Six Ways Tenants Can Avoid Landlord/Tenant Court
When the ink is still fresh on a recently signed rental agreement, few renters think about the possibility of ending up in court with their landlord. Even though it happens often, it can be avoided. Here are six ways to make sure you and your landlord stay on good terms throughout your lease.
1. ALWAYS pay your rent. It sounds basic but this is the number one reason people end up in court. Sometimes tenants don’t pay their rent because they don’t have the money, either because of unfortunate circumstances or irresponsibility. Often though, it is because the tenant feels that they should be excused from paying rent because of a landlord action, for example failing to fix something on the property. Since the tenant feels the landlord has “broken the lease”, the tenant’s first reaction is to stop paying rent. However, tenants should know that it is usually unlawful to stop paying rent. The rent must be paid in full to the end of the month, until the lease is fulfilled or otherwise mandated by a court order, depending upon the circumstances.
2. Make Sure all Tenants Are On the Lease. Understand the occupancy clauses of your lease. A landlord can take you to court if you have more people staying in the apartment then are on the lease. This is dependent upon the lease, but there are usually clauses that do not let people stay on the premises for an extended period of time if they aren’t on the lease. The landlord can only collect rent from people if they are on the lease. If you have an overnight guest who came to stay and never left, they are not legally responsible for the rent, and your landlord cannot legally collect from them. You may ask them to pay, but you have no legal recourse if they refuse you because they are not on the lease. So, besides aggravating the landlord, having people living in your apartment who are not on the lease can shift legal responsibility to you for their actions (or inactions) when they move out.
3. Communicate with your landlord. Before taking legal action, it’s important to discuss problems with the landlord. The first step is to report the problem and request a solution. In the City of Chicago, the landlord has 14 days to fix a reported problem. Beyond that, depending on the lease agreement, the tenant may be able to pursue repair themselves and deduct part of the rent. Tensions can sometimes run high in these situations, but tenants must first give landlords the chance to satisfy the complaint before getting other authorities involved.
4. Use a Cure Letter. A cure letter can diffuse a legal situation by suggesting a solution to a problem. For example, if you are a musician who is disturbing other residents with loud practice in the apartment, a cure letter would explain your intent to solve the problem (i.e., no longer practicing in the apartment, practicing during certain hours, soundproofing, etc.). A cure letter can help settle disputes, and also holds significant weight in court should the situation escalate.
5. Keep everything in writing. This is crucial! Whether it’s your original complaint, a cure letter or
confirmation of actions on the part of the landlord, put it in an email and send to the landlord. If you end up going to court or talking to an attorney, you will then have a record of all communications, invoices, etc. as proof of the dispute. Finally..
6. Contact an attorney. If you have a problem with your landlord and believe that landlord/tenant
court may be your only option, it is always best to contact an attorney with experience in landlord tenant law with your questions. In some cases, a simple communication from a law firm can help prevent considerable court fees and unpleasant escalation of the situation.
Gardi & Haught is available to help you with any disputes you may have. Request a free case evaluation below.