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Home is where the headache is when your landlord has no heart. Although it may be easier to just move on if an owner responds to reasonable requests with threats and retaliation, you do have rights as a tenant, and you cannot be punished or evicted for exercising them.
The reason states have retaliation statutes, however, is because some owners do try to push out renters who insist on their rights. Here is a quick primer on protecting yourself in a difficult rental situation.
Defining Landlord Retaliation
Retaliation in the landlord-tenant context consists of owners punishing tenants for taking actions within their rights, such as complaining to local housing officials or withholding rent for failure to make necessary repairs. Landlords may, in turn, retaliate by raising rent or beginning eviction proceedings, among other punishments.
If it comes to extremes, like eviction proceedings, you can take actions to bolster your case. But following these steps may help you avoid ending up in court, or out the door, and may even secure what you need to live in peace.
Read the Fine Print
Know your rental agreement. Review your lease carefully and know your rights specifically based on your state's anti-retaliation statute. But remember that, beyond the lease, you have the right to a habitable space that is pest-free and has hot and cold running water, among other things .
For the Record
Keep a written record of all requests and exchanges. Putting your position in writing will make it more convincing and minimizes personal conflict. An owner's temper may flare when you complain face-to-face but a polite repair request that comes in writing is less likely to offend personally.
Pointing out the potential dangers in writing also serves as official notice that can be proven for the purposes of personal injury law. Ask for any agreements or promises made by the landlord to be put in writing as well.
If your polite correspondence is not accomplishing results and the landlord is still refusing to make repairs or otherwise address your complaints, you can withhold rent. Keep in mind, though, that this is likely to infuriate an already angry owner, and may just be the straw that breaks the landlord's back. Protect yourself by consulting an attorney and staying squarely within the law.