In this article, Utkarsh Sharma of RGNUL discusses the legal steps to take if your landlord is harassing you.
It is estimated that about 42% of the urban population of the world lives as a tenant. This also holds true in India as due to exorbitant rates of properties in the metro cities, and many people are in the form of migrant workers. Living as a tenant can be a comfortable deal but sometimes there are cases where one can face rental issues and other related problems like getting an unwarranted eviction notice, or the unruly behaviour of the landlord. So, let us understand various safeguards regarding the harassment by the landlord.
Legal Steps to be taken in different cases of Harassment
Lodge a Police Complaint
If you are harassed by your landlord, the first thing that needs to be done is to lodge a complaint with the Police. You can lodge the complaint by following the below mentioned steps:
- The tenant should go to the police station having jurisdiction over the area where the offence is committed.
- Report to officer-in-charge/ station house officer and tell the officer to register the complaint.
- Also mention the names of the witnesses, if there were any witnesses present.
- In case the information is given on the telephone, you should subsequently go to the police station for registration of F.I.R.
- After filing the FIR, you should not forget to take the copy of the FIR for further procedures.
Harassment Through Trespass
In a tenancy agreement, the tenant is in possession of the flat, while the landlord is the owner of the flat. Under the law of tort, if the landlord were to interfere with the possessory rights of the tenant, the latter would have a claim in trespass, despite the landlord being the owner of the flat.
Section 441 of Indian Penal Code, 1860 which defines ‘criminal trespass’ as ‘Whoever enters into or upon property in possession of another with intent to commit an offence or to intimidate, insult or annoy any person in possession of such property, or having lawfully entered and unlawfully remains there.’
If the landowner trespasses, then the tenant must go ahead and lodge a police complaint under Section 441 of the Indian Penal Code. The tenant can also plead for interim relief from the court restraining the trespasser from causing any further damage. Interim or temporary relief can be granted at any period of a suit. It is also impertinent for you to know the particulars of the trespasser and make note of the instances of trespass. Details like the date, time, the number of times the person trespassed along with a photograph or video would add to your benefit.
Harassment Through Nuisance
Section 268 of the Indian Penal Code defines nuisance when the person is guilty of a public nuisance when he does any act which causes injury, danger or annoyance to the public or the people in general who live or occupy the property in the neighbourhood. If this type of harassment is faced by the tenant from the landlord then the tenant can file an application under Section 268 of IPC in the court of magistrate. It can include the acts of landlord like substantial interference with enjoyment of land, this may present as foul odours, noxious gases, smoke, dust, loud noises, and excessive light or high temperatures.
The tenant can make a complaint under Section 133 of CRPC which talks about the conditional order by the District Magistrate or a Sub-divisional Magistrate or any other Executive Magistrate specially empowered in this of behalf by the State Government for the removal of the nuisance.
There have been a number of cases registered with the police in which the landlords committed sexual harassment of various nature such as- passing lewd comments, staring, intimidation, trespass for causing sexual harassment, even insertion of cameras for the recording of activities. If this type of harassment is faced by the tenant from the landlord, the tenant can file a complaint with the local police. It is important to collect and preserve evidence and then giving the same to the police.
Harassment Through Mischief
Section 425 of IPC states that whoever with intent to cause, or knowing that he is likely to cause, wrongful loss or damage to the public or to any person, causes the destruction of any property, or any such change in any property or in the situation thereof as destroys or diminishes its value or utility, or affects it injuriously, commits mischief. You can file suit for declaration and mandatory injunction in a civil court as well. You can also claim damages in the same suit.
Landlord Filing Case For Eviction on False Grounds
In several cases, it is seen that the landlord files a notice of eviction on false grounds. For example, the landlord may evade the receipt of rent for a month and then use the same fact of willfully failing to pay rent as a ground to evict the tenant. However, in such cases also, the Rent Control Act can provide a remedy to the tenant.
Legal consequences of evicting a Tenant using unlawful force
Illegally evicting a tenant by the landlord is considered as a case of harassment by the landlord. And in this case, the tenant can sue the landlord and from the latest rulings of the court, it is observed that the court has taken a strict stand against this practice. The tenant is entitled to actual money damage which results from the illegal eviction. This may include compensation for temporary housing, for the food that spoiled when the electricity was cut-off, or for property that disappeared when the tenant was locked out by the landlord. Some states may allow a tenant to recover monetary penalties, such as two or three months rent or two to three times the actual damages. A tenant may also be able to remain on the premises, receive free occupancy, or vacate the premises and collect their security deposit from the landlord.
What is meant by lawful eviction – The appropriate way of asking the tenant to leave
In order to know the rights as a tenant, one needs to understand the proper procedure which is needed to be followed, which amounts to a lawful eviction. Below are the general steps which are to be followed and may vary in each state:
Step 1 – The landlord needs to serve the tenant with the termination notice. The termination of tenancy can be for a reason or without a reason. In the case of termination for a cause or reason, three type of termination notices are available:
- Pay Rent or Quit- The tenant needs to pay rent within a set time (usually three to five days) or he has to vacate the premises.
- Cure or Quit: The tenant needs to correct the violation of the lease or rental agreement within a certain time.
- Unconditional Quit: The tenant need to vacate the premises without the opportunity to cure the violation or pay the rent.
In case of termination without the cause, the landlord needs to serve the tenant with a 30-day or a 60-day notice to vacate the property.
Step 2 – The landlord needs to file a complaint with the court. The complaint must contain the justification of the eviction and may also contain a request for back rent and damages.
Step 3 – Within the time specified, the tenant needs to respond the complaint. The tenant can also use the answer to deny the allegations or submit a defence. A tenant may also assert that the eviction is retaliation or that the missing rent was used to make necessary repairs that the landlord was supposed to make.
Step 4 – The enforcement official then receives the judgment and will notify the tenant of the eviction and the number of days the tenant has to move. If within the specified time, the tenant fails to vacate the premises, the law enforcement official may physically remove the tenant.
Steps to be followed by the tenant in case of Eviction by the landlord on False Grounds
The tenant should approach the Rent Controller giving his/her reasons. Once the tenant is summoned by the Court, he/she will be required to put forth his/her case with adequate evidence for support. The following points can be used for the accumulation of evidence:
- Notice to Receive Rent: If the landlord fails to receive the rent deposited by the tenant, he/she should issue a notice asking the landlord to specify the bank details for depositing the rent. The notice should clearly mention the non-receipt of the rent on the part of the landlord and the option that one is exercising as a tenant. If the bank details are received within ten days, the tenant should deposit the rent as soon as possible.
- Money Order: If the landlord fails to reply to the above notice, the tenant must send the rent to the landlord through Money Order. The Money Order coupons should be kept safely as proof.
- Petition in Court: If the landlord refuses to accept the Money Order also then the tenant should file a petition before the appropriate court and get the court order to deposit future rents in the court.
Can a tenant claim rent reduction in case of deterioration of services?
Under the law and also decided in various judgments, it is unlawful for a landlord to disconnect essential services such as water and electricity or to restrict a tenant from using common amenities for the recovery of rental dues or for any other reasons. If a landlord is found to indulges in such activities, the tenant may approach the Rent Control Court to restore essential services and can take action against the landlord. It is recommended that the tenant should not stop paying the rent to the landlord for any reason.
Not Returning the Security Deposit
In order to safeguard your interest, make sure that your landlord gives you a receipt for the deposit. If you have not violated any clause of the rent agreement the landlord is legally obligated to return the security deposit in accordance with the agreement. In case of refusal by the landlord, you can give a legal notice for returning of advance money and if he refuses then file an application before rent controller.
Steps to be followed by a harassed tenant to protect themselves
- The tenant should always keep a log of every encounter with the landlord. One should make sure to take note of the time, date, and what was said.
- Write a letter to your landlord asking for the harassment to stop. Send the letter with proof of mailing and keep a copy of the letter.
- Always keep the copies of the rental agreements, letters, notices, photos, names of witnesses, and any other evidence which can be used to support your claim.
- Call the police if one feels like he/she is in danger or the safety is threatened.
Rights of a Tenant under the Indian Laws
- Right to a house that is fit to be lived in: Unsafe conditions, such as plaster coming down from the ceiling, holes in the floor, bad wiring, and the like are considered unfit. It is the landlord’s responsibility to see that the house meets the minimum standards of accommodation.
- Right to be fully informed: As per the law, a tenant should be fully informed of all the contents, terms and conditions of the contract and only upon the consent of the tenant the agreement must be signed which then becomes a valid document.
- To have appropriate contact information: The tenant is entitled to have appropriate contact information like telephone number, email address, postal address, etc. and the landlord should be available to be contacted.
- Right to Privacy: The landlord cannot walk into the house without prior permission or information unless there is a true emergency like a fire or a flood in the bathroom.
- Right to have Essential Services: It is unlawful to disconnect essential services such as electricity and water or restrict a tenant from using common amenities by the landlord, for the recovery of rental dues or for other reasons.
- Entitled to Reimbursement: The tenant is entitled to reimbursement for any repair work which he/she had carried out which were the landlord’s responsibility.
- Entitled to have visitors to stay overnight or for short periods: The tenant is entitled to have visitors to stay overnight or for short periods unless these are specifically forbidden in the tenancy agreement.
- Right to be informed prior to the termination of the tenancy: The tenant is entitled to a certain amount of prior notice of the termination of tenancy.
- To get the advance deposit returned: The landlord must return the deposit to the tenant at the end of the lease term with interest set by a statute.
- Rights of Legal heirs of the tenant: Legal Heirs are also tenants and are entitled to receive all the protection available to the tenant under the Rent Control Act of various states.
- Right to claim rent reduction in case of deterioration of services: In the case of deterioration of services due to any reason as the reduction in accommodation space or poor maintenance will result in lowering of standard rent and the tenant can apply to the Rent Collector for re-fixation of the rent.
The harassment of tenants by the landlords had always remained to be of great concern. The landlords misuse their powers and harass the tenants in different ways. But, the law has given specific protection to the tenants. Almost all the states of the country have provisions and have given similar rights to the tenants against various kinds of harassments by the landlord. With knowledge of these rights, a tenant can enjoy a perfect living at the house. It is worthwhile if some of the important rights of both landlord and the tenant are highlighted in the contract. A simple step like that can save from many complaints, lawsuits and harassment.
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