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Dealing with the Landlord from Hell

By Josie Swindler

Sometimes it seems like there are two kinds of landlords: bad and worse. Actually, there are three: a real estate holding company (a large company that owns a lot of property, is hard to get on the phone, and that may have a management company handle your repairs), a smaller version of the holding company, or an individual landlord (think Mr. Roper from “Three’s Company”). But no matter what kind you have, when the tub’s been clogged for a week and roaches have eaten your saltines, you may ponder homicide. Next time you have to deal with a landlord from hell, try these tried-and-true tricks.

Before a dispute:

  • Make yourself seem like an important tenant, even if your dad is signing on as a guarantor. Make calls early in the day—you are a busy professional yourself, aren’t you?—and show up to meetings dressed for business. Make it hard for the landlord to slap the “irresponsible” tag on you, even if you do live on Ramen and hold a degree from Party U.
  • To safeguard your security deposit, ask for an inventory of your place signed by the landlord. If s/he won’t do it, take comprehensive pictures yourself, including a time and date stamp from your digital camera. If you think your landlord may have unreasonable expectations of the wear-and-tear on a newly renovated apartment, set some standards from the beginning.

During a dispute:

  • If you’re in the right, be able to prove your case: know the tenant’s rights for your state.
  • Don’t lose your cool. Don’t approach your landlord with three smaller complaints. Instead, deal with the most important one. Don’t drag roommate problems into the landlord’s office if it will make building management doubt your ability to pay the rent on time.
  • As soon as you start having problems, begin to deal in paperwork. Take note of unreturned phone calls and the days between maintenance requests and their resolution. Even a diary entry is better than nothing in the ever-increasing chance of an appearance on “The People’s Court.”
  • Make an appointment. Stay professional. Bring a friend who’s in law school and owns a Hugo Boss tie.
  • Don’t underestimate the power of intimidation. Imply that you have a friend at the local paper who’s been looking for a lazy landlord story (whether said friend exists or not). Calmly threaten to ask neighbors if their hot water has disappeared too, and then to organize them into a critical mass. These tactics require tact and a little bit of cojones, but sometimes it’s the only way to get these people to listen.

After a dispute:

  • Tattle, tattle, tattle. After you cool off and call U-Haul, file a complaint with the U.S . Department of Housing and Urban Development.
  • Now, feel free to add “BEWARE!!!!” warnings to your landlord’s new Craigslist postings and blow up his/her spot on RottenNeighbor.com—from the comfort of your new pad.



Thank you for sharing the tips but I had my share of dealing with "landlords from hell" and I know for a fact that these guys can't be intimidated that easily. I am so grateful now that I took the liberty to search for rental apartments in Cleveland and I am about to close a good deal that will keep me away from all this kind of trouble.

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