Realty Bites

Sabotaging a landlord during a showing: could you get sued?

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We often receive emails from readers asking for help in navigating their own real estate crises. In Realty Bites, we try to get them answers.

The problem:

A reader recently commented on a story, with the following, shall we say, unique, query:

"I always wondered if the landlord could legally do anything if you made a terrible impression on the prospective tenant by doing one or more of these things:

1. Sitting there bare-ass naked and/or have loud porn playing on TV.

2. Be ready with a list of all the bad experiences you had with the landlord (only true ones so he can't get away with claiming slander).

3. Be insulting to prospective tenants (i.e. racial slurs, etc.)

4. Have the premises be disgustingly dirty, as long as it's cleaned up later and you take a video or photos proving it when you check out.

None of these things physically stop the landlord from showing it but they will offend the prospective tenant. I know the land lord could try to sue but I just wonder if he could really win since you have the right to do all of the above in your own home whether it's being shown or not."

The Solution: 

As with so many social situations, probably best to keep the pants on, the apartment clean, and the racial slurs to a minimum. 

"A lease is a contract like anything else," explains Sam Himmelstein, a lawyer who represents residential and commercial tenants and tenant associations. "If your lease says that you have to give the landlord access for showings, provided they're giving you reasonable notice ahead of time, you're obligated to provide it."

And while the activities suggested by our commenter are technically legal, Himmelstein says that this kind of interference would constitute a certain type of "tort," an action that would be legally recognized as "intentional interference with business opportunity."
 
"In other words," says Himmelstein, "if one person goes out of their way to harm the ability of another person to conduct business, enter into a contract, and make money--and their intent is purely to harm the other person--they can be held responsible for damages. For instance, nudity and insults would be seen clearly as over-the-top harassment and interference with the landlord's ability to rent." Making a scene in this way would leave the landlord well within their rights to sue.
 
Leaving the apartment filthy is more of a gray area, but again, if the intent is purely to harm the landlord's business opportunities, you could be sued.

The one potentially workable thing on this list? The airing of past grievances to the potential renter. "Your free speech has to be taken into account, so if the current tenant is simply disseminating truth[ful] information to prospective renters--i.e. 'I went 30 days without heat last winter'--you'd be in the clear. It all has to do with intent and truthfulness." 

Still, better to err on the side of caution (and politely handled disputes). "On a practical level," says Himmelstein, "what's the point of exposing yourself to this kind of liability? If it were my client, I'd tell them to pick their battles."

Related:

Rent coach: do I have to let my landlord show my apartment?

Landlords can come in, but you deserve notice

Can my landlord make repairs when I'm not home?

Renew your lease like a pro with these handy tips

The dreaded tenant blacklist: what you need to know

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