Tenant Rights: What Happens When You Violate Landlord Rules

It can happen to anyone: You miss the fine print in your lease that reminds you that your rental does not allow you to buff your own floors, keep live chickens or sublet to strangers on Craigslist. But what you can't always anticipate is what happens if you commit one or all of those crimes and get caught in the act.

According to Jason Fuhrman, a landlord tenant attorney in New York City, there is a difference between a behavior that is a nuisance and a breach of lease. "Generally, nuisances are incurable, where breaches of the lease are [curable]," he explains. He emphasizes that "a nuisance involves repeated behavior."

In other words, one mistake with a live chicken will not necessary get you evicted. Two or more? That might get you into some trouble.

Here are a few punishments you might incur if you find yourself, for example, living with a ferret in a pet-free residence, and what you can do to avoid them before you do:
1. Keeping Pets in a Pet-Free Residence

"The landlord can have you remove the pet, or have you removed from the apartment [voluntarily or involuntarily]," warns Fuhrman. However, counters Gabe Leibowitz of Aboveground Realty, "It's more likely the owners will give the tenant a chance to get rid of the pet."

Your landlord only has ninety days to act once he or she knows about Little Fluffy. So, if you want to engage in a game of chicken, things might come out in your favor. Otherwise, you better start looking for a foster pet-parent until you can find an apartment better suited to you and your animal-loving ways.

2. Repeated Destruction to Property

The question here is, are you repeating a behavior that leads to the damage? Like, does your amateur photography studio continually flood your bathroom? "A repeated pattern of behavior, that could or does adversely impact the building, apartment or other tenants," warns Fuhrman, "could lead to eviction."

On the other hand, if the damage cannot be easily traced to you it will be far more difficult to take action against you (after all, no one can prove that enlarger and photo chemicals are used as more than book ends) .

But, says Leibowitz, "If it can be proven that you broke it, then you could be held responsible for fixing it."

3. You Get Arrested

"Unless the arrest involves the use of the premises for illegal trade or business, then you cannot be evicted solely based upon an arrest," says Fuhrman, comfortingly. So, if you are terrifying your neighbors by selling drugs to scary looking meth addicts, yes, you can get into major landlord trouble.

However, if you get picked up for too many parking tickets, it's nobody's business but your own (and your city officials'). Leibowitz concurs, "If you got arrested for jaywalking, I don't think your andlord would ever know."

4. You Partied Like it Was 1999

You have known since your junior year of high school that if you party loudly, they will come. And by "they" we mean, of course, the police. Even if you are a home owner, disturbing your neighbors is a big no-no. However, throwing one giant rager isn't likely to get you kicked out, although it might get your windows egged or your car keyed by your sleep-deprived neighbors.

"Theoretically, if you disturb the neighbors it is a breach of lease - but this is curable by not doing it again," says Fuhrman.

If you do it over and over, on the other hand, you will eventually get upgraded from "breach of lease" to "nuisance," and that's when you might need to start looking into getting yourself a new address.

5. You Forget to Recycle

It is not just mother nature that will have your number if you don't properly dispose of your recyclables, but your landlord, especially if you live in a city that fines for it.

It is possible that your landlord could ask you to pay the fines he or she incurs from the city. However, more than likely, they will want to work with you on improving your recycling skills, since this is a problem that can be remedied. It will be very hard to get you evicted, but if you make a habit of forgetting to toss your paper mail in with the paper recyclables – and your name is on it – you will find your landlord suddenly "forgetting" to call you back about your lack of hot water, or taking very very personally the one time you turn in your rent a few days late.

Although as Leibowitz points out, in many rental markets, it can be "hard to evict a tenant," why would you want to put your landlords in a position where they'd want to?

So, if you aren't supposed to get a pet iguana, don't do it. And if you are in a position where you really want to help out a friend with their pet iguana for a few weeks, get permission first in writing. After all, no one likes to be lied to. So start by telling the truth and see where that gets you.

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