How to Deal with a Bad Landlord

Angry Portrait | Source: jenschapter3 on Flickr via CC BY 2.0 LicenceA few weeks ago I posted about some of the reasons why renting may be a better option for some than buying a home. There’s one big reason though why buying can be better than renting – the bad landlord. Does anyone actually like their landlord? I’ve never had a landlord that I liked. Even just the name, ‘landlord’, predisposes me to not like them. I don’t like that they are the ‘lord of my land’. I don’t live in the middle ages. I don’t plan on mounting a revolution to reclaim my land. I just want to rent an apartment. So why can’t landlords just be property managers and manage their properties with ethics and standards. Is that too much to ask?

Apparently it is. I have a bad landlord right now. We are trying to move from one unit in our building to another, bigger unit in our building. The new unit is currently rented by a relative of ours, who is moving out. I proposed that she just assign her lease over to us. That seemed like a simple solution. We were even willing to let the landlord raise the rent if she wanted since the building is under rent control, and a change of tenants is the only time you can significantly change the rent. Given that we’ve already been in the building for over a year (and completed our original lease), we should be renting on a month-to-month basis now. But as with every landlord I’ve had, the solution to every problem must be as complicated as possible. In order to simply move from one unit to another, we have had to give notice on our current unit (with no guarantee of being given the other unit), complete a new application for the new unit (even though we already live in the building and they know who we are), and agree to a new one-year lease. On top of that, they wanted to raise the rent by an exorbitant amount with no guarantee that they would do some necessary repairs to the unit – thankfully we were able to talk them down on the rent a little bit, though we still only have a verbal assurance about the repairs. You might be wondering why we’re even staying. We live in a very nice neighbourhood within walking distance of work and all amenities. Its one of the only apartment buildings in the area. We don’t want to move somewhere else and in the end, it’s worth the hassle (or at least, that’s what I keep telling myself to stay sane).

So if you have a bad landlord, what are some strategies you can use to deal with them and save yourself some heartache:

  • Get Everything in Writing: This is probably the best thing you can do for yourself. If you don’t get promises in writing, then you have little recourse later if they don’t come through on what they said they would do. If they agree to make repairs, get that written into the lease when you move in, or written in a letter signed by the landlord. On that same note, if you ask for something, ask for it in writing and keep a copy of whatever you give them. Keeping a written log of all your interactions will help you dearly if it comes down a situation where you have to prove something to a tenancy board or courtroom.
  • Read Your Lease: How many people rent a unit without properly reading their lease? Its not hard for a landlord to slip in some wording that might prevent you from doing something you wouldn’t even think of. Make sure you read the lease right down to the fine-print before you sign it, and keep a copy for yourself. Don’t agree to anything that you don’t think is fair and don’t be afraid to go back to your lease and show it to your landlord if they aren’t doing something that they are obliged to do.
  • Know Your Rights: Most landlords, sadly, have no idea what the laws are regarding renter’s rights and responsibilities. In many jurisdictions, the laws favour the tenant, and you can give yourself a big leg up if you know your rights. For example, in Ontario, it is illegal for a landlord to prevent you from having a pet – even if you agree in your lease that pets are not allowed on the property. Make sure you understand what you can do in terms of subletting or assigning leases, and what the landlord is allowed to do in terms of raising rent. Another Ontario-based example, any rented unit first occupied before 1992 is subject to rent control which is typically tied to inflation.
  • Stay Cool, Stay Rational: Sometimes, the urge might be strong to get upset at your landlord. Doing so will only strain relations. Be the bigger person in every situation. Remember, even though the law is often on your side, when you’re in the moment, the power dynamic is often shifted to the landlord. Do what you need to do to stay level headed and deal with the situation in an appropriate manner. Remember the value of your time, and don’t drown in a never-ending argument or battle.
  • Talk to Other Tenants: If you’re in an apartment building, or multi-tenant building, find out if you’re the only one having issues with the landlord. If its a building-wide problem, think about forming a tenant’s association and go forward with power in numbers. If your building already has a tenant’s association, go to them if you have an unresolvable problem and see what they can do for you.
  • Know Who to Contact in a Last Resort: If it comes down to it, contact your local government and find out what resources are available to you as a tenant. In Ontario, we have the Landlord and Tenant Board that can help resolve issues.

Standing up to a bad landlord can be a tricky and intimidating process. But whether you own it or are renting it, your home is your home. You should be comfortable in it and you should want to spend time there. So its worth fighting to have a nice place to live. Don’t let a bad landlord ruin your home.

Readers, have you had an experience with a bad landlord? I’d love to hear your horror stories and how you dealt with them!

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33 thoughts on “How to Deal with a Bad Landlord

  1. Great tips! I am a big fan of knowing your rights too. There are many laws that some landlords are not even aware of that protect the tenant from all sorts of things such as noisy neighbors, inadequate air conditioning (any sort of nuisance that makes your life difficult.)

      • I think (at least in my area its true) that if you are in excessive heat (over 95 degrees) that if your ac breaks, land lord is requied to fix it right away or have something in place to cool your place down.

      • Landlords are required by law to maintain the property in livable conditions that do not hinder your comfort. If by some reason you feel that your air conditioning is agonizing you and is disrupting reasonable expectations then you may have legal rights to take the landlord to court. However, I’d check my state laws first.

        • Interesting! I don’t have an air conditioner right now and I’m pretty sure my landlord would laugh me if I asked her to provide me with one. I’ll have to look into the Ontario tenancy laws to see what the rules are regarding that.

          • In Ontario, if you had an A/C when you moved in and it broke, the landlord has to fix it. If you didn’t, then the landlord doesn’t have to provide you with one. Basically, they have to maintain the property in the condition it was in when you agreed to take it. Similarly if you have a washer/dryer and those break down, they have to be fixed/replaced, but if you go to the local laundromat, you can’t demand an in-suite washer/dryer.

            In some cases this can be contracted out: for example, if a previous tenant left behind a microwave, the landlord can let you have it, but note in the lease that it was a freebie and provided in as-is condition, and was not a fixture of the apartment. If it breaks, he won’t replace it.

  2. This is a great post because I’m sure there are tons of people out there who don’t know their rights. When I rented my first apartment in university, I read the lease top to bottom and also read the Tenant’s Act in my province. It’s saved me a lot of headaches. Luckily I’ve have great landlords for about the past three years (having landlords who are relatives helps!) but I’ve had my share of crappy ones. The worst one had no sense of privacy and would walk right into our apartment with no notice. We only stayed there a year.

    • I would not put up with a landlord who walked right into our apartment without notice. That’s terrible! I can at least admit that our current landlord is very good about respecting our privacy. She does in fact do many things well, but others not so well.

  3. Ha, I just wrote a post a month or so ago about my bad landlord. Complete with part of my kitchen celing coming down. Right now, I just want out of the house and don’t want to deal with them right now. So we are saving like crazy to be out in December instead of staying there for a few years like the orignal plan was.

  4. I definitely agree with being cool and rational. The moment you get fired up the situation gets worse by 10 fold. Staying calm and objective definitely helps to have productive conversations.

    I also agree with getting things in writing. That paperwork is always great to fall back on when you need it.

    They raised the rent on my hubby’s apartment before we got married enough that it made us move. Sometimes the rent price doesn’t make staying worth it.

    • I agree – if they had not backed down on raising the rent as much as they would have wanted to, we would have had to very seriously think about moving. Thankfully, the rent is still reasonable enough that we can stay.

  5. Ya, I was kind of surprised about the pet thing too because lots of landlords put that in their leases, but its mostly just because they’re hoping people won’t know that they have the right to have one anyways.

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  8. I hate everything about renting – house hunting, moving, the crappy quality of property here, dealing with upkeep, rent rises, dealing with landlords (or slumlords). Maybe really nice houses come with a higher standard of LL but prices are so high here we can’t afford to find out!

    One thing many try to sneak into leases is a compulsory carpet cleaning fee which is actually not legal.

  9. You are absolutely right that tenants have rights and they should know what all those rights are. Tenant rights are one of the main reasons we strive to be good landlords in our little 2-unit duplex. We actually wrote about it earlier this week (http://www.plantingourpennies.com/2012/08/15/whats-it-like-to-be-a-landlord/). All your complaints about your landlord, we’ve let our renters do because we develop good working relationships where they trust us to be fair and keep the place in good working order and we trust them to pay us on time and not destroy the property. I’d love your thoughts on how we describe being a landlord to see how that would fall on your “bad landlord” scale.

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  15. My university landlord SUCKED. And that is a huge understatement. He would walk into our house only to ask if any mail came for him which there was only mail for him ONCE out of the 8 months we were there. He waltzed into my bedroom once on a Saturday morning WHILE I WAS IN MY ROOM. He promised to fix a giant crack in the living room window before we even signed the lease which still hasn’t been fixed to this day. Our boiler has overflowed causing damage to files which he didn’t fix until we all left for vacation a month and a half after they were ruined. The only good thing he’s done is got a dishwasher because all we had was a little sink and 5 people living there.

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  18. It swings in roundabouts too. There are also bad tenants! It’s a landlords market out there and I own several properties and what I don’t like from a tenant is not paying their rent on time, calling out for little repairs which they can do themselves and treating the house as a pig pen. You should count your lucky stars the landlord has given you permission to stay at their place that they have invested their money on. Renting is a privilege not a right!

  19. Here in the UK, many landlords use an estate agent as managing agent to run the property on a day to day basis (sorting out breakages, etc). For me, it’s key to find a good, tenant-friendly managing agent.

    I have always made sure that I make a watertight inventory before moving into any rented home, so that we can’t be billed for anything that’s not our responsibility.

    We’re now, finally, home-owners. However, Louise and I are looking forward to the point in time when we have enough money to return to the rented sector. As landlords rather than tenants!

  20. Ok, so I am also in a sticky “Bad Landlord” situation, I’ve lived in my duplex unit for 4 years, and the whole four years living here we have asked the landlords over and over again to get this place fixed up as promised apon moving in, nothing EVER got done, they told us on many occasions that their financial situation was in poor shape and that the work would get done asap…we didn’t push the issue very hard as their finances were an excuse every time…last summer I had a really bad flying ant’s nest in my bathroom window, the bathroom was in terrible shape when we moved in and the owners said that it would be one of the first things to get fixed, well 3 summers later, it took an ants nest for them to even think about doing some work, they only did some of it, used the materials that we offered up to ensure they couldnt use the no money excuse to get it done, we provided a jaccuzi tub, a new toilet, new flooring and a brand new sink. the owners only did half of the job and never came back again, leaving tools, nails, light covers not put back on, did not cover up the side of the jaccuzi tub, leaving the wires and pipes and motor of the tub completely visible, did not reinstall the ventilation fan in the bathroom and made a complete mess of the work that was done…this was in November (3rd year living here)….I never saw the landlords again untill they show up telling me they sold their house that they are living in and need to move in to my side of the duplex and that we had three months to move (no written notice) I asserted my rights as a tenant and refused to move untill I got three months proper written notice, they said I got one, no I didn’t, so I got served with hearing papers, I will go, and I have counter claimed for rent abatement, for the 4 years the work promised and acknowledged but never carried out, the tenancy board asked me if I was being retaliatory because of the eviction, that made me very upset, they also asked me why am I just now filing for breech of maintenance, yes, I’m pissed off that they finally started to do some work, used my materials and gave me the boot, but this was a problem from the time I moved in, we on many occasions told the landlords we wanted things to get done, they would apologize and again give me their financial sob story, I actually took compassion on for them, and I would leave the issue alone knowing that they told me as soon as things get better for them, they would carry out the list of work to be done. The board wasn’t very polite to me when I filed for the abatement, they think I am doing it to get back at the landlords for throwing me out….I have always payed my rent every month, and in doing so I had the right as a paying tenent to have my dwelling in a suitable condition, I was never given that opportunity, so I feel I have the right as a tenant to be compensated for the LL’s failing to provide me with the quality home that I paid rent for..the board said that even though I have pictures that the burden of proof was strong, basically made me feel silly and that I didn;t really stand a chance, I am doing everything in my power to stand up for my rights, I thought I had that right, I feel like I being looked down on for what I am doing, maybe all the stress of this over the months has just gotten the best of me and I am either really scared or paranoid….I just hope things work out, I first felt like that law is the only one that would be on my side, now I’m just not sure…and worried that all the energy I soaked into standing up for my rights is going to be a complete waste of time, I have worked so hard to research on my rights, I’m tired, confused….and maybe feeling that I was lead astray somewhere.

  21. Here is what I have had to deal with. To set the scene, this was a house I rented, the landlord lived in the separate basement apartment of the house. Separate entrance, kitchen, bathroom, everything.

    It started off where the guy was asking for more money, as it was utilities included. I’m not talking $30-$40 here, he wanted like $200 more. It wasn’t even consistent. Some months he would ask, others not.

    He would also enter the premises without notice. I once came home from work and went to the bathroom to find him taking a dump. He said he was putting a new fridge in the unit, which was fine, but there was nothing wrong with the current one. After a few weeks he just showed up without notice a 9:45 pm to put this new fridge in, and I had to be up for work a 5:30 am. The last straw was when I told him I was going away for a week to visit family for Christmas. A few days later he called me and said that his brother-in-law was visiting and he was going to let him stay in the house while I was gone. I had to call the cops and he eventually backed down.

    As a side note, after I moved out I saw him downtown once, picking up half smoked cigarette butts from the ground. I didn’t understand this because I new the guy made decent money from his job.

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