But that doesn’t mean we can’t learn from other people’s missteps:
1. Frustrated over an unauthorized pet, a landlord entered a tenant’s apartment when she wasn’t home, without notice, and took her cat. When tenants break the lease, landlords must go through legal channels — an eviction. Self-help is not an option. This landlord breached the lease, violated local rental law, and exposed himself to criminal prosecution — trespass and theft — in one fell swoop.
2. Handing out keys to strangers is never a good idea, but one landlord gave the key to a tenant’s apartment to someone from Craigslist without vetting that person or telling the tenant that work would be done on the inside of the unit. Imagine what might have happened if the worker let himself into the apartment only to discover the unsuspecting tenant at home.
Fortunately, this risky situation did not result in injury or a call to the police, despite the landlord’s negligence and breach of the lease. However, once the tenant found out about it, he gave notice and moved into a property across the street.
3. There’s no harm in wanting to improve curb appeal but telling the tenants’ kids they can’t play outside in the front yard because they make the property look bad is illegal. Prohibiting kids in common areas violates the Fair Housing Act and local fair housing statutes.
4. Tenants had been complaining about a rodent problem for some time, but they didn’t expect the maintenance workers to overdose the critters with poison and then leave the dead bodies littered all over the complex for several days. Residents got sick from the misuse of pesticides, pets were exposed to diseases, and prospective tenants got to read about the ordeal in the news and online rating and review sites.
In addition to possible payouts for personal injuries, this landlord likely will experience ongoing income loss. Reputation matters, and poorly-rated properties have trouble attracting good tenants.
5. Trying to circumvent rental laws in the lease is a common mistake but illegal provisions are still illegal even if a tenant reluctantly agrees. That was the case with a landlord who claimed to have the right to enter the unit without notice, at any time, for any reason, and allow contractors to do the same thing. When exercising this “right” the landlord revealed that a key to the tenant’s front door was stashed just outside under a flowerpot. There’s no telling how many other people knew about it, but the tenant didn’t.
Operating outside industry standards or the law can give rise to a negligence lawsuit — and a verdict in the hundreds of thousands of dollars. If a tenant is harmed, an illegal lease provision will not serve as a defense.
6. In an attempt to pack college students into an off-campus rental, the landlord divided existing bedrooms using towering bookshelves that were not secure, and then doubled the number of roommates. Fortunately, no one was crushed by the weight of this mistake, but the landlord was forced to pay for motel rooms for all the students who were displaced after a building inspector got wind of the retrofit and shuttered the property. After repairing the units, the landlord had to pay a six-figure fine to get the property back in servi