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For Renters

How to Handle Problems With Your Landlord

It is not uncommon for seniors to face landlord problems.  Troubles with living situations are very difficult for seniors to experience, especially seniors receiving lower income.  Dealing with these situations can be overwhelming and stressful.  The best remedy, if you really don’t like your landlord or residence, is simply to move. But for many seniors this would be particularly difficult to do. 

Generally speaking, landlords try to do the right thing.  Sadly, there are often exceptions.  Being a landlord gives someone power.  Sometimes this power goes to a person’s head and they exercise it improperly.

It is important that seniors understand what battles to fight with a landlord.  Tenants are almost always at a disadvantage because it is expensive to move.  And if you are on Section 8 or subsidized housing, losing that resource can create huge problems in your life.

Seniors should also be aware of what type of tenancy they have – a lease for a year or month-to-month.  If they have a month-to-month lease, most jurisdictions require landlords to give 30 days of notice to leave, and no more.  In many states, a landlord doesn’t need a reason to ask someone to leave.  Landlords hold most of the cards. 

Landlord-tenant laws do vary by jurisdiction.  An internet search can reveal the laws affecting tenant rights in the state where you live.  Sometimes rights in mobile home parks might be covered under different laws.  This is important to remember, because a difficult landlord in a mobile home park may be subject to different laws than a landlord in an apartment complex.
It is important to carefully weigh the consequences before engaging in conflict with a difficult landlord.  Seniors also need to know that it can be difficult or impossible to find legal representation to challenge a landlord for an eviction.  Legal Aid, if available in your area, may help with this issue.   

If you are unable to find an attorney to represent you in a legal dispute, you may end up representing yourself.  It’s one thing if you have a place to move to, or if you were going to move anyway and are prepared to move.  But if you don’t have the money or a place to go, then you may want to think twice about getting into a squabble with a landlord – especially about something that is minor.  Even if you “win” the argument, if it means you eventually have to move when you didn’t want to, you lost. 

Seniors who have problems with a landlord are sometimes upset about what is essentially a very minor issue with a landlord.  The minor issue may be legitimate and the senior tenant may be in the right.  But even if a senior has a valid reason to be upset, the issue they are upset about might not always cause a true interruption in the use and enjoyment of the property.  In these cases, it is typically not worth it to spend the time and resources on fighting.  Furthermore, sometimes it is the tenant causing an equal amount of discord.  Right or wrong, it is always helpful to consider whether fighting your issue is worth the risk of getting kicked out and having to move.

Landlords like tenants who pay their rent on time and never complain.  Landlords can put up with a certain degree of complaints, but at some point, they might give up and want the tenant to move, especially if the tenant makes it personal.  Using rude comments or profanity to get your point across typically backfires.  Using “please” and “thank you” may help some landlords become more receptive to your requests.  If you have a complaint, no matter what it is, express it in a courteous manner. 

Sometimes it might make sense to fix small things yourself or put up with small problems rather than irritate an already irritable landlord. Your complaint may be 100 percent justified.  But do you want to risk being told to move because you are “right”?  Remember, in most places, tenants with a month-to-month tenancy can be given notice to vacate at any time.  Landlords don’t need a reason.  

In many relationships, one person needs to be the one to eat “humble pie.”  If you want to stay in your place, you may on occasion need to eat some “humble pie” with a landlord, even if you are right.  Apologizing for something that isn’t your fault can be difficult, but another person’s petty satisfaction is trivial compared to your desire to stay in your rental property. If you end up moving, a negative referral from a former landlord could harm your ability to get the place you want to rent in the future.  Future landlords can also look at court records and see lawsuits or evictions with your name on it.

Sometimes, despite the risk to their living situation, seniors are too upset over a minor issue to appropriately prioritize their needs.  They are convinced they are in the right – and they may be.  However, it is important to see the forest, not just the trees.  If you fight over something small, you may find yourself with the bigger problem of a stressful move.  Don’t fight with the landlord unless you fully accept the consequences.

Nevertheless, there are certain issues that any tenant should stand up for, and tenants with disabilities have more extensive rights under federal law and often under state laws. Also, it’s common for people to represent themselves in landlord-tenant disputes.  Searching the internet might be helpful to learn the rights you have in the state where you live. 

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These HELPS clients were dealing with harassing debt collectors and anxiety over old Debt. HELPS provided a solution to their financial worries.