Sunday, February 23

How to Deal with a Bad Landlord

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I’ve moved house several times in my incredibly short 21 years, including eight separate times since I left home four years ago. Of those eight rentals, I had only one decent landlord. The other seven covered a vast range of difficult people that I had to fight tooth and nail just for basic repairs. Or even a lock on the front door (in one of the most dangerous neighbourhoods in Toronto!).

I’m definitely not the type of person to take things lying down, which means I’ve probably been in every landlord-tenant disagreement you can think of. The only perk of this being that I know a few tricks for how to deal with a bad landlord now. And what are my shitty experiences for if not to teach strangers on the internet what they probably shouldn’t do?

What ISN’T the problem with landlords?

If you haven’t yet had nightmare-enducing landlord experiences, consider yourself lucky. I know I’m not alone when I say it’s far more likely for me to rent from a blood-sucking monster with the confrontation skills of a junior high school girl than it is to rent from an actual human being. 

For those of us who make the choice to rent over buying property, a run-in with a bad landlord is almost guaranteed. Bridget has preached the perks of renting before, and I agree it is by far the smartest financial decision for me, especially being a working student.

But the emotional weight of renting, and being forced to live by someone else’s rules, can take a toll on you. Especially when your landlord is shaking you upside down, waiting for any spare change to fall out of your pockets. 

The tricky part about dealing with a bad landlord is that they’re providing your home. In a worst-case scenario, they can evict you with very little notice. They have the power to uproot your life, and they will hold that over you.

Not only this, but when a landlord falls short on their promises, it’s usually something that you can’t function without. If you don’t have hot water and your bad landlord is ignoring your texts, your entire routine is ruined for the foreseeable future.

But even grievances like your landlord “dropping by” unexpectedly, or putting a cage over your thermostat, are things a tenant should not have to put up with. 

A bad landlord’s position over you doesn’t mean you can’t stand up for yourself, but you should definitely prepare a little beforehand. Below are the best ways to protect yourself against your landlord’s wrath! 

Save your lease

I have a folder on my desktop exclusively for my copies of leases. Title them clearly and make them easy to find later! 

Interestingly, the reason I find this necessary is because my landlords will break their own terms. Again, my experiences are with the lowest of the low, but my landlords certainly do not intend to follow through on their promises. 

If a few months into your lease you run into a hiccup, check the fine print. If your landlord is in violation, go ahead and send them your copy of the lease, highlighting the section they’re not adhering to. 

Know your rights

Like with most fights against authority, it’s imperative to know how the law protects you beforehand. If you’re renting at all, you should be very familiar with the renter’s rights in your area. More often than not, if you’ve got to  the point of arguing with your landlord, they’re either violating their own terms or violating renter’s rights. 

Renter’s rights differ from place to place, so be sure to check your government website. However, here are some of the more universal rules that I’ve had to whip out in an argument before:

  • Landlords cannot visit your residence without at least 24 hours written notice. The only loophole here is if the property has “common areas,” like a shared kitchen or bathroom. For these areas, no notice is needed.
  • Landlords must fix broken appliances/utility functions. The timeline for this one is a little more complicated, but essentially repairs should start up immediately after they’ve been made aware of the issue. Check your lease for what they’ve listed as “included” — any of these should be fixed immediately. If not, talk to your landlord about a reduced utility bill.            

Don’t be afraid to confront a bad landlord

This can be especially hard for women with male landlords, and extra-especially hard for young women who are just starting to rent. But remember, bad landlords are criminal. In almost every situation, you are in the right and they are in the wrong.

Also remember that bad landlords love compliance. This is the same with most exploitive authority figures. Confronting them shows them you won’t take this extortion lying down. Hopefully, they take note of this, and will take your complaints more seriously in the future. 

Do not believe a single excuse that comes out of a bad landlord’s mouth

The signature move of a bad landlord is excuses. This is because their goal is not to provide a place to live, but to spend as little money as possible.

In a bad landlord’s mind, every time they give an excuse, they buy themselves time. And if they’re able to buy themselves enough time, they save a couple bucks. 

When your landlord sends you a text along the lines of “I’m just waiting to hear about [insert unrelated issue here]” or “I’m just waiting to hear back from [person I don’t intend on ever contacting]”, they’re just being slimy.

In two weeks, when nothing’s changed, you’ll text them for an update. And they’ll probably dig another excuse out of their cache.

The goal here is to delay an expensive fix until either you stop complaining or you move out. Hopefully the next tenant doesn’t care about functioning appliances! 

Allow the benefit of the doubt once, maybe even twice. But once you recognize the cycle you’ve been forced into, make it clear to your landlord that this isn’t a strategy that will work on you.

The easiest way to do this is enforcing deadlines and, as much I hate to say it (I don’t at all), making threats. Draft an email following this format:

“[Issue] is something guaranteed under the terms of [our lease/renter’s rights], and I’ve notified you of it multiple times before without receiving timely action. Since you are in violation of our agreement, if [issue]isn’t fixed by [date]I will have no choice but to take further action.”

What “further action” entails is up to you, but a favourite of mine is to …

Threaten court

Everyone hates court, including your landlord. If renter’s terms are being breached, tell your landlord you will take it to small claims. I love this step because it rarely requires any follow through.

Chances are, you’ll never take your landlord to court. But, threatening it could kick their ass into gear.

Terminate your lease

Leases are rarely as serious as they’re made out to be. More than anything, bad landlords want a tenant complicit in exploitation. If you’ve put up a fight demanding to be treated like a human being, they’ll likely want to try their luck in finding someone with less fight in them. 

If you’re landlord isn’t treating you humanely, talk to them about breaking the lease. In my experience, the landlord almost always brings this up before I even have to. And if not, they’ve been more than willing to terminate.

Granted, moving is the worst. Use your own judgement to decide if it would be worth it to try to find another place! 

If you do move out

Moving is a big deal and this is not an easy fix! If you’ve run out your other options and decide there’s no acceptable solution, moving should be your next step.

But make sure to take the time to set yourself up for success beforehand! Be safe! A house where you have to handle a bad landlord is still a house.

Start looking for other places before even talking to your landlord about termination. To be extra safe, try to have a place lined up before deciding a termination date! 

Avoid a bad landlord in the future!

If you do decide to break lease and rent somewhere else, I unfortunately have to remind you: there aren’t many good landlords. In my experience dealing with a bad landlord is one of the biggest determining factors when it comes to deciding my living situation.

Through my endless showings and meetings, I’ve picked up a few tips on how to tell if your landlord is actually the devil in disguise. 

Spot a bad landlord before moving in

Most landlord red flags are spottable from a mile away. When attending meetings or showings with your potential landlord, you want to keep an eye out for:

  • The length of existing leases. If the landlord rents to other tenants (which is probable), ask how long each of their tenants have been renting for. If other tenants are renewing their leases, it’s probably a good sign.
  • Cooperation. Ask endless questions! Try to be as annoying as possible. Serious landlords will take this as a sign of a serious tenant and will happily discuss, whereas shady landlords will get impatient.

After moving in

There are a lot of things that can be ignored until a lease runs out. But in my bad landlord experience, a couple tell-tale signs scream “get out immediately!” every time.

  • Confrontation skills. This should probably be a rule for anyone you meet. You cannot be an adult without confrontation, especially in a business relationship! A tenant and landlord should be in frequent communication, and issues are bound to come up. If your landlord gets weirdly defensive or avoids a real conversation about solutions, they’re bound to screw up your living situation.
  • Rent hikes. If, god forbid, your landlord informs you of a rent hike, take it as a warning sign. Especially if it is much higher than comparable local rates. Again, remember landlords love complicity. Try complaining and comparing your rent with others in the area. If the landlord is too hard-headed, maybe this isn’t the right home for you! 

Fear not, friends. Once I’m rich, I will buy all the apartment buildings and become the world’s first generous landlord. Until then, however, stick to your guns! Best of luck fighting the oppressions of capitalism! 

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About Author

A professional writing student at York University, Toronto. A newbie in the world of personal finance, but writing with MAG I've got the perfect teacher! Literary nerd, writer, and coffee enthusiast.

10 Comments

  1. Was that supposed to be satire? I hope so because Bridget if you’re allowing this post on your blog I think you’ve read your audience wrong. As a landlord myself I find this post pretty offensive. I won’t say much more because I’m apparently the devil incarnate… as a long time reader, brutal!

      • Perhaps it was “But remember, landlords are criminal.” Or the part where Meagan says “there aren’t any good landlords” in bold, for emphasis.
        But it’s also internally inconsistent, because the 2nd sentence says she’s had 1 decent landlord, and by the 3rd-from last sentence, she’s going to become the world’s first decent landlord.
        I mean, I hate to say it, but the common denominator in these 8 rentals she’s had have been… Her.

        • Meagan Loose on

          Hi Josh! You can address me directly, I don’t mind.
          Good point. I should have said I’ll become the world’s first “good” landlord, as I have had one decent one before.
          “Criminal” is not meant to be offensive, it’s meant to be accurate. All of my landlords (except for my one decent one, to be clear!) have broken the law in their contract with me. That’s called being a criminal

          • I’d just suggest you stop generalizing. That’s what’s offensive. It’s also incredibly arrogant of you to say that you’ll be the “world’s first good landlord”. I completely agree with you that there are a lot of scumbag landlords out there. There are also a lot of scumbag tenants too. Kind of the norm when you talk about large groups of people. Maybe just don’t paint an entire group of people with one brush. That’s where you lost me in this article. And lost my trust and respect too.

          • Meagan Loose on

            Erin, I hear you. However, I encourage you to consider the position you’re coming from here. Landlords have their salary at stake (which is serious, of course), but tenants have their lives at stake. While landlords are worried about being offended by generalizations on the internet, tenants starve. Tenants live months without functioning appliances. Tenants are robbed because of broken locks, and put in life-threatening positions because of safety issues or health regulation violations such as vermin or mould. I hope you can understand why we are so angry.

        • Knowing Meagan and my own experience in my 20’s vs. now, I’d actually guess her rental experiences have a lot more to do with the types of places she’s had to rent because of where she is in her life financially, than they do with her herself. Remember, she’s renting low-cost housing — it’s pretty much landlords trying to fit as many students as they can into the smallest space possible.

          When I was Meagan’s age, I lived in a mouse-infested 100-year-old house with 5 other roommates who always ate my food. My landlord was awful. My rent was $450/mo. 10 years later I spend nearly $2,000/mo on housing and my landlord is almost at my beck & call. He often shows up same-day if I make a complaint about something. It’s a completely different experience and IMO I think has a lot more to do with the type of place I’m able to afford.

          I think Meagan’s experience is valid and true for her, and there shouldn’t be any hurt feelings over it. I expect her perspective will change as her experiences do.

      • I definitely didn’t read this as satire, but as someone who is tired of shady landlords. If you maintain your place well and you fix issues quickly and you don’t try to pull fast ones over your tenants, then the shade thrown at landlords in this article doesn’t apply to you, and keep up the good work! But know that you are a rare breed.

  2. The writing style in this is definitely a bit combative towards landlords, which I understand given your experience. I’ve had lots of good experiences with extremely kind and caring landlords, also while renting from the lowest cost of housing I could find. If I were a new tenant or soon to start renting, I’d find your article pretty scary! It’s good to be prepared, but not all landlords are criminal. I’m sorry to hear your experiences were so bad. I might have liked to see info on how to maintain good relationships with landlords which help you get references for nicer apartments in the future.

    • Meagan Loose on

      This is a great point! I probably wasn’t encouraging!

      I love this idea of writing a more hopeful article as well. My girlfriend and I are house-hunting right now, and I’m learning a lot about how areas, crime rates, and discrimination all hugely impact our options. Hopefully we will be able to find a decent situation that I could write about!