Have you ever felt you were justified in breaking an apartment rule, or have you ever believed that a rule was simply unfair?
As an apartment tenant, you've committed yourself to follow many rules, as spelled out in your lease, and a violation can put you at risk of losing your home.
But you may have both logic and the law on your side when it comes to the validity of an apartment rule. Find out why certain rules are unfair and what you can do to argue your way out of a violation.
Why Some Rules Are Unfair
Just because a rule exists doesn't mean it's fair. Here's why this might be the case:
- Lack of diligence. Not all landlords think through all their rules. So, the lease you sign isn't necessarily a product of careful thought and deliberation.
- Lack of knowledge. Not all landlords are well versed in state and local landlord-tenant law or run rules by an attorney. Even if they are, it's certainly possible a landlord will create a rule that runs contrary to federal, state, or local law.
- Lack of review. Not all landlords take the time to periodically review rules to determine if they need to be updated or modified. A rule that serves a certain purpose at one time might have little or no justification later.
How to Argue That a Rule Is Unfair
If you think you've got a valid reason for breaking a rule or for telling a landlord to take a rule off the books, you might fear a lengthy, expensive court battle. Although many landlord-tenant disputes do lead to litigation, plenty of them end quietly and amicably.
Landlords are likely to do what you want the more that the following are true:
- They understand your reasoning and believe you have a valid point.
- They understand that what you want them to do isn't inconsistent or setting a bad precedent.
Here are winning arguments you can use to convince a landlord that a rule isn't fair or that it shouldn't apply to your situation (for ease and consistency, all examples concern apartment pet rules).
Certain rules that may appear reasonable can have an overly burdensome or unfair effect when applied to apartment tenants who moved in before the new rule took effect. If you believe this is your situation, then you want to ask the landlord about being "grandfathered in."
Example: Last year, you moved into your apartment with a dog. One reason your broker showed you that particular building, in fact, was because it was advertised as pet-friendly. Now, the landlord has decided to adopt a no-pets rule. It's one thing to apply this rule to tenants who don't have a dog. But because you already have one, you might argue that it's not easy or fair to find another home for the dog, and so you (and other similarly situated tenants) should be entitled to keep it.
Note that grandfathering applies only to your actions before a new rule is adopted—it doesn't provide a valid reason for violating a new rule going forward. So, in the example above, you might succeed in convincing your landlord to let you keep your current dog. But, under the new no-pets rule, you wouldn't be allowed to buy any more dogs—even after your current dog passes away.
If your landlord chooses to enforce a rule that he knows or should have known you've been breaking, you might argue that the landlord has waived his right to enforce this rule—at least as it applies to you and your situation. New York City tenants should take note that this waiver exception has been written into the city code.
Example: Your apartment building's pet rules require dogs to be leashed at all times while in the hallways, lobby, and other common areas, with violations resulting in a fine. Although you often keep your dog leashed, there have been several instances in which you've walked your dog in the common areas without a leash, even in plain sight of the building's resident manager. One day, you get a notice from the landlord stating that the resident manager caught you violating this rule and demands a fine. You can argue that you shouldn't have to pay the fine because the resident manager led you to believe it's okay to walk your dog without a leash.
Sometimes, a rule doesn't serve its intended purpose or any valid purpose at all. You might argue that a rule is too vague, ambiguous, discriminatory, broad, or narrow to be fair.
Example: A landlord's pet rules require tenants to walk their dogs outside at least once a day. You have a very small dog that is trained to use wee-wee pads that you keep in your apartment's bathroom, and your dog doesn't like being outside, especially when it's cold. You can argue that this rule was written based on certain assumptions that don't apply to your dog, and so there's no reason for you to follow the rule.
Have you been accused of violating a rule you didn't even know about? If the rule is in your lease but you just didn't read it, that's one thing. However, if you didn't agree to a rule in your lease and your landlord neglected to let you know of its adoption, you can argue that you should be given a break because you had no notice of the rule.
Example: After you sign your lease and buy a 60-pound dog, your landlord modifies the pet rules to add a weight restriction of 50 pounds. You learn that the landlord drafted a notice about the change but forgot to instruct his staff to send a copy to all current tenants. You can argue that you should be allowed to keep your dog because the landlord failed to give you notice of the new weight restriction.
If a rule—or the application of a rule to your particular situation—violates your rights under federal, state, or local law, then it's illegal, which means your landlord can't enforce it.
Example: Although your landlord has a rule banning pets from your apartment building, you need to keep a guide dog on account of vision impairment. The Fair Housing Act, a federal law, would require your landlord to make an exception to his no-pets rule as a reasonable accommodation for a disability, and let you keep the dog as a service animal.