Q. I have been living in a small apartment complex for nearly two years. There is a faint but detectable smell of sewage coming from underneath the ground floor units. This is where my apartment is located.
Many of the ground floor tenants have complained about the odor, but I finally did something about it by reporting the landlord to the local housing authority. Now the landlord is angry with me and has politely asked me to leave the complex – which I would do if I had the money to relocate, but my current financial situation makes it very difficult for the time being. The landlord says he will evict me if I don’t leave voluntarily. What are my legal rights?
A. You have a host of rights and legal options to consider. The fact that you actually reported the landlord to a governmental housing agency strengthens and protects your legal position relative to the landlord under the laws prohibiting retaliatory eviction.
Under the law, and as a matter of public policy, the landlord is legally prohibited from taking retaliatory action of any kind against a tenant if that action can be perceived to be in retaliation for the tenant exercising her legal rights. Reporting the landlord to a governmental agency for illegal conduct is a prime example. Further, public policy encourages whistleblowers to report illegal conduct and protects them when they do.
In your situation, the law affords tenants protection from almost any form of retaliatory action, whether it’s the landlord trying to evict you, threatens eviction, refuses to make needed repairs, or threatens you in any way.
The laws in most jurisdictions, including California, assumes that the landlord is engaged in retaliatory conduct if the landlord seeks to evict the tenant within six months after the tenant has engaged in any of the following tenant rights including but not limited to: informing the landlord that she will be forced to make repairs and then deduct the cost of the repairs against the amount of rent owed; verbally or in writing complains about the condition of the premises to the landlord or to a governmental agency; and/or files or causes to be filed a legal action or complaint against the landlord alleging unlawful conduct arising out of the landlord-tenant relationship.
In most cases, a tenant who can prove that the landlord’s actions are retaliatory can sue the landlord under state law as well under the Fair Employment and Housing Act. Under the law, you would be entitled to money damages and possibly even injunctive relief.