Landlord and Tenancy Laws for the Duration of COVID-19

When children in years to come ask us what happened in 2020, they had better be ready to spend the whole day listening to the synopsis: The year of a never-seen disease; numerous protests; tragic deaths; strange happenings; and weird rules. It would be fun watching their faces while they wonder how we survived.

One of the weird rules to have emerged are the new tenancy laws. Who would have thought that a time was coming when a landlord would not be able to evict a tenant who has not been paying rent; or that such eviction could be considered a crime?

A landlord can be found culpable if he interferes inappropriately with a tenant’s rental property, or prevents the tenant from entering the property for whatever reason- non-payment of rent or otherwise. Here are a list of actions a landlord can be found guilty of if charged to court:

  • Using force or threatening to do so;
  • Adding a new door lock or changing the old lock without handing the new keys to the tenant;
  • Removing, retaining or destroying the personal property of a tenant;
  • Removing doors, windows or door locks to the rented property;
  • Constituting nuisance to the tenant with noise or odor;
  • Interrupting cable, satellite, or phone services procured by the tenant or other important utilities like water, heat, electricity, or gas.

The punishment for being found guilty of any of these offenses is paying three times of the cost of the actual damages sought or a sum of $200, whichever is higher. This inevitably means that the smallest fine a landlord can pay for one violation is $200. The tenant is also allowed to retain their rental of the property, even while owing rent (at least, for the duration of this pandemic). You just might have lost in too many ways and still have to deal with your lender if you do not get them the mortgage, even if you are not receiving rents.

Consequently, it is strongly advised that landlords do not act on their emotions and do something drastic which could lead to law suits from their tenants. Another valuable piece of advice to property owners is that they should try and avoid litigations on their rented properties. Most courts are overworked already with massive backlog of cases, hence, landlords should not pursue litigation if possible.

Tenants and their counsel may try to find ways of prolonging the case by using some clauses in the new rules to extend the duration of their tenancy. When a court process is the only plausible way to resolve a tenancy dispute, landlords should ensure that they file their demands as soon as possible. This is to ensure that the case commences as soon as practical.

In addition, while filing the case, landlords must ensure they consider all necessary details in the suit. They must cross the “t”s and dot the “i”s, because courts will be looking for excuses to throw out the case no matter how flimsy the mistake is. All relevant documents should be prepared ahead of time and the tenant should be verbal informed.

The most important advice to landlords at this time is to ensure that they do not resort to self-help remedies while dealing with tenants. They should consult with their lawyers to help them interpret the new rules and decide on the next line of action.

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