Landlord tips & tricks
July 29, 2022

Can A Landlord Be Sued for Emotional Distress?

Steadily's blog cover page for information around landlord insurance.

Tenant and landlord lawsuits are not a new concept in civil law. Yet, they have been a hot topic over the last few years because of the ongoing pandemic and related job losses. It's true that there is recent legislation around rentals and landlord-tenant relationships. Yet, winning emotional distress lawsuits is challenging. Some may say almost impossible in most cases. Many states have laws that recognize the intentional infliction of emotional distress. Even so, the claims are uncommon, and most judges have little interest in hearing them. The court will often dismiss the cause without hearing arguments. 

Can Tenants Sue Landlords for Emotional Distress?

In short - yes. Every resident of the United States has the right to file a civil lawsuit against another they believe caused them harm. Still, the right to file a suit does not mean the court will agree and award damages. The tenant may have options if a landlord's deliberate or negligent actions cause severe emotional injuries. In that case, they could sue the landlord for emotional distress. They could file on the grounds of intentional infliction of emotional distress. Thus, the court could award damages if verifiable proof backs the claims. 

The preponderance of evidence will rest on the tenant, and complex cases are rarely successful. The courts will often dismiss the claim because of a lack of evidence. That said, landlords can take steps to protect themselves. Learning about and following laws could mean avoiding legal troubles and adverse consequences. 

Variations to State for Landlord Emotional Distress Lawsuits

While many landlord and tenant laws vary depending on the state, a majority of those protections are for unlawful actions. The civil statutes in most of the country are similar for emotional distress in landlord-tenant cases. Most state laws require the claimant to prove that the defendant's actions were outrageous and intolerable.

Civil statutes will vary from one state to the next. Yet, emotional distress claims must contain specific components countrywide. The action must show that the landlord's actions were reckless, intentional, or explicit. It must also establish gross negligence and a loose relationship between the landlord's actions and the damages. Last, the claim must prove that the tenant sustained verifiable injuries and damages. 

Related Reading: The Ultimate Guide to Landlord Liability Insurance

The Elements Necessary to Satisfy an Outrageous and Intolerable Cause of Action

The civil action must show that the defendant was outrageous and intolerable to meet the bar of legal liability. The tenant will meet the burden of proof obligation by showing:

  • The landlord's activities went beyond the possible bounds of decency
  • Any "reasonable" person would regard the defendant's actions as atrocious, and
  • The behavior was utterly intolerable in a civilized community

The landlord's conduct must violate the "generally accepted standards of decency and morality." The judge will consider the tenant-landlord relationship at length. They will also decide if there was an abuse of authority. Other areas of interest include the tenant's vulnerability and if the conduct was ongoing.  

Tenant-Landlord Civil Lawsuits in General 

Rental agreements and leases are legally binding contracts between the landlord and the tenant. The executed agreement will protect the landlord's rights in most cases. Yet, the tenant could have grounds to sue in some situations. The court could rule in favor of the plaintiff if the evidence shows the landlord caused injuries through:

  • Wanton disregard 
  • Overbearing behavior, or
  • Unlawful and reckless actions

The civil court almost always rules in favor of the landlord when they take care to follow state regulations and the legal procedure. Landlords and property managers must be cautious and follow state laws during evictions. To avoid lawsuits, they must follow eviction laws and policies correctly. Other actions that landlords must avoid to stay out of legal trouble include: 

  • Harassment or privacy violations 
  • Retaliatory evictions 
  • Failure to follow local eviction laws and procedures 

Property managers and landlords can avoid financial issues and lawsuits by complying with regulations and knowing their rights and responsibilities. 

Related Reading: 10 Things a Landlord Can't Do

Landlords Protect Themselves Against Lawsuits by Avoiding Wrongful Actions 

When a tenant violates the lease agreement, the landlord must follow the proper procedure of the eviction process. By ensuring they comply with state statutes, they can avoid the potential of civil lawsuits. Other activities to avoid include: 

  • Preventing a breach of state quiet enjoyment laws
  • Renting an uninhabitable residence
  • Failing to keep the property reasonably safe and habitable

A legal professional could review the case and all the options to build a solid case. Some of the most common defenses include: 

The Statute of Limitations

States have civil regulations in place that limit the amount of time a tenant has to sue a landlord. If the claimant fails to meet the deadline, the defendant can ask the court to dismiss the action.

The Lack of Evidence to Show Damages

If the evidence does not meet the burden of proof, the defendant can ask for immediate dismissal. 

No Defense Duty for Allegations

When there are false allegations and a lack of proof, the landlord can ask the court to dismiss the case on the grounds of no defense duty for allegations. 

Simply put, the burden of proof lies on the shoulders of the tenant in all legal actions involving landlords and tenants. The claimant must meet the law's requirements, and the defendant has the legal right to defend themselves. In most cases, unless there is clear and variable wrongdoing, the court will rule in favor of the landlord. 

The thought of facing legal trouble is unpleasant and often stressful. Yet, the tenant faces complex challenges to prove they suffered emotional distress. Landlords can protect themselves from lawsuits by following lease agreements, legislation, and procedures. While tenants could sue for emotional distress, the cases are seldom successful. The judge often throws them out without reviewing or hearing the issue altogether. Every homeowner with rental properties must also carry a standard landlord's insurance policy. The policy will protect the home against property damage. A standard policy also provides liability coverage to protect against suits and litigation. 

As with all legal matters, you should advise a lawyer or legal counsel to advise on the specifics of your case prior to making any decisions in regards to your circumstances.

Table of Contents

Can Tenants Sue Landlords for Emotional Distress?

The Elements Necessary to Satisfy an Outrageous and Intolerable Cause of Action

Tenant-Landlord Civil Lawsuits in General 

Landlords Protect Themselves Against Lawsuits by Avoiding Wrongful Actions 

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