5 Cases of Landlords Abusing Their Power

June 11th 2016

Almie Rose

Having a shady landlord can be more than just a hassle: It can severely affect your quality of life.

Sometimes it seems like landlords take the "lord" part of their title too seriously: They abuse their power over current or prospective tenants.

Not all of the landlords in this story asked their tenants to do something illegal, but they definitely crossed a line — some worse than others.

Landlord-tenant law varies from state to state, but if you believe your landlord is doing something illegal — or asking you to do something illegal — you should check the laws for your area and consult a lawyer.

Here are some outrageous things landlords have done.

1. Demanding that tenants friend them on Facebook with the threat of eviction.

"I really wish I could friend my apartment building on Facebook" is something no one has ever said. So it's unclear what Utah's City Park Apartments was thinking when it added a "Facebook addendum" to its leases, KSL-TV reported.

The new contract stipulated that tenants had five days to "friend" the apartment complex on Facebook. If they refused, they'd be considered in breach of their rental agreement. The Facebook addendum also applied to tenants who had previously signed leases.

But wait! There's more! The addendum also required tenants to allow the apartment to post photos of themselves and their guests on the building's Facebook page.

"The biggest issue that I have with it is that it seems to be discriminatory against elderly individuals and disabled individuals who are unable to utilize an online presence such as Facebook," Zachary Myers, an attorney who specializes in tenant rights, said in an interview with KSL. He pointed out that tenants who had already signed a lease were not legally required to sign the addendum.

After the story broke, City Park Apartments lawyers backed away from the addendum. "At no time was any resident in jeopardy of eviction or action from City Park for failure to sign the addendum or 'friend' City Park Apartments," a representative from the Law Offices of Kirk A. Cullimore told The Huffington Post. "City Park has not implemented the addendum, nor is it requiring its residents to execute it," the representative said, adding that the whole thing was basically a misunderstanding.

2. Spying on tenants with a hidden camera.

This is creepy. A landlord named Donald Torr set up multiple hidden cameras in bedrooms and even in showers in a family's East Hampton summer rental house in New York, according to The Huffington Post. The footage of the cameras streamed to Torr's computer, and he allegedly watched the entire family of nine get dressed, undressed, and shower. That included the family's children.

Torr was caught when a tenant noticed a camera lens while watching television in one of the bedrooms, according to the New York Post. That discovery led to many more cameras.

Torr was charged with "14 felony counts of unlawful surveillance and nine misdemeanor counts of endangering the welfare of a child," according to 27 east.

Torr claimed he did it for security reasons. "It was not at all about spying on people," Torr's lawyer, Bruce Barket, told NBC New York. "Torr was not watching individuals while they were in the house."

3. Refusing to rent to anyone who supported a political candidate he didn't like.

Colorado landlord Mark Holmes may not have broken a law, but that doesn't mean what he did was decent. Holmes placed an apartment ad that read, "2 bedrooms ... organic garden space, hot tub, [and a] great back yard. If voting for Donald Trump, do not call!" according to U.S. News & World Report.

Political discrimination isn't really a thing, as it's not covered by federal law the way discrimination by race or gender is. But it seems decidedly un-American to deny someone a home because they're planning on voting for someone you don't support, no matter who that candidate may be.

"I didn't want to live with somebody that is going to vote for Donald Trump; they're just not my kind of person," Holmes told Colorado's 9 News.

Which, ironically, sounds like a very Trump thing to say.

4. Insisting that current tenants make at least $100,000 and have at least a 725 FICO score.

San Francisco is a notoriously difficult city in which to find affordable rentals (or, really, any rental). But that doesn't mean what this landlord did is cool or even legal.

Robert Shelton sent a letter to tenants in his rent-controlled building setting forth a new "building policy," according to ABC News. The letter said:

"The building policy requirement of a current apartment applicant/resident is that they are able to establish that their minimum annual income is at least $100,000 — additionally required is a minimum FICO credit score of 725.

"We are not able to accept in our minimum income calculation any form of 'guarantor' or similar form of 'guarantee' offered on account of the apartment/resident applicant. [...] Of course, more is required to qualify an apartment/resident/applicant than income and credit score, but a minimum income and credit requirement is a basic starting point."

Delene Wolf, executive director of the San Francisco Rent Board, spoke with ABC News about why Shelton's action was illegal: "There are, she says,16 legal ways for a landlord to get a tenant out, but re-screening for income is not one of them."

Shelton appeared to be using scare tactics to force out existing tenants so that he could raise the rent for new ones who weren't protected by rent control.

Shelton eventually issued an apology letter after being told that what he was doing was illegal.

"For existing tenants, they cannot require existing tenants [to] provide income verification or evict a tenant for not meeting certain income thresholds or credit checks," said tenant's rights attorney Jackie Ravenscroft told ABC News.

5. Offering tenants temporary gym memberships instead of fixing their hot water.

Sure, it's nice to get a temporary gym membership, but not if it means you don't get hot water in your own apartment building for who knows how long. But that's what managing agent Royal Rock Realty offered to tenants who had gone without hot water for more than a month, according to DNA Info. The realty company told tenants to use showers at a gym rather than fix the hot water problem in the apartments. And Royal Rock didn't offer the memberships until three weeks in for the Chelsea neighborhood in New York City.

Con Edison had shut down the building's gas line after a fire in the building's restaurant. The realty company failed to return tenant calls and emails afterward, according to DNA Info.

The company defended its action. "Royal Rock worked as quickly as possible to complete the extensive repairs, but did not want to cut corners for the sake of speed at the sacrifice of the safety of its residents," Mark Benoit, a Royal Rock spokesman, told DNA Info. "We understand the residents’ frustration, but did everything within our power to restore full service."