10 Smart Ways to Prevent Being Sued by Your Tenant

When you and your tenants sign a written lease agreement, the agreement is legally binding. In other words, both you and your tenants must follow the provisions in the lease. Unless you want to land in court battling it out.

boston tenant lawsuit with landlord

Though many states are landlord-friendly and look to protect the finances and properties of investors, the truth is, tenants have rights too. As a landlord, you can’t just do whatever you want and expect your tenants to accept it.

Avoiding a landlord-tenant dispute is best done by educating yourself about the things that can get you in trouble with your tenants. Today, we’ve got the top reasons your tenant can rightfully sue you so that you can avoid them as much as possible.

Top 10 Reasons a Tenant Can Sue Boston Landlords

1. Discriminating Against Tenants

The Federal Fair Housing Act protects those seeking a rental property from discrimination. Covering most housing-related activities, people cannot be discriminated against based on:

  • Race
  • Color
  • Religion
  • National origin
  • Sex
  • Disability
  • Familial status

The law protects people during the tenant screening process and once they become tenants of yours.

The best way to prevent discriminating against your tenants in Boston is to hire an experienced property management company to help. Reputable property managers are up to date on all federal, state, and local laws and know how to avoid discrimination of all kinds.

2. Violating Tenant Consumer Report Rights

Another law protecting tenants is the Federal Fair Credit Reporting Act. Consumer reports are typically used to screen potential tenants. They can also be used during eviction proceedings.

While these reports provide helpful information that can influence your decision to accept a tenant or not, there are some things you are not allowed to do including:

  • Fail to report a tenant to the credit bureau
  • File an unnecessary or wrongful eviction
  • Require an unnecessary cosigner
  • Deny an application for no reason and harm the tenant’s ability to secure housing elsewhere
  • Fail to send a proper application rejection letter
  • Require a higher security deposit for some tenants

If you want to avoid being rightfully sued by your tenants, it’s best to learn about consumer reports and what they can be used for.

3. Having an Uninhabitable Property

As a landlord, it is your responsibility to ensure your rental property in Boston is livable and safe for tenants leasing from you. If your property is dangerous or poses a health risk, and your tenants cannot live in it, it will be considered uninhabitable.

Things like mold growth from water damage, major pest or animal infestations, or even storm damage can create an uninhabitable living space for your tenants. If this happens, you’re the one who has to fix it – immediately.

If your rental property is deemed uninhabitable, and you don’t make repairs, your tenants can sue you. Then you’ll find yourself having to pay for repairs and a court battle you’ll likely lose. So, do yourself a favor and make sure the home you’re providing to others is safe and livable. It’s not only the law; it’s the decent thing to do.

4. Tenant Injuries

If your tenants are injured on your property because of your negligence you can bet they’ll sue you for medical costs and damages. For instance, if you fail to install a legally required stairwell banister, and your tenant falls, you’ll be at fault.

Keep in mind that this is very different from injuries tenants sustain while on your property due to their own negligence. If this happens, they will not be able to sue you. In fact, depending on the injury, they might be the ones that get sued. Instances like this are just one good reason to require your tenants to have renter’s insurance.

5. Failure to Disclose Mold or Lead Paint Issues

In addition to providing a habitable living space, Boston property owners are required by law to disclose any known mold or existing lead hazards in their properties. These issues can cause long-term health problems for your tenants. If you illegally hide the fact that your property is a danger to your tenant’s health, you could be sued.

6. Not Reimbursing Your Tenant for Repairs

When your tenant requests a repair in your rental, you have to perform that repair in a reasonable amount of time. This is especially true if the problem affects your tenant’s ability to enjoy their home or is a safety hazard. If you refuse to complete the repair within the time frame allowed, your tenant can make the repair themselves. When this happens, you must reimburse your tenant for the repair.

If you refuse to reimburse your tenant, they might sue you, and for a lot more than the cost of a repair.

7. Wrongfully Keeping a Security Deposit

Each state has its own rules and regulations regarding security deposits.

In Massachusetts, you must abide by these rules when it comes to security deposits:

  • Collection: you can only collect up to one month’s rent for a security deposit. You must also provide the tenant with a receipt.
  • Securing: you must tell your tenants within 30 days of receiving it the name and location of the bank it’s being secured in, as well as the amount and account number. You will also have to pay 5% interest per year on the security deposit to your tenants.
  • Returning: you have 30 days to return a tenant’s security deposit with an itemized list of deductions if you used any of the deposit.

You can use a security deposit for the following things:

  • Early termination of lease agreements
  • Non-payment of rent
  • Damage to your property (besides normal wear and tear)
  • Excessive cleaning costs
  • Unpaid utilities

If you use the security deposit for anything else, you could be sued and owe a lot of money to your tenants.

8. Wrongful Eviction Proceedings

All landlords want to avoid evictions at all costs. That’s why there’s so much emphasis put on tenant screening. However, evictions come with being a landlord, no matter how well you screen your tenants.

That said, there are strict rules regarding eviction proceedings. For example, you cannot change the locks on your Boston property to prevent tenants from entering. You cannot move any of your tenant’s personal belongings out of the property at any time. Lastly, you cannot cut off the utilities to your property in hopes your tenants will leave.

You can’t retaliate against your tenant either and evict them from your property. If your tenant files a complaint against you, notifies you of major health hazards, is involved in a Tenant’s Organization, or sues you for an unrelated reason, you cannot seek revenge on them by kicking them out.

If you need to evict your tenant, it’s best to follow the procedures perfectly to avoid being sued. This is just another great reason to hire a local property management company to help you. A good property manager will understand the eviction proceedings and handle everything for you, so you don’t have to.

9. Violating the Right to Quiet Enjoyment

Tenants have the right to “quiet enjoyment” when they lease a rental from you. This means they are entitled to live in your property without fear of being harassed by you or having their privacy violated.

Here are some of the top quiet enjoyment violations that may result in you being sued by your tenants:

  • Illegal entry of the premises
  • Interruption of utility services
  • Gossiping about your tenants to others
  • Appearances at your tenant’s workplace to discuss landlord-tenant issues
  • Allowing others to enter your property without proper notice or tenant consent

Remember, tenants lease from you and call your property their “home.” Constantly bothering them, whether you have good intentions or not, is illegal and may result in a court battle.

10. Including Illegal Lease Provisions

Your lease agreements are legally binding and will hold up in a court of law. That means if you add in illegal lease provisions, and violate the law, your tenants can sue you.

Though not comprehensive, here are some examples of lease provisions you can’t put into your lease agreement:

  • Requiring your tenants to be responsible for property repairs
  • Giving yourself the power to kick your tenant out of the property at any time you feel
  • Refusing to allow service animals in your property
  • Asking your tenants to waive their right to privacy
  • Making the security deposit non-refundable
  • Asking your tenants to waive their right to sue you

Drafting a lease agreement can be tough if you don’t know what you’re doing. If you don’t want to risk being sued for an illegal lease, entrust your rental to a property management company in Boston that has the experience and knowledge needed to protect you and your tenants.

Final Thoughts

Interested in having us manage your rental property for you? Then contact us today and see how we can help you avoid being sued by your tenants in a court of law.

At Suffolk Property Management, we know what it takes to be legally compliant in the real estate industry. Our experienced property managers can find you high-quality tenants, streamline the rent collection process, and maximize your earning potential, all while keeping your tenants happy.

You won’t have to worry about your tenants suing you because there will never be a reason to. Instead, you’ll just have to worry about how you’re going to spend all your free time once we take over managing your rental for you.