Last Updated on May 11, 2022 by Fair Punishment Team
Your home should be your safe haven, a place where you feel comfortable and protected. Unfortunately, poor landlords and neglected repairs can result in unsafe living conditions. If your landlord is consistently promising repairs, yet never gets round to it, then you might be wondering if you can sue your landlord.
You can sue your landlord for unsafe living conditions, but you need to be prepared for difficulties. These claims rely on through evidence, and your definition of “unsafe” may vary drastically from the courts.
If you’re wondering how you may be able to sue your landlord for unsafe living conditions, this guide can help you through the process.
What Qualifies As Unsafe Living Conditions?
Before you consider legal action, you must determine whether the property actually qualifies as unsafe. The laws on this can be strict, and features you may consider unsafe may not be enough for an actual legal claim. Similarly, a general feeling of unease, or a building full of wear and tear, won’t qualify as unsafe.
It’s important to understand the difference between “frustrating”, and “unsafe”. Frustrations are nearly always better dealt with outside of court, saving time and money. Peeling paint, worn carpets, etc. are frustrations, and are rarely worth going to court over.
On a similar note, you can only sue for things that are within your landlord’s control. If you don’t like the area you live in, or you don’t get on with the neighbors, you have no grounds to sue.
The exact qualifications for unsafe living conditions vary from state to state, although they tend to follow similar lines. Common examples include:
- Overcrowded houses or living spaces
- Poor and inadequate lighting
- Unresolved mold issues, or toxic mold
- Non-functional or faulty utilities e.g. plumbing, flooring, gas, or electrical connections
- Dangerous pests
- No waste disposal, or faulty waste disposal
- Structural damage
- Broken locks, or improper safety guards
These are issues that can cause physical or emotional distress, and therefore qualify the property as unsafe.
If you’re thinking of suing your landlord, it’s essential to discuss with a lawyer before taking any actions. They will be able to assess the situation, and determine whether you may have a claim based on the requirements of your state. We recommend looking up those exact requirements to understand if your property qualifies as “unsafe”.
Unsafe living conditions can also vary depending on the effect they have on the tenant. For example, mold may be a frustration, and an issue to raise with your landlord. But it can also trigger serious health issues in those with asthma. Injuries and health issues resulting from an unsafe building will often qualify you for compensation.
What To Do Before Suing Your Landlord?
Before you try to sue your landlord, the court will want to see that you’ve exhausted all other possibilities. And you probably want this as well. Suing someone can cost you time and money, and as you focus on legal proceedings, you may feel the problems aren’t getting sorted. Before taking the matter to court, try other avenues to find a solution.
The very first thing you need to do is notify your landlord about the unsafe conditions. Request that the problem is solved. You must do this, or you will have no basis for a claim. Give your landlord an opportunity for correction. Do this over the phone, in person, or with a written request.
If this fails to result in action, draw up a detailed written request. Include a timeline for repairs, determined by the severity of the issue. Keep a copy of this request for yourself, and make a focused effort to gather evidence.
If your landlord resolves the issue in a timely manner, you should avoid escalation.
However, if the landlord has failed to respond in a timely and reasonable manner, there are still steps to consider before suing.
You may be able to solve the problem yourself, and deduct the cost from your rent. In some states, such as California, this is known as “repair and deduct”. Essentially, you pay for any repairs that are needed to make the property habitable. The money is then deducted from your rent, so you don’t lose out.
In some cases, this is a simple solution. However, you must be able to prove that the repair was absolutely necessary, and that you were responsible for payment. Photos and receipts are vital for making your claim.
Otherwise, you may be able to break your lease early (and without consequence). If your housing becomes unsafe, then the landlord has failed their responsibility. Breaking your lease allows you to remove yourself from the situation, at no extra cost.
Breaking a lease can seem difficult, but it may still be more cost-effective and less stressful than suing your landlord.
Consider calling in an inspector, if the property has serious issues. Report your landlord to local authorities, and an inspector will be sent to investigate. In the case of a failed inspection, the landlord will be expected to resolve the problem in a limited time frame.
Finally, try mediation. A neutral third party can sit down with the tenant and landlord, and try to reach a solution.
As you complete the steps, keep a record of what you’re doing. Gather evidence to show what the issues are, the steps you’ve taken for correction, and make copies of communications. Hopefully, these early steps will solve the problem, and the evidence will be unnecessary. However, having these records will help you if you do go to court.
When Shouldn’t You Sue?
The legal action involved in suing your landlord can be expensive and time-consuming, not to mention the toll of stress. Of course, if your living conditions are badly unsafe, then this is a small price to pay. However, before you decide to pursue legal action, you need to ask yourself if this is the right course.
First, you need to assess the severity of the situation. Does the property qualify as unsafe? Are you in physical or emotional distress? How has the situation affected you? How has your landlord reacted to reasonable requests?
Second, consider the financial burden. Is suing going to end up costing you more than you’ll make back? Consider the financial implication, and the end result. Will suing actually fix a problem?
Third, make sure you’ve given your landlord time to fix the issue(s). It is vital that you give the landlord a reasonable amount of time to fix the issue, and that you have communicated this clearly.
Finally, do you have evidence? A successful claim will need evidence of the problem, any distress it has caused, and attempts you’ve made towards resolution. You will also need to prove that you didn’t cause the issue, and that you weren’t aware of it before moving in.
How To Sue Your Landlord For Unsafe Living Conditions?
If you’ve tried all the other options, and you’re still living in an unsafe condition, it may be time to consider a lawsuit.
Begin by reviewing your lease agreement and the tenant laws for your state. The lease agreement can potentially be used as evidence of negligence, and the tenant laws should be able to support your claim.
Early in the process, you should begin gathering evidence of the issue. Keep a copy of any communication you have with your landlord, and pictures and videos of the damage. If you’ve paid for any repairs yourself, keep receipts and invoices as proof of the steps you’ve taken. This may also be needed to prove negligence over time.
Contact inspectors and third parties to review the problem, and provide you with a signed estimate for repair costs.
Gather proof that unsafe living conditions have had a direct negative impact on your wellbeing. For example, hospital bills, doctors notes, and any lost wages.
Videos, pictures, receipts, and evidence of communication can all prove unsafe conditions. Used together, they can successfully show a consistent problem that the landlord has refused to resolve satisfactorily.
You will also need basic evidence to prove occupancy, and the lease agreement.
Speak To A Lawyer
Having gathered all your evidence, it’s time to speak to a lawyer. We highly recommend speaking to a lawyer before filing a claim, even if filing in Small Claims Court. Although you can’t have legal representation in Small Claims Court, their help now may prove invaluable.
A lawyer can review details, and decide if you have a case. Even though poor conditions may feel emotionally draining, it may not technically count as unsafe. A consultation with a lawyer can help determine the potential benefits of legal action.
At this point, you will also need to determine your claim. That’s the dollar value you intend to sue for. You may wish to make a claim, ask for a reimbursement, or consider a rent waiver.
This consultation should also be used to decide how to present evidence, and argue your claim. A lawyer will understand the process, and can help prepare you for court.
Serve A Demand Notice
Inform your landlord of your intention to sue, including the details of the claim and your demand for action. Depending on state law, they will need to be given a certain timeframe in which to respond.
With this done, you will need to file your claim. Take all your evidence, and head to the County Clerk’s office. You will need to answer some basic questions about the case and the compensation you seek. You will then need to fill out a series of forms, although this can be done at home, and submitted later. Pay a small filing fee, and you’re ready to make your claim.
What Are The Risks Involved In Suing Your Landlord?
Suing your landlord will not be an easy process, even if you have the evidence on your side. You may face eviction, although most states don’t allow landlords to evict tenants because they were sued. However, it is likely to result in a strained relationship at best, and you may find your security deposit has been forfeited.
Be prepared for a long and difficult experience. Ideally, the end result will be compensation, and thorough repairs. However, if you lose the case, prepare for a difficult relationship moving forward.
It is possible to sue your landlord for unsafe living conditions, especially if you can prove physical or emotional damage. However, this shouldn’t be your first step. An open and frank conversation with your landlord can potentially resolve the issue, without the time commitment of Small Claims Court.
If you choose to sue your landlord, make sure to collect as much evidence as you can. Begin early, and keep records of requests for repairs, and unsolved issues. An open communication with your landlord can solve the issue before legal help is necessary, and support you in Small Claims Court.
Unsafe living conditions are a hazard, and no tenant should have to suffer because of a landlord’s neglect.