Q&A: Can My Landlord Retaliate Against Me for Deducting the Cost of Fixing My Shower Head?

Question: Hi! I rent a room from a landlord in Los Angeles. When I asked them to fix the shower head, they refused, so I fixed it myself and deducted the amount I spent on the replacement from the next month’s rent. I even included a photocopy of the receipt with my rent check so they could see that the amount I spent on it matched the amount I deducted from the rent!

A few days later, when I went to take care of my laundry in the building's laundry room, I discovered my landlord changed the locks on the door without issuing me a new key. When I contacted the landlord, he told me that the laundry room was only for tenants who paid their full rent! Now he is threatening to raise my rent unless I repay him for the deduction from my last rent check. Are there any protections for a renter in my position?

Answer: When a landlord designs to punish a renter for exercising one of their legal rights, the practice is known as landlord retaliation, and depending on the specific details of your circumstances, it may qualify as sufficient basis to bring a lawsuit against the landlord.

What Are the Reasons a Landlord Retaliates?

Landlords cannot punish tenants for exercising their legal rights. In the state of California, there are specific tenant actions against which landlord may not retaliate, as prescribed by California Civil Code Section 1942.5, including:

  • Filing an official complaint with a government agency concerning the conditions on the premises,

  • Making a complaint with the landlord about an illegal or unsafe situation on the rental property like a bed bug infestation,

  • Using the remedy of repair and deduct,

  • Taking advantage of a legal right provided by local or state law to withhold rent until a property is returned to a habitable living condition, or

  • Forming or participating in a tenant union designed to allow tenants to assert their rights collectively.

California law provides tenants with protections against landlord retaliation for exercising the legal rights specified above. Thus, a landlord cannot retaliate against a tenant — by locking them out of the laundry room — who legally deducted the cost of repairing a shower head from their rent.

What Are the Ways a Landlord Retaliates?

There are multiple ways which a landlord may retaliate against a tenant, such as:

  • Increasing the agreed-upon rent,

  • Beginning the eviction process,

  • Terminating the tenancy, and

  • Limiting the services available to the tenant, such as limiting access to laundry or exercise rooms.

Furthermore, the law presumes the landlord’s actions were retaliatory if they were undertaken within 180 days (six months) of the tenant exercising their protected right.

What to Do If You Are Facing Landlord Retaliation?

If you are facing retaliation from a landlord, there are solutions available to you. Depending on the details of your situation, you may be able to file a lawsuit against the landlord in small claims court and remain in your rental unit while combating a retaliatory eviction lawsuit brought by the landlord. While the process of bringing a lawsuit against a landlord for retaliation can be a difficult task, it is an essential part of the process of preserving the rights of tenants. If you would like more information about the process of bringing a lawsuit for landlord retaliation, get in touch with the friendly experts at Tenants Law Firm.