There are few cases more intimidating than a landlord-tenant personal injury lawsuit, which pits a tenant against the very person providing them a place to live. In many cases, tenants actively go out of their way to avoid filing such a suit because they simply believe that they might be evicted, or subject to other retaliatory action by their landlord, as the suit winds its way through the legal process.
While it’s certainly possible that a landlord might take retaliatory action during a claim, the good news for tenants is that both state and federal laws make retaliatory conduct, including evictions, illegal. Before filing a claim against a landlord or property management company, consider how these protections can make peace of mind possible throughout the process.
What Constitutes Illegal Landlord Retaliation?
The most common type of landlord retaliation feared by tenants is an eviction from their rental property, leaving them scrambling to find a place to live and potentially leading to homelessness and other serious complications. While eviction might seem the most obvious form of landlord retaliation, there are other actions that the law defines as equally egregious and retaliatory after a tenant has filed a claim against their landlord:
- Filing an eviction claim or posting a notice of eviction
- Refusing to renew an existing lease
- Abrupt cancellation of a month-to-month rental arrangement
- Petty retaliatory actions, like the removal of laundry facilities, turning off basic utilities like water or cable, or otherwise interfering with the tenant’s daily life
If any of these actions are taken after the landlord has been notified of a claim filed against them, tenants often have a right to pursue an additional claim that penalizes the landlord for taking such actions. With the help of an attorney, and knowledge of state and federal laws concerning landlord retaliation, legal recourse is possible. In addition to retaliation being illegal when filing a claim against the landlord, retaliatory practices are also illegal if a tenant does any of the following:
- Organizes a tenant union or joins an existing tenant union
- Files a complaint about substandard living conditions with a government agency or local official, including a building inspector, zoning inspector, or fire marshal
- Withholds all or a portion of the rent in order to fix substandard living conditions in the rental unit or to protest substandard living conditions in the unit, if such practices are legal in the state where the unit is located
The Legal Window and the Burden of Proof: What to Know
Though there are strong laws in place to protect tenants from landlord retaliation, they are limited in many states by a legal window. This window of time, which ranges from three months to a full year, begins the moment that a claim is filed against the landlord and the landlord is notified of the claim against them. During this time, a retaliatory eviction pursued against the tenant is assumed by the court to be retaliatory unless the landlord can prove otherwise.
Currently, 20 states enforce this “burden of proof” requirement when a landlord pursues an allegedly retaliatory eviction against a tenant who has previously filed a claim against the landlord. In these states, if the landlord cannot prove that the eviction notice was served for a non-retaliatory reason, it is considered invalid. Tenants can then remain in the property for the duration of the claim process, and perhaps longer, depending on their ongoing relationship and contractual agreements with the landlord.
An Attorney Can Help Navigate the Landlord-Tenant Claims Process
It’s never easy to take action against a landlord. Many things hang in the balance, including the continued occupancy of a rental unit and the tenant’s ability to keep a roof over their heads as the claim winds its way through the civil courts. The good news for tenants is that they have two powerful tools to help them through this process.
Powerful legal protections for tenants, and the attorneys who enforce them, can ensure that tenants remain in their rental unit, free of harmful and petty retaliation, as they pursue claims for substandard living conditions, lease violations, and other serious issues concerning their time as a renter. If the time has come to file a claim against a substandard landlord, it’s time to get in touch with an attorney who will help navigate the process from start to finish.
The Lamber Goodnow legal team and our co-counsel personal injury law firms are experienced in these matters. Our Chicago personal injury lawyers never charge a fee, unless we win your case. Get a risk free consultation today.