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How to Bring a Case Against Your Landlord

Are you having issues with your landlord or tenant? Look no further. We’re here to answer all your questions.


Person handing over keys


First, let’s talk about

THE LEASE.

Lease agreements can be written or oral. However, written agreements are far more common and better protect both parties involved. So don’t be quick to commit to a verbal agreement. It’s much safer to see it in writing.


When a lease is signed by both parties, it becomes a binding legal contract. If you break the terms of the lease, you will go straight to prison. Just kidding, but you will likely be sued.


If you are a tenant considering a written lease agreement, you should read the entire thing or obtain a legal opinion (ahem) about anything that seems unclear to you. “I didn’t understand it, good sir,” doesn’t hold up in a court of law, and neither does, “Uhhhh, I didn’t read it.”


That being said, potential tenants absolutely have the right to ask the landlord to change anything in the lease. Just as the landlord has the right to say, “Not a bloody chance, mate.” If a tenant asks for something to be changed and the landlord does not oblige, it is then up to the tenant if they want to sign it or not.


A lease for a year or more MUST be in writing. An ORAL agreement, on the other hand, obligates the landlord and tenant for just one month at a time. It becomes a month-to-month lease, and no contracts or signatures are required. The landlord can evict the tenant or raise their rent with one month’s notice. The tenant can cancel the lease with one month’s notice.


No matter which party cancels the lease, the cancellation must be in writing (even though the original agreement was just oral—we don’t make the rules). For example, if the agreement was that rent is due on the 3rd every month, then the written termination must be made on or before the 3rd of the prior month. You cannot legally back out last second. If you do, not only will you lose in court, but you will also look like an idiot.


Upon the expiration of a lease term, either party can terminate the lease. Again, regardless of whether the lease is written or oral, the termination MUST be made in writing. If you want to break up with your landlord/tenant, you must do it in writing a month in advance—like letting your boyfriend/girlfriend down easy with a well-written letter.


Messy break up? Call O’Connell & Crosby, LLC @ (636) 489 – 8306.


Person screaming into phone

Now, let’s talk SECURITY DEPOSITS.


A landlord can only charge two months’ rent or less as a security deposit. After the lease ends, assuming the tenant hasn’t burnt down the entire building, the landlord has 30 days to return the security deposit with an itemized list of damages for which any amount of the deposit is kept.


The landlord is not allowed to kick down your door (or gently unlock it) and inspect the property without warning. They must agree with the tenant on a reasonable time to conduct an inspection, and the tenant is allowed to be present during the inspection. No funny business allowed.


The landlord is allowed to keep the entire security deposit to pay for damages, unpaid rent, or lost rent due to the tenant moving out without that oh-so-precious month-prior notice. However, if the landlord wrongfully withholds the security deposit, they may be liable to pay twice the amount of the security deposit back to the tenant.


But but but for what damages can the landlord legally charge the tenant? I’m so glad you asked.




DAMAGES


Tenants are responsible for damages that result from the own negligence

Run down House

or the negligence of their guests. I hate to hit you with a cliché, but I’m going to regardless:


if you break it, you buy it.



If a tenant breaks a lease early without proper notice, they may be liable to pay the rent that they would have owed had they stayed on the property. However, the landlord has an obligation to mitigate their damages. He/she should try to get another tenant to rent the property before they force the old tenant to pay the extra rent. Basically, if you’re a tenant, don’t vacate the property early. Proper breakups, people.


Landlords are responsible for damages caused by ordinary wear and tear as well as natural occurrences like hurricanes and Godzilla. If King Kong—or an earthquake—shatters your windows, the tenant must fix them. If the tenant shatters the window, they fix it.


Bottom line, landlords are required to keep their properties “habitable” according to the implied warranty of habitability. Typical violations include failure to provide working electricity, drinkable water, hot water, heat during cold weather or functioning fixtures and plumbing.


If you are a tenant experiencing issues with any of these things or other issues effecting the property’s habitability, you should ask your landlord for a repair. If the landlord does not repair it, put the request in writing and save the letter. You also have the option to repair it yourself and deduct it from rent.


Landlord-tenant issues can be complicated and frustrating. If you find yourself involved in a dispute with your landlord or tenant, it is best to speak to an attorney who is knowledgeable about the issue before making a decision that could affect your living situation or property. Luckily, you’re only a few clicks away.


Give us a call at (636) 278 – 9953 or reach us with an email David@OClawllc.com.




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