If you’re in a dispute regarding your rental property, you might be wondering how to win a lawsuit against a landlord.
Whether it’s a dispute on a repair bill or a major, six-figure lawsuit, legal battles with landlords can be long, stressful, and expensive ordeals. But while they’re challenging to navigate, there are some helpful tips that can help you analyze your situation, plot your next steps and build a successful lawsuit.
In this article, we’ll discuss landlord-tenant disputes, how to build a lawsuit against your landlord, strategies that might help, and other things to consider.
Legal Disclaimer: We are not lawyers and are not offering legal advice. This article hopes to provide useful information on how effectively build a legal case in the event you go to court with your landlord.
Before we start, you should know there is no one-size-fits-all approach to building a lawsuit. Landlord-tenant rights vary throughout the United States and often are different from city to city.
You could seek out more information on your rights as a tenant via your city or county’s housing court. This court should be able to connect you with resources to help advise you on any issues or disputes.
Your city might also have something like a landlord-tenant handbook or guide, which typically details the rights and responsibilities both parties have in a residential rental housing agreement. These guides aim to reduce the level of conflict and confusion that may occur in legal disputes between landlords and tenants.
Find free legal help
Landlord-tenant laws can be complicated. It’s recommended that you seek out an attorney for their advice or counsel if you’re going to court with a landlord. The lawyer will be able to evaluate the strength and weaknesses of your case, compile an argument on your behalf, and will improve your chances of winning a lawsuit.
An attorney can provide useful advice on your legal issues, your local laws regarding tenant-landlord disputes as well as guide you through the process if you end up in court. You can get free legal advice via Law Help or find a specific answer with the legal forum Avvo.
You can also find more information on free legal help with this guide from Low Income Relief.
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Carefully review your lease
There are a host of reasons why you might be in a legal dispute with your landlord. You could be suing a landlord for repair costs or an uninhabitable residence, or they might be making a legal claim against you for unpaid rent payments.
Whatever the case is, it’s important that you be familiar with your rental’s lease — especially before signing it. When you enter into a lease, that serves a contract that will detail the terms of your tenancy while you’re living at a rental. It includes such agreements as your rent amount, late rent fees, how to pay rent, the length of time you’ll be at the residence, what rules apply to your rental, repair agreements, and more.
In short, a lease is an important legal document that you should never sign before reviewing carefully. If you have questions or would like to have portions amended, ask your prospective landlord about it. Don’t sign the lease until you have more clarity.
It’s also never a bad idea to have an attorney review the contract. You can check out free legal resources in this helpful Low Income Relief article. Attorneys can also help if you’ve already signed a lease and have questions over its legality — such as if the lease violates your state’s habitability rules.
Keep documentation on your dispute
Regardless of a legal dispute or prospective lawsuit, it’s important that you document what’s happening. Your notes, photos, video, testimony, and/or other documents may end up serving as evidence in the event you go to court with your landlord.
The documentation you collect will depend upon the legal issue you’re facing. But in general, you should write down what’s happening and maintain a record of correspondence with your landlord or property management company. Diligently report any issues that you’re having with your rental to your landlord in writing and make sure you have copies of the communications.
Collect and save all e-mails, letters, or messages you’ve exchanged. Track phone calls, who you spoke with, the date and time, what you discussed, and other notes on any conversations. Whenever possible, communicate with your landlord in writing as that creates a paper trail that can be used in court.
If there’s an issue of repairs or habitability concerns, write down the problems you see, when or how often they occur, and the impact they’ve had on you and or your neighbors. Take photos, record videos, and talk to your neighbors to help create additional evidence for the health department and in case you go to court.
If you go to court, it might help to find witnesses or collect testimony from your neighbors’ experiences with the issue. There is often strength in numbers if you must go to court.
Most states throughout America have laws regarding an “implied warranty of habitability” or “sanitary code” for tenants renting an apartment or home.
These laws vary but their intention is universal throughout the U.S. Habitability and sanitary rules aim to protect you, the tenant, as well as ensure that your landlord provides a clean environment, makes timely repairs, and keeps the premises in compliance with health and safety laws.
Some common issues that could violate your state’s habitability laws are lack of heat or air conditioning, faulty plumbing, structural problems, pests or insects, fire safety concerns, other environmental problems, and more. If a landlord is failing to live up to habitability rules that provide you safe, healthy living space, you might be able to file a health code violation or sue.
Health code violations
When the landlord fails to uphold aspects of habitability laws, it may be a health code violation and provide cause to seek legal action against your landlord. Even if you signed a lease that conflicts with basic habitability rules, most judges will not enforce contracts that limit your rights to a safe, clean rental.
Tenants should first notify the landlord of a problem before filing a complaint with the county or city health department. This gives a landlord an opportunity to adequately and punctually fix the issue and avoid a complaint that may affect their record with the city or county.
If the landlord fails to respond in a timely manner, you should consider filing a health code violation with your city’s or county’s health inspector or building inspector. Document the problems you see, when or how often they occur, and the impact they’ve had on you and or your neighbors. Take photos and record videos to create evidence for the health department and in case you go to court.
Emphasize if your issue may cause imminent harm, has inflicted bodily harm, or prevented you from living there. Ask them any questions about the process and what may or may not be a health code violation. Ask for copies of any reports that the health department creates as this will be valuable evidence in court.
Your landlord owes you money
Another reason to sue a landlord or property management company is if they owe you money. This could include a failure to pay back your security deposit or reimbursements for repairs that you paid for.
If you’ve fulfilled your obligations as a tenant and kept the property in good order, your landlord has a responsibility to repay your security deposit in a timely manner. Contact an attorney if they’re failing to repay you, or are keeping most of it without an explanation.
The Federal Fair Housing Act provides all Americans protection from housing discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, sex, disability, or familial status. You have ample cause to seek legal action against a landlord that has discriminated against you.
To report discrimination, you can file a complaint with the U.S. Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity, which will begin the investigation process shortly after receiving it. The Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity will either investigate the complaint or refer the complaint to another agency to investigate.
If you file a complaint, you’ll be required to provide such information as your name, address, the name and address of the person that your complaint is against, a description of what took place, and the dates of the allegations.
Court summons and hearings
If your landlord has filed a lawsuit against you, a court will likely serve you a summons and a copy of your landlord’s lawsuit against you. You must file an official response to these allegations, including if you dispute them, accept them, or lack knowledge of them.
If you proceed with a lawsuit from or against your landlord, you must show up to all relevant court dates or hearings. A judge might throw out your case or rule against you if you’re not present in court to present your argument and evidence.
Seek a settlement
An alternative to a lawsuit would be to settle the dispute out of court.
If your landlord is suing you, you can try to re-negotiate a smaller amount than what’s owed or arrange a payment plan. That will help expedite the process and might help preserve your credit rating. Make sure to consult an attorney if you’re planning to settle a lawsuit out of court.
Dress professionally, show your evidence
If you end up in court, make sure to clean up and dress professionally. Be respectful to the judge and listen carefully. You want to make a good impression for the judge and any potential jurors.
Before you arrive in court, make sure to collect your thoughts and create a presentation of what took place. Make sure you’ve collected and organized your evidence that supports your claims. Evidence that might help you could include letters or notices from the landlord and copies of all correspondence, high-quality photos or videos of repairs or issues, or witnesses or witness testimony from other people in your building.
Landlord-tenant disputes are often stressful processes that can take time and money. Make sure to seek advice from an attorney or other housing professionals before you start a legal claim.
While this is not a comprehensive list of how to win a lawsuit against a landlord, we hope you’ve learned more about landlord-tenant disputes, how to build a lawsuit against your landlord, strategies that might help, and other things to consider.