What to Do When Your Landlord Violates Your Lease

Lease violations by a landlord can include failing to keep up with property maintenance, refusing to return a security deposit, entering your rental unannounced, and more. It’s important to know that you have rights and recourse if you find yourself in a situation where your landlord fails to uphold their responsibilities under your lease agreement.

Below, we’ve outlined what you can do when your landlord violates your lease and provided specific examples of common lease violations to help illustrate the process. Let’s jump in. 

How to Handle a Lease Violation by Your Landlord

The following are some steps you can take if your landlord violates your lease. It’s up to you to evaluate which step (or steps) are most appropriate for the issue at hand. 

Suppose your landlord has only committed one passive violation of the lease, such as falling behind on maintenance. In that case, a simple letter may be all that is required to resolve the situation.

However, if your landlord repeatedly fails to uphold his end of the lease or is harassing you, stringent actions may be the only way forward. 

Always document the infraction

Any time your landlord violates the lease, write it down. In most cases it’s probably a one-off incident, but if the infraction continues, it will be helpful to have a paper trail. 

Write a detailed note describing the incident, including the date and time. Then take a photo or save any other relevant documentation to a file you can reference later if necessary.

Notify your landlord in writing

Any time an issue arises, you should bring it to your landlord’s attention in writing. This way, you create a paper trail related to the problem, which will come in handy later if you fail to reach a resolution. 

If you have a cordial relationship with your landlord, mentioning any issues in person or over the phone may be all it takes to see them resolved. However, it’s still wise to follow up in writing (even just through email) to create a record of your request and the landlord’s response.

In situations where the landlord is resistant to resolving the issue, a formal written complaint may be all it takes to get their attention. Use these templates to write a letter to your landlord detailing the problem or complaint.

Then, add a copy of your dated letter to the file you keep on your landlord. This way, you can easily reference it, along with any other related documentation, should you ever need to.

Involve a mediator

If your landlord has failed to respond to your written requests, a mediator could be the next step. 

Using a mediator is less threatening (and less expensive) than taking your landlord to court, yet it can be just as effective. A mediator is a third-party individual who will work with both sides to resolve an issue in a way that is satisfactory for both parties.

You can often find mediators through local nonprofits that offer dispute resolution programs. Through these organizations, you can work with a mediator for free or at a low cost. To find one, contact your local court or the mayor’s office. 

Mediation is a promising way to resolve a dispute with your landlord, but it doesn’t always work. If you feel that your landlord is entirely unreasonable or you already have an extremely contentious relationship with them, they might not be open to mediation. In this instance, you may have to file a lawsuit against your landlord to resolve the issue. 

Report your landlord to a government agency

When your landlord violates your lease agreement, they may also be violating state or federal landlord-tenant laws. 

If your landlord is behaving illegally, you can report them to the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). 

Before you do this, read your lease agreement carefully and note which terms your landlord is violating. Next, research the tenant laws for your state to understand what options you have for recourse. 

If you live in a HUD-insured -assisted property, you can file a complaint with HUD. While doing so may not result in immediate resolution of the issue, filing a formal complaint can lead to having bad landlords fined or barred from doing business with the federal government. 

Take your landlord to court

If you’ve tried the steps outlined above and are still unable to resolve the issue with your landlord, you may be left with no choice but to take them to court.

If your dispute is over money, you will likely wind up in small claims court (unless the amount of money in question is too large). Small claims court is commonly used to force a landlord to return a security deposit.  

To initiate a lawsuit, you will send your landlord a demand letter detailing how much money your landlord owes you, why they owe it to you, and where to send the payment. The letter will state a time frame in which you expect a response and assert that you intend to sue if your landlord fails to respond.

In many cases, a demand letter will be enough to force your landlord to respond and work with you to avoid going to court. If not, you should contact a lawyer to help you through the court process. 

You may be able to secure free or low-cost legal assistance through local nonprofit organizations. Contact your local courthouse for information on these programs.

Common Lease Violations (and What to Do About Them)

Here we’ve included some specific examples of common lease violations. While these instances are all different, the steps we outlined above can be used to resolve each of these scenarios.  

Your landlord fails to uphold their responsibilities under the lease

When you sign a lease, you and your landlord enter into a contract under which you each have a set of responsibilities. Just as you are expected to pay your rent on time, your landlord is also expected to abide by a set of terms.

Briefly, these include maintaining the rental so that it is safe and habitable, maintaining the property, ensuring the rental is pest-free, and promptly making any necessary repairs.  

If any maintenance issues arise, inform your landlord in writing and request to have them resolved. If your landlord fails to respond to your requests, you may have cause to take them to small claims court. 

Your landlord enters your rental unannounced

Typically landlords are required to provide 24-hours notice before they may enter your rental unit. Unless your landlord is responding to an emergency, failure to provide adequate notice is a form of landlord harassment and is a direct violation of your lease agreement.

If your landlord enters your rental unannounced, speak with them to address the issue. Remind them of your state’s landlord-tenant laws and request that they provide proper notice before entering your home.

If your landlord continues to disregard this obligation, you may need to pursue legal action to put a stop to this behavior.

Your landlord refuses to return your security deposit

Generally speaking, if you leave your rental unit in good condition, your landlord must return your security deposit

If there is property damage beyond normal wear and tear, the landlord may deduct all or a portion of your security deposit to cover the cost of repairs. However, these deductions must be noted and presented to you.

Unfortunately, some landlords fail to return security deposits, even when they should. This is, of course, a lease violation. 

In the event that your landlord refuses to return your security deposit, you can pursue them for it by writing a security deposit demand letter or, in extreme cases, by taking your landlord to small claims court.

Final Thoughts

As a tenant, it can sometimes feel like you’re at the mercy of your landlord, but this is not the case. You have rights as a tenant, and if your landlord fails to uphold their end of the lease, you do have recourse.

Be sure to familiarize yourself with the landlord-tenant laws in your state, so you have a clear understanding of your rights as a tenant. This way, you can use the steps above to take swift action if any problems come up. 

And remember, always keep notes and documentation around any issues that come up during your tenancy just in case you ever need to reference them in a dispute with your landlord.