Amateur investigations are a hobby I hope to turn into a useful tool to help others.
Terrible landlords are an unfortunate and all-too-common facet of life as a renter, and that facet won't be changing any time soon. Landlords are regularly going to skirt the law, mistreat tenants, and try to get away with doing as little as they can to make your living situation better. If you are one of the many who are most unfortunate then your landlord is going out of their way to ignore you, discriminate against you, and even purposefully make your renting experience as unpleasant as they can.
Luckily I've been put through the wringer, came out on top in most situations, and even put a few landlords through the wringer myself. I'm going to share with you the tips and tricks that have made renting under a terrible landlord a tolerable situation.
You Have to Be Willing to Do What It Takes
It is an unfortunate truth of this world that no one truly cares about anyone else if it means they must put themselves at risk with no promise of a reward for doing so. Your neighbor isn't going to help you battle your landlord without some form of physical or emotional compensation regardless of how you are treated. Even further, much of the free resources available to help you battle a terrible landlord are going to require you push them to care in order to get them to take any meaningful action.
Battling it out with a landlord is a choice you cannot take lightly for these very reasons, and you need to be ready to do what it takes to win justice for yourself. Doing what it takes to win could mean that you drop every moral principle you ever held, dedicating hours to researching the law, and even organizing entire cities against the landlord in question. It pays to be unscrupulous and unrelenting if you are even going to think about taking on a landlord, because you must always remember that they control the roof over your head.
As a first—and final—warning to you: Before you choose to go to battle with a landlord in any capacity you must realize they can ruin your life on a whim. The law in most states goes out of its way to protect even the lowest of the low businessmen, and landlords are no exception. If you do not jump headfirst into this, preparing yourself on every front, then you're better off turning the other cheek and keeping silent.
Should you be the type of individual to want to take the risks associated with confronting a landlord, then let's get into the nitty-gritty of what you need to do in order to ensure your success in the pursuit of justice!
Know Your Lease Front to Back
It goes without saying that you need to read any legal document given to you, understand it, and ensure it is in your favor before you sign it. There is nothing worse than getting locked into a contract that prevents you from doing much of anything to defend yourself or make your situation better. Unfortunately, though, this is where most of us end up because reading upwards of twenty pages can seem like a waste of time when you have to sign them anyways.
Sure, if you're moving to a new place you're renting then you're probably in a rush to get everything signed and done with. It is understandable that you don't want to read a bunch of legal documents with big words even attorneys have to Google to understand, but you need to do it for the sake of the future. If the documents are already signed and there is nothing you can do to change them at this point, then you still need to know exactly what sort of legally binding structure you are working with in your battle against your landlord.
During my time as a lessee under many different landlords, managing companies, and owners I've come to find that they most often choose one of two methods for creating their lease:
- They copy and paste their lease from a template they found while Googling, often containing irrelevant or otherwise irreverent information.
- They wrote it themselves and it contains egregious errors, illegalities, and/or lacks anything pertinent outside of basic liability.
These two are the only two types of leases that you should fight against, but it would be dishonest to say there isn't a third type; there is a third type of lease that you need to think twice about fighting, but still need to read front to back. That third type is the lease written by an LLC in conjunction with a law firm.
LLCs and law firms love to stamp their names on just about anything they can get their hands on, and this is because they take pride in their work. Unless your landlord is an absolute tyrant and slumlord, I advise you do not take on an LLC backed by a law firm. You will not only be nickel and dimed into oblivion, but they will always be several steps ahead of you.
Nonetheless, in any situation it pays to know your lease like the back of your hand, because only you need to operate within the structure of that lease. The better you know your lease the less likely it is your landlord has ammo against you, and the more likely it is you find physical evidence that your landlord is breaking that lease and infringing upon your rights as a tenant.
More on Who Not to Go Against
I mentioned previously that you should not go against an LLC backed by a law firm, and I don't mean to back down from the fight completely. When I say to keep your head down, turn the other cheek, and keep quiet, what I am saying is that you need to battle them outside of their immediate purview. Do not confront them directly, ever, and any exchange you have with them should be one of you admitting subservience to their powers.
This strategy will work best for any landlord you feel is mistreating you, and I cannot express it enough that you need to concede small victories to your landlord any chance you can get. Keep it in mind that if you're conceding victories to your abusive landlord you are also gaining physical evidence that they are content to keep abusing you even when concerns are brought forth appropriately. Victory for your landlord is just a veil you're placing over their unscrupulous eyes, and it plays in your favor in the long-term to concede quietly.
In order to keep yourself grounded you need to maintain copies of these exchanges, and always realize that any concern you bring to their attention that gets ignored is a victory for you so long as you do not argue. Let the more-powerful be egotistical, because that ego will inevitably be their downfall.
Before tensions and confrontations even begin to arise, though, you need to be organizing a community to defend against maltreatment from the landlord.
Organize Your Community
There is nothing in this world that can bring more power to individuals than the organizing of a strong community, but what does that mean? As it concerns maltreatment from landlords, organizing a community means reaching out to immediate neighbors, past tenants, and even the community that surrounds where you live. This should be done anywhere you live regardless of your landlord's behavior, and will provide you with an indispensable tool should your landlord mistreat you or others.
In order to organize a community you must first understand the resources you have available to do so. Those tools include, but are not limited to:
- Google reviews
- Yelp reviews
- Common areas
- Social media
- Publishing sites
- Word of mouth
When organizing a community that can assist you in defending against a bad landlord you need to use every resource available to you, and that's why I included reviews in my list. You see, there is no greater a resource to touch upon than a dissatisfied past tenant, and the best place to find past tenants is on reviews. Past tenants who were mistreated by the landlord are itching for a chance to get justice, and they'll help you in any way they can—usually without even questioning your motives.
However, you'll still need to organize your immediate community, because past tenants are only as powerful as their social media and the paper trail they left behind with the landlord.
Use Common Areas to Organize!
Did you know that you are allowed to print your own newsletters, infographics, and other informative material, and then publish it to any public common area for others to see? Well, now you do, and you need to use such a right to its fullest extent. It doesn't cost much money and time to write up an informative piece, an invitation to gather, and/or a newsletter so set your mind to getting it done.
This is especially effective in complexes and buildings where your landlord can see what you are printing and posting, and your main goal is to get your neighbors to come together and build bonds. In order to organize your neighbors you're going to need to include some crucial information in what you post to the public areas, and that information is as follows:
- Define who you are
- Give a friendly, communal reason to gather, not a hostile one that concerns the landlord
- Include a date and location for gatherings
- Offer food, drinks, and other incentives for showing up
Just be sure you do not slander, defame, or libel your landlord in any way, shape, or form on your public postings. In fact, it is best you mention nothing of your intentions to seek justice until you have established a solid community that gathers regularly. As well, if your public postings begin to cause litter then you need to ensure you are seen cleaning it up, but do your best to post your information securely with tape and tacks.
Make sure your lease does not contain any section that forbids posting of information in common areas! Though it is your first amendment right to do this, if your lease says you cannot then it will look as if you are intentionally aggravating/harassing your landlord. Instead you can take to social media and create a specific page to target those who wish to organize as a community, and your landlord can do almost nothing about it even once your intentions are known.
A Quick Tip for Organizing
It can be quite difficult to get information to other tenants, or your community at large if you are only using social media to gather. Finding everyone's names, their profiles, etc. can be one of the most challenging facets of dealing with a bad landlord. There is a helpful resource available to you for getting almost all of the information on people you could ever want.
Whitepages is my favorite tool to utilize whenever I need to deal with a terrible landlord, and this is because I can find just about anything I need in order to establish a proper defense against them. Addresses, familial ties, phone numbers, and if you pay for it you can get court records and other useful information on almost anyone from this site!
A battle with a landlord who mistreats their tenants can be life-changing, and even life-ending, so do not leave anything to chance!
Keep It Short and Be Respectful
In any correspondence with your landlord you need to keep it short, respectful, and to-the-point. It can be extremely frustrating to be mistreated, even disrespected by a bad landlord, but it is upon you to be the bigger person. You gain nothing from condescending to, mistreating, or otherwise being a nuisance for your landlord.
If it isn't enough to tell you flat out not to be rude, then rest easy knowing that your smooth and calm demeanor will get under their skin and cause them to slip up more frequently. You are in the right, they are in the wrong, and nothing should bend or break your patience. There is no question that you are the one in control if your landlord is truly mistreating you.
The more you say to your landlord, whether it be verbal but especially in writing, the more likely it is you are going to be found in the wrong. Every conversation you have with them should look like this:
- Say good morning/afternoon/evening
- Express a problem they are obligated to fix
- Say thank you
Deviate from this at your own risk, though I say don't deviate at all—ever!
There really is no reason for you to discuss anything further with your landlord because they aren't there to be your friend, a savior, or anything more than an authority figure with contractual obligations. The more you pester your landlord, especially if you are verbose and disrespectful, the more likely it is that you lose to them. This is all for your sake and you need to remember that, because it may all come down to having to go to court.
Avoid Legal Matters but Always Be Prepared For Them
When dealing with a bad landlord it is safe to function under the idea that legal action isn't any farther than right around every corner. If at every turn your landlord is mistreating you, there is no respite from the onslaught of neglect and disrespect, then the only solution is to use the legal system to force their hand. Just realize, though, you absolutely must have a strong understanding of the law to have any chance against a landlord in court.
One of my favorite resources for researching matters pertaining to landlords would have to be the real estate law section under the Legal Information Institute provided by Cornell Law School. Whenever you are Googling legal solutions, laws, and other information pertaining to dealing with landlords you're going to find things you just don't understand, and this resource will prove invaluable in clarifying things. Be sure you utilize it to its fullest extent, and you can even use it to find legal advice or an attorney.
Finding an attorney can be frustrating, and it can even be impossible depending on the issues you are facing, but there are helpful resources available to you that will assist in finding you the best match for your problem. The earlier you find an attorney to help you in legal matters, the safer you will be in the battle against your terrible landlord. I highly suggest you look for pro bono attorneys, but in lieu of a pro bono attorney you should be looking for one that will represent you on a contingency.
Pro bono attorneys won't charge you for their representation unless you win, and they are usually the best option for penny-pinchers. However, most pro bono attorneys will only represent those with a household income lower than $2500.00/month. In such a case where you make too much money, but also want to leverage what you pay against the outcome of litigation, look for attorneys who will represent you on a contingency.
Most attorneys who will represent you on a contingency offer you a contingency fee, and those are typically negotiable. Don't be afraid of the costs you'll be presented with, because my go-to real estate attorney costs $2500.00 just as a retainer, and then $500.00/hour after that, and the court will do its best to get your fees covered if your case is truly unfortunate. You have to take the leap for a lawyer and their costs if you want the best legal protection, and trusting that justice will prevail will be your greatest comfort.
If you are unsure of legalities concerning what your landlord is doing, attorneys are not an option, and Google is offering you no respite from your confusion, do not be afraid to contact your local housing authority. Even unrelated housing authorities will direct you to the proper resources that will help you immeasurably. There are always resources to utilize even in the most dire of situations, so do not take the lazy route and give up!
When going to battle with a bad landlord it is imperative that you physically document and retain copies of everything—and I mean this quite literally. It is amazing the amount of information a court will take into account when deliberating a legal matter, and sometimes it is that one usually-overlooked thing that wasn't documented that could've turned the legal tides. Physical documentation—evidence—is the only thing the court cares about, so make it your job to retain it all.
"Does a conversation I had a year ago really matter?" is the kind of attitude you should not have, because if the landlord retains it themselves where you did not then it absolutely will matter. Things that you unarguably must document include, but are not limited to:
- Any written correspondence with the landlord
- Any pictures/videos taken of problems on the property
- Your lease
- Any relevant information posted publicly by you/the landlord
- Any monetary charges you accrue due to your landlord
- Police reports
- Maintenance reports
- Reviews posted online
If you fail to document anything then your words are worthless, because no one cares about hearsay. Hard evidence is the only thing that matters in this world, and despite what we see in social trends subjective feelings are unimportant. A judge would sooner laugh at you than deliver justice if you have no physical evidence.
Keep an Eye Out for Evidence Wherever You Are
As a closing note to my advice on evidence you need to understand that your personal situation isn't all that can be used as evidence against a bad landlord. No, in fact you can use any lease violation you witness throughout the property your landlord owns. Stirring up evidence like this is most effective in complexes and apartment buildings where others can be observed going about their day.
Take for example a time where one of my fellow tenants stored their bike on their porch, they were told to move it because it violated the lease, and then it was stolen due to being stored in a less secure area. What this tenant did not realize at the time was that the landlord allowed other people to store outdoor equipment like bikes, surfboards, etc. on their porch and was simply hassling them. I went around taking pictures of all the other tenants' objects being stored in the public space, sent them to the regional manager for my landlord, and expressed my concern for the discrepancy.
The problem was addressed swiftly, and that is only because I had physical evidence that I sought out for myself and the other tenant. I assure you that there is always evidence of wrongdoing from terrible landlords wherever you may be on their property, and you need to take that as the fuel for your defense that it is. Never let an opportunity to document evidence slip by you because of laziness, or otherwise not caring.
Delivering a Proper Blow to the Landlord in Question
If you choose to go the route of finding an attorney, then you will be advised on when to deliver the litigation and other relevant information to the landlord in question at the proper time. However, if you choose to go at the landlord with nothing but your wits and gumption, then you need to know when to deliver a decisive blow. Knowing when and how to deliver that decisive blow is crucial to your success, and if you fail to deliver it properly then you will lose the battle for justice.
When deciding on the proper time to deliver a decisive blow to a terrible landlord you need to look at all the evidence you have on hand. If your evidence is flimsy at best—it doesn't stack up to anything legally damning, there is no egregious social faux pas being committed—then it is not the time to try to kick the legs out from under the evil landlord you are facing. Being in a lease does not allow you to battle with the, "death by one-thousand cuts," strategy, and so you need to sit on your hands, wait, and observe.
The more patient and observant you are, the more likely it will be that your blow—once delivered—has a lasting and meaningful effect on the landlord, you, and your community. Not only is patience and being observant a virtue by way of offensive strategy, it will also ensure the landlord does not become defensive and fight back before you've even come into stride. One wrong step, a trickle of combative air released too soon, and the landlord will make it their mission to destroy you one way or another.
Take for example my need to discuss problems at length when they aren't being solved—a strategy that works in relationships with those close to you but never with strangers and authority figures. All discussing things at length does is put me, the landlord, and anyone else involved on guard. Each probing question, every little concern I present is like nails on a chalkboard to the landlord, and they are going to amplify that discomfort so everyone feels it toward you as well.
Thus you must know when and where to deliver the heaviest of blows to the bad landlord, and I'm going to tell you just what that situation may look like. Mind you, there are so many variables to consider I cannot hand you the exact moment, but you will find that the moment is obvious when it arises. It will be obvious because if you've followed my advice thus far, then you'll see that the landlord will have no choice but to give into justice.
A Quick and Helpful Video for Dealing With Difficult Landlords
When and How to Deliver the Killing Blow
Only once you have gathered unarguable evidence, organized the community as a friendly unit, and prepared your plan of attack can you truly deliver the decisive blow of justice to the unjust landlord you are facing. That opportunity could arise at any given moment—it could even arise multiple times—but you need to know exactly what that moment looks like, and how to go about landing the blow. Don't leave anything to chance, because the landlord is only going to make life worse if you don't inspire them to change!
First and foremost the time for attack will be more of an introspective realization, because it all depends on what you've done to prepare for the moment itself. You should have all of your evidence on hand, community members ready to back your stance against the landlord, and a means to ruin the reputation of the landlord should the need arise. You only get one shot at getting justice from the unjust landlord, and if they refuse you need to be ready to bury them in evidence for the sake of justice.
Before you give the landlord an opportunity to change their ways make sure you have all your ammunition ready to release in a large wave of volleys. You don't want to give the landlord time to mount a defense for their disgusting mistreatment of their tenants, and that means being prepared for anything they might do or say. Only once you feel there is nothing they can do to stop the onslaught of justice can you make your move.
The process of delivering the blow looks like this:
- When you're sure the time has come to make your move, send the landlord a written letter expressing all of your concerns in a kind, respectful, and caring way. Everyone deserves a chance to change, but no one will change if they feel attacked.
- If they accept and change then celebrate it, but keep all your evidence and information secret from them because it could be a facade to placate you. Should they continue to be terrible landlords, it is time you took to publicizing the evidence you've collected anywhere you can. Send it to neighbors, the landlords, social media, review sites, journalists, and anything you can think of. Let the public hold them accountable.
- Go back to being patient, observant, and respectful. During the chaos of revealing information, the landlord will be frustrated and out for blood. If you've mounted a proper attack at the right time, then your defenses will work for you. Do not give into the stress of being threatened, shamed, or otherwise mistreated any further.
- Have an attorney on standby if you can manage it. Landlords will do their best to hurt you after this if they refuse to reform themselves, but attorneys can keep them in line. Even better is that an attorney will bring litigation against them, and if the public is watching it will only compound the power of your attack.
- Focus on keeping yourself in a positive light, and this step can be interchangeable with anything in this article. A bad landlord will bury themselves if you don't overshadow them with poor behavior.
A simplistic explanation for a process that takes a lot of work on your end, but there is no doubt that it will go smoothly so long as you make that painstaking effort. It is worth it as well, to pour all of your effort into battling a terrible landlord, because even if you end up losing the landlord will have the scars from the battle. Your loss will pave the way to a better future for other tenants that may have otherwise suffered your same fate.
If not for yourself, seek justice for the sake of future generations. No one should be above the law, and mistreatment should never be allowed to go unnoticed. Fighting back is a surefire way to show the world that injustice can never stand!
A Final Piece of Advice
When taking on a landlord who is mistreating their tenants you need to realize you might experience some really intimidating situations. I've had my life threatened, weapons drawn on me, lies spread against me, and even property destroyed because I refused to back down from seeking justice. This all comes with the territory of standing up for what is right, and there is no figure in history who brought about change without facing such struggles.
However, lofty ideals aside, the most common intimidation tactic you will face is going to be pseudo-legal letters sent to you. These letters are going to look scary, say scary things, and present themselves as being from an authority figure. You can use this same tactic, but just realize anything that isn't signed off on by a judge is totally meaningless and will be used as evidence against you.
Cease and desist warnings, attorney letters, even legal pseudo-threats are all a tool of intimidation that just won't work in the senders favor without the recipient's fear of it. So I say do not fear the letters used to intimidate you, and stick to your guns if/when you receive them. Write up some of your own as well, and then deliver them by hand so long as you aren't in a lawsuit already if you feel so inclined.
Just keep in mind that if you are approaching the end of your lease you will most likely be refused the right to renew, and you'll be given no real reason for it unless your state requires a reason to be listed. In California, landlords such as Terra Management regularly utilize the law to refuse lease renewals because they are not obligated to offer a reason. Luckily evictions are much different, though.
Always keep an eye out for fake eviction notices as your landlord is legally obligated to get a signature from a judge for them to be relevant. On top of that, your landlord must properly serve you with court papers, and you have the right to be present during the hearing to defend yourself should such a situation arise. Never let a landlord con you into believing you're getting kicked out, if you're actually being evicted you'll know without a doubt.
With all this being said, I wish you the best of luck in your endeavors to seek justice against your landlord. Don't give up, and know that there are those of us out there who will back you unconditionally in your fight for justice!
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2021 Kyler J Falk