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When Can a Landlord Be Arrested?

By Jameliah Francis 

While owning your own home can be a welcoming delight, most persons cannot afford such luxury.  Nonetheless, one can still obtain some level of independence and fulfillment in getting their own home through apartment rentals.

According to a report from the real estate website Rentcafe, “The number of renters in New York City grew more than 5.4 million in 2016 as the city lost roughly 100,000 homeowners over the last decade, U.S. Census data shows. Renters now make up nearly two thirds — 65.1 percent — of the city's population, up from 60.6 percent in 2006”.

Whether you own your home, or you rent an apartment, your hope is to have privacy and a sense of peace and quietness.  New York City affords tenants many rights with regards to the quality and safety of their housing. As such, tenants should expect to live in well-maintained, safe, buildings that are free from any discomforts such as leaks, vermin, and hazardous conditions. 

New York Laws also protect tenants from discrimination and harassment.  In addition to the rights of tenants, they also have legal obligations to the landlords as well.  These include, but are not limited to, not damaging the building, responding to annual owner inquiries related to window guards, lead-based paint, and to maintain smoke and carbon monoxide detectors.

Despite these prescribed laws, persons are sometimes in violation of them.  For example, a tenant may be holding their end of the bargain, but they have a vindictive landlord who tries at all costs to cause the tenant distress.  

Here are some unlawful landlord-tenant disputes that could possibly lead to an arrest on the part of the landlord:

Your Landlord Locks You Out

A lockout is any conduct by the landlord or the landlord’s agent that, without a court order (usually obtained through an eviction action and carried out by a state marshal), deprives a tenant of a dwelling unit or other rented unit of access to the unit or to the tenant’s personal possessions.  Maybe the tenant has been behind on rent for a month or two or maybe the landlord wants to increase the rent by getting new tenants. Either way, there are legal ways to remedy these problems. In some cases, the landlord takes it upon themselves and changes the locks to the apartment. This is a cause for concern and as such, the police can and should get involved.

In preventing the problem from escalating further, the tenant can explain to the police the landlord’s negligence in following state or city laws when he/she changed the locks.   This may warrant an arrest on the part of the landlord and the regaining of access to the apartment and/or the retrieval of possessions on the part of the tenant. The legal authority governing lockout is General Statutes §53a-214 and §47a-4.

Unlawful Entry by Your Landlord

Landlords can legally enter apartments, but entry typically requires notice and a legitimate reason to enter.  Some of the reasons for landlords to enter a rented apartment is for maintenance purposes or to inspect safety features such as smoke detectors. Typically, tenants must be made aware of when the landlord needs to enter the apartment and why.

If at some point a tenant returns home to find the landlord in their apartment unknowing to them, going through their personal belongings, then that’s a reason to call the police.  The legal authority governing unlawful entry by a landlord is General Statutes §53a-107 and §53a-108.

Your Landlord Shuts Off Utilities

When renting an apartment, things such as heat, water and electricity are extremely necessary.  The landlord then has a legal obligation to ensure that these amenities are available and in great working conditions.  During the winter if a landlord intentionally shuts off any of these utilities, then that is grounds to call the police.  This is termed “Shut offs” which are also called constructive evictions, meaning that the police will treat it the same way as if the landlord locked out the tenant.  The legal authority governing shut-offs or constructive evictions is: General Statutes §19a-109.

Once a person is paying rent for an apartment, he or she is entitled to certain rights and privileges.  Once the landlord attempts to deny either of these rights, it may very well be time to get the police involved.  

Of course, the reasons provided are not exhaustive and there are other reasons when the police should intervene in landlord-tenant disputes.  In addition, there are also other ways and means to resolve housing issues, such as mediation or filing a civil lawsuit.

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