Retaliation occurs when the landlord wrongfully terminates the lease, files for eviction, deprives the tenant of the use of the premises, decreases services to a tenant, or increases the rent because a tenant tries to exercise his rights.
Retaliation is often, but not always, illegal. For example, a landlord is not allowed to retaliate against a tenant for requesting repairs, or calling a government or nonprofit agency about a problem. If the landlord takes any adverse action against a tenant within six months of the tenant’s action, the landlord is presumed to have improperly retaliated.
The landlord can always terminate the lease and evict a tenant under certain conditions. For example, if you fail to pay your rent, intentionally cause property damage to the premises, or threaten the personal safety of the landlord or employees, your rights to possession can be terminated and you can be evicted.
Nonpayment of rent is the easiest way a landlord can evict a tenant. So, before you plan to take action against a landlord, make sure your rent is completely current.
There are other proper grounds for termination available to the landlord that are not considered retaliatory. Of course, if you received a notice of termination before you requested repairs, you are not protected. This is why it is a good idea to give repair notices in writing, date them, and make copies for your protection. If you call a government agency is also good to make a note of who you spoke to and the date and time of your call.
The landlord can increase the rent if the lease has a provision for an increase in the rent due to higher utility, tax or insurance costs. The landlord may also increase the rent or reduce services if it is part of a pattern of rent increases or service reductions for the whole complex.
Remedies if unlawful
If the landlord engages in activity that constitutes unlawful retaliation, you may seek a judgment against your landlord for: (1) one month’s rent, plus $500; (2) the reasonable costs to move to another place (if you were forced out); and (3) attorney’s fees and court costs. But remember, the landlord will win if he can prove that his actions were not for purposes of retaliation.