What kind of lawyer do I need to sue my landlord?

We cover what type of lawyer you need to sue your landlord, plus the crucial factors to consider if you are contemplating legal action.

evident Editorial Team
November 28, 2023
sunset, NYC apartment buildings

In an ideal world, the relationship between a landlord and tenant is mutually respectful, with both parties fulfilling their obligations without conflict. However, real-world scenarios often deviate from this ideal, and disputes between landlords and tenants are not uncommon. 

In situations where these disagreements escalate, you may find yourself asking, "What kind of lawyer do I need to sue my landlord?"

In this article, we'll explain what type of lawyer you need to sue your landlord and discuss essential topics such as understanding your rental agreement, landlord-tenant laws, reasons you might sue your landlord, and the type of lawyer best suited to handle your case. 

As we dive in, keep in mind that there are pros and cons to suing your landlord, and the situation can be complicated. It’s important to consider alternatives to suing your landlord and to evaluate whether the benefits outweigh the drawbacks in your particular situation.

Key Takeaways

Understanding the Rental Agreement and Landlord-Tenant Laws

To understand when or why you might sue your landlord, it is crucial to understand some basics about the landlord-tenant relationship and the document that underpins that relationship, the rental agreement.

What is a Rental Agreement?

A rental agreement, also known as a lease agreement, is a legally binding contract between a landlord and a tenant. It outlines the terms and conditions under which a property is rented. 

A rental agreement includes details such as:

  • the amount of rent
  • payment due dates
  • security deposit requirements
  • the duration of the lease
  • terms of property use, and
  • conditions for terminating the lease

Your rental agreement with your landlord is crucial because it establishes the rules you and your landlord must abide by. 

It's always recommended to read and comprehend your rental agreement thoroughly before signing. If there are clauses you don't understand, don't hesitate to ask for clarification or seek professional advice.

Landlord-Tenant Laws -- What are they?

Landlord-tenant laws are legal statutes governing the leasing of residential property. These laws are designed to protect the rights of both the tenant and the landlord and create a balanced and fair relationship between the two parties.

Each state has specific landlord-tenant laws that cover a range of issues, including security deposits, lease agreements, property repairs, eviction procedures, and more. These laws establish the legal responsibilities of landlords, which might include maintaining a safe and habitable property and respecting a tenant’s right to privacy.

By understanding your rental agreement and the specific landlord-tenant laws in your state, you can ensure your rights are upheld and take appropriate legal action if they are violated.

Reasons to Sue Your Landlord

Legal disputes with landlords can arise from numerous situations. Here are some of the most common reasons that might lead tenants to sue their landlords.

Security Deposit Violations

The security deposit is a sum paid by the tenant at the start of the lease to cover potential damages to the rental property, unpaid rent, or breaches of the lease agreement. Landlords are generally required to return the security deposit, minus any lawful deductions, within a certain period after the tenant moves out. 

However, some landlords may wrongfully withhold the security deposit or fail to provide an itemized list of deductions. This is one of the common reasons tenants sue their landlords. 

Wrongful Eviction

Eviction refers to the legal process a landlord must follow to remove a tenant from their rental property, and evictions are on the rise as pandemic-era protections have expired. However, the eviction process must follow state laws, and wrongful eviction, such as forcing a tenant out without following the proper legal procedures, is illegal.

For instance, most state laws require landlords to provide written notice of eviction and give the tenant a chance to correct the issue (such as unpaid rent). If your landlord tries to evict you without following these procedures, you may have grounds to sue.

Landlord Refuses Necessary Repairs

Landlords are generally required to maintain rental properties in livable condition. This responsibility, often referred to as the "implied warranty of habitability," includes performing necessary repairs and maintaining the basic necessities of the rental unit.

If your landlord refuses to make necessary repairs that affect the property's habitability, like fixing a broken heater in winter or a leaky roof, you may have grounds for a lawsuit. Always document these issues carefully and communicate with your landlord in writing when requesting repairs to strengthen your case.

Other grounds to sue your landlord

Keep in mind that these are just a few reasons to sue your landlord. Other ways your landlord might violate landlord-tenant laws can include invasion of privacy, illegal clauses in the rental agreement, discrimination, retaliation, and more.

Understanding these potential reasons to sue a landlord can help you decide if you have a case and need to consult with a lawyer.

What type of lawyer do you need to sue your landlord?

laptop, office, hand

Generally speaking, if you hire a lawyer to sue your landlord, you would need a real estate attorney. 

Note that real estate law is a broad umbrella term encompassing many different areas of law relating to real estate. Therefore, you’ll want to make sure you hire a real estate lawyer who has experience in landlord-tenant law to make sure you get the right legal representation. 

If you speak with real estate lawyers, it is probably worth asking them certain questions to get a sense of whether they are the right fit.

And remember, as you are evaluating your options, it is crucial to factor things like the real estate attorney’s cost into the pros and cons of suing your landlord. You do not want to end up paying more in legal fees than you could recover even if you win. 

The Role of a Real Estate Lawyer in Suing Your Landlord

While you can represent yourself in a landlord-tenant dispute, particularly in small claims court, hiring an attorney who specializes in real estate law (and particularly landlord-tenant law) can significantly improve your chances of success. Here's why:

A. Expertise in Landlord-Tenant Laws

Laws related to landlord-tenant disputes can be complex and vary from state to state. A real estate attorney has the expertise to navigate these laws, understand how they apply to your situation, and advise you on the best course of action.

B. Evidence Collection and Presentation

Real estate attorneys have the skills and knowledge to help you gather and present evidence effectively. They know what kind of evidence will be persuasive in court and can guide you on how to communicate with your landlord and document issues to strengthen your case.

C. Legal Representation in Court

If your dispute with your landlord goes to court, a real estate lawyer can present your case professionally and effectively, anticipate and counter any arguments from the landlord or their lawyer, and navigate court procedures.

D. Negotiation and Settlement

In many cases, disputes with your landlord can be resolved without going to court. A real estate attorney can negotiate with the landlord or their attorney on your behalf, which is particularly helpful in situations where there would otherwise be an imbalance in legal representation. (In other words, it levels the playing field if your landlord has a lawyer, which is often the case). 

Whether to sue your landlord

decide, decision, choice

Can you sue your landlord? Yes, you can sue your landlord for various reasons, many of which we've covered.

But should you sue your landlord? That depends on your circumstances and what the issue is.

It generally makes sense to try and resolve issues with your landlord in other ways before hiring an attorney or filing a lawsuit. For instance, it is worth speaking with your landlord about the issue and asking them to fix the problem.

If that doesn't work, then you should consider writing a demand letter which is a letter explaining the problem, your efforts to fix it, and your intention to take legal action if necessary. Hopefully a demand letter prompts your landlord into action, but it also serves as helpful evidence documenting the issue and the fact that you raised it with your landlord to no avail.

If the problem still persists, legal action may be necessary. And if you decide to sue, then a real estate lawyer can be a tremendous resource.

But keep in mind that the amount of money in dispute in many landlord-tenant disputes might not be very large, and lawsuits against your landlord would often need to be brought in your local small claims court. And if your dispute is in small claims court, it probably doesn't make sense to hire a lawyer to represent you because the attorney fees, court costs (including filing fees), and other costs could stack up quickly. (For that matter, some small claims courts don't allow lawyers to represent the parties, depending on what state you're in).

So ultimately, the decision of whether or not to sue your landlord will depend on your particular circumstances and whether the potential upside if you wins outweighs the downside of bringing a lawsuit.

The Bottom Line

So, what type of lawyer do you need to sue your landlord?

Typically, real estate attorneys who focus on landlord-tenant law are the best option if you’re in a legal fight with your landlord. 

While hiring an attorney incurs costs, it can be a crucial step in protecting your rights if the stakes are high. In such scenarios, hiring a real estate lawyer is an investment in your peace of mind and increases the potential for a more favorable outcome. 

Ultimately, you'll have to balance your reasons for suing your landlord and the potential benefits of winning against the costs and potential downside of filing a lawsuit.