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What is landlord harassment?

Landlord harassment is illegal, so it's important for both landlords and tenants to recognize the boundaries on acceptable behavior when there's a dispute between them.

Landlord harassment usually happens when a landlord feels like he or she can't keep waiting on something to happen. The harassment is usually designed to pressure the tenant into compliance. Often, the landlord's goal is to make the tenant simply move out. The landlord may hope to raise the rents, replace a less-desirable tenant with a more attractive one (especially in commercial spaces, where some tenants can serve as lures for others), or simply be biased against a tenant's race, religion, gender, disability or national origin (among other things).

So, what constitutes landlord harassment? While every case is unique, the following acts could amount to harassment -- particularly if the landlord engages in several of them toward a specific tenant or does them over a period of time:

  • Abruptly withholding services, including routine maintenance, privileges on common grounds, or privileges included in the contract;
  • Singling out one tenant for behavior that is acceptable by other tenants;
  • Repeatedly entering the property without notice or justification;
  • Creating a nuisance that is designed to disrupt the tenant's enjoyment of the property or interfere with the tenant's business;
  • Destruction of the tenant's property (such as removing business signs);
  • Verbal threats of physical harm or intimidation tactics;
  • Making exaggerated and unfounded complaints over trivial or invented issues;
  • Changing the locks or barricading the doors;
  • Making false accusations and filing frivolous lawsuits against the tenant; and
  • Telling the tenant that he or she is evicted without due process.

Landlords are within their rights to pursue things like unpaid rent, compliance with a lease, rental increases and buyouts through ordinary legal means. In other words, an eviction notice -- if it's justified due to unpaid rent or problematic behavior on the part of the tenant -- isn't harassment. True harassment occurs when the landlord's actions are designed solely to inconvenience or scare off a tenant.

Disputes between landlords and tenants can quickly spiral out of control. When that happens, it's often wise to explore all your legal options before you act in order to protect your rights and your financial future.

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