Almost every state has laws against landlord retaliation. These laws have many limits, even when there’s a clear intent to retaliate. Some issues get more protection than others.
When claiming retaliation as a defense to eviction, it is critical for a tenant to be current on rent.
For example, say a tenant can’t get a landlord to do repairs. The tenant reports the landlord to the housing department, contracts for repairs, and deducts the cost from rent (which is legal in many states). The landlord then demands more money and files eviction. If the tenant can’t prove strict compliance with rent deduction requirements, the court will let the landlord collect rent and evict.
Special Eviction Courts/Processes
Some states, like Missouri, have special eviction courts with a simplified process. Tenants have strict limits on which issues they can raise in these courts. They must often file a separate case to claim retaliation.
Special eviction courts work fast. If tenants don’t file retaliation claims as soon as possible, they may get evicted before a court can hear them.
Most states ban retaliatory rent increases. This applies to increases which would otherwise be lawful. What makes an increase retaliatory is the landlord’s aim to hurt the tenant.
A couple of states, like South Carolina and South Dakota, only count rent increases as retaliation when they’re above the local fair market value. Fair market value is hard to prove and often requires expert witnesses.
Landlords usually can’t decrease a tenant’s services for retaliatory reasons. Utilities count as services, but so do most conveniences on a rental property. These are some examples of things that might count:
- Reducing allowed payment types for rent (e.g., refusing to accept checks any longer).Taking much longer than usual to do repairs.
- Reassigning a parking space to an inconvenient place.
- Refusing to renew a pool pass for the season, despite meeting requirements.
In general, things which count as services are things provided in the lease and community rules, on an ongoing basis. Not all features of a rental property count as services. These are some examples of things that might not count as decreased services:
- Refusing to replace an appliance that isn’t covered by the lease.
- Painting a building an ugly color, even on purpose.
- Changing the community rules for all tenants.
Some anti-retaliation laws protect against increased obligations under the lease. For example, it might be retaliation for a landlord to make a tenant maintain common areas. It could also count as increasing obligations to ask for extra fees and deposits.
Substantial Change in Rental Terms
The strongest anti-retaliation laws protect against any substantial changes to the rental agreement. These laws protect against any significant changes, whether to the rent or to a landlord or tenant responsibility.