are illegal. A tenant who is locked out can file a lawsuit to regain entry. Some local governments also have laws against lockouts and can help a tenant who has been locked out.

Utilities Shutoffs

The landlord may not shut off utilities because the tenant is behind in rent, or to force a tenant to move out. Utilities may only be shut off by the landlord so that repairs may be made, and only for a reasonable amount of time.

It is considered an illegal shutoff if a landlord intentionally does not pay utility bills so the service will be turned off. If the landlord has shut off utilities, the tenant should first check with the utility company to see if it will restore service. If it appears the shutoff is illegal, the tenant can file a lawsuit. If the tenants wins in court, the judge can award the tenant up to $100 per day for the time without service, and attorney's fees.

Seizing Tenant's Property

The law allows a landlord to take the tenant's property only in the case of abandonment. Any clause in a rental agreement that allows the landlord to take a tenant's property under any other circumstances is not valid.

If the landlord does take a tenant's property illegally, the tenant may want to contact the landlord first. If unsuccessful, the police can be notified. If the property is not returned after the landlord is given a written request, a court could order the landlord to pay the tenant up to $100 for each day the property is kept (up to $1,000).

Renting Condemned Property

The landlord may not rent condemned units or units that are uninhabitable because of uncorrected code violations. The landlord can be liable for three months rent or three times the amount of any actual damages, whichever is greater, and costs and attorney's fees for knowingly renting the property.

Retaliatory Actions

A landlord may not retaliate against a tenant who exercises his or her legal rights, such as complaining to a government authority or deducting money from the rent payment for repairs. Examples of retaliatory actions are raising the rent, reducing services provided to the tenant, or eviction.

The law initially assumes that an action is retaliatory if it occurs within 90 days after the tenant's action, unless the tenant was in some way violating the statute when notice of the change was received.

If the matter is taken to court and the judge finds favor for the tenant, the landlord can be ordered to reverse the retaliatory action, as well as pay for any harm done to the tenant and pay the tenant's attorney's fees.