How to File a Complaint Against an Apartment Complex or Landlord

Claudia Diaz - Landlord - November 10, 2022

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Moving to a new apartment can be thrilling. Moves offer us a chance at a fresh start in a new place. However, moving also comes with the risk that your new landlord or management company is less than helpful. If a dispute arises between you and your landlord or apartment complex you are able to file a complaint with the government and other organizations that support tenants. If you are still unable to solve your dispute after filing a complaint, you may want to consider suing in small claims court. In this article, we go over the different ways you can file a complaint against an apartment complex or landlord. 

Common Types of Complaints Against Apartment Complexes and Landlords  

Here are some common complaints people have against apartment complexes and landlords: 

  • The terms under your lease have been breached. 

  • Your landlord has breached your state’s implied warranty of habitability. Warranty of habitability means that regardless of any opposing lease term, your landlord is required to keep your unit in a habitable condition at all times (what is deemed “habitable” depend on the laws of your state). 

  • You are being harassed by the landlord or a member of the property management team. 

  • You experienced discrimination based on your race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, disability, familial status, etc.

  • Your landlord or apartment complex is refusing to make necessary repairs to the rental unit as per the lease terms. For example, your lease states the apartment complex will repair the AC if necessary. 

  • Your landlord refuses to return your security deposit after you move out. 

  • The apartment complex unfairly denies your rental application. 

Contact Your Apartment Complex or Landlord and Report a Complaint Directly

For some issues, consider speaking to the apartment complex manager or private landlord directly. For example, if you have never had issues with your rental apartment before but now have complaints over common spaces, voice those concerns directly via email or phone. If they ignore your informal requests, consider writing a formal letter, like a demand letter, as this way you can outline your requests in the letter and notify your landlord or the apartment complex that you will seek legal action if the issue is not resolved. 

Learn how to write a demand letter to a landlord.

File a Complaint With the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development 

You may be asking yourself, “where do I complain about a private landlord?” Consider filing a complaint about housing discrimination or landlords who receive assistance from the federal government to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (“HUD”).

HUD is a United States federal agency (HUD is also described as a cabinet department). HUD is responsible for national policies and programs that address America's housing needs, HUD also enforces fair housing laws, along with much more. For example, HUD runs the Multifamily Housing Complaint Line which enables tenants of HUD-insured and -assisted properties to report complaints such as poor maintenance, dangers to health and safety, mismanagement, and fraud.

Below are instructions for how to report a bad landlord to HUD:

  • To report a bad landlord to the Multifamily Housing Complaint Line call toll-free at (800) MULTI-70 (800) 685-8470) / TTY (800) 432-2209.

  • Complaints of housing discrimination are handled by theOffice of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity (an office under HUD) at 1-800-669-9777.

File a Complaint With the Appropriate State or City Agency 

You may be able to file a complaint against a landlord or apartment complex with a local government department in the city in which the property is located. For example, some large cities have a housing department where you can file a complaint about discriminatory housing applications, poor management, health and safety concerns, etc. 

Below we have included information on how to report a landlord or apartment complex to a local housing authority, state or city agency, or various rental boards in California and New York.

How to File a Complaint Against a Landlord or Apartment Complex in California 

California tenants, and residents of most states, are protected under their state’s landlord/tenant laws. If you believe your rights are being violated by a landlord or property management company you may report these complaints to different state agencies. 

For example, the California Civil Rights Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) is responsible for enforcing California’s fair housing laws which apply to landlords, property management companies, real estate agents, builders, mortgage lenders, etc. Use the link here to review the California Fair Employment and Housing Act. The DFEH also allows tenants to file a complaint if they have suffered housing discrimination, harassment, or retaliation

To file a complaint with the DFEH, gather all the necessary information about the incident you intend to report. For example, the address of the apartment complex, your contact information, your landlord’s contact information, etc. 

There are 3 ways to submit your complaint to DFEH: 

  • Online. File a Housing Intake Form against a landlord online by creating an account and using the interactive Cal Civil Rights System, CCRS.

  • By Mail. You may also file a Housing Intake Form by printing out and mailing the form to 2218 Kausen Drive, Suite 100 Elk Grove, CA 95758. You may also email the form to contact.center@dfeh.ca.gov

  • By Phone. Submit a complaint by calling the Communication Center at 800-884-1684 (voice), 800-700-2320 (TTY), or California’s Relay Service at 711.

Below are some specific county and city agencies in California that handle housing complaints: 

How to File a Complaint Against a Landlord or Apartment Complex in New York 

If you are a tenant in New York, there are a number of state and city agencies that may be able to handle your complaints against a landlord or apartment complex. Below we have included several of these agencies and how to file a complaint with each one:

  • New York City Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) handles NYC tenant complaints for housing issues related to safety, harassment, and so on. Use the link here to report a complaint depending on your specific issue.

  • The New York State Department of Home and Community Renewal (DHCR) allows tenants to file several types of complaints depending on their situation. For example, if your landlord demands that you pay more than one month's security, and you live in a rent-regulated apartment, you can file a "Tenant's Complaint of Rent Overcharges and/or Excess Security Deposit.” For that form and other tenant complaint forms use the link here

  • The Erie County Department of Health (ECDOH) provides tenants with an Online Service Request and Complaint Form: Housing where they can report a landlord or apartment complex for health hazards like mold, lead, etc. The ECDOH also allows you to file a complaint by phone at (716) 961-6800. Check with your local county or city health department to see if they handle complaints against landlords or apartment complexes.

  • NYC Health handles certain types of complaints against landlords. For example, to report a large amount of mold in an apartment a tenant can submit a complaint form online or call 311. Go to Health Topics on the NYC Health website to find out how to report your landlord for a specific type of health concern. Check with your local county or city health department to see if they handle complaints against landlords or apartment complexes.

  • The New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA), was created to provide decent, and affordable housing for low- and moderate-income New Yorkers. If you are a NYCHA resident and have a concern about the conditions at NYCHA locations (like mold or other unsafe living conditions), you can report your concerns using the link here

  • The New York State Attorney General serves as both the “People's Lawyer” and New York’s chief legal officer. The Attorney General serves all New Yorkers in numerous matters affecting their daily lives, including certain landlord/tenant issues. For example, the office of the Attorney General handles complaints regarding security deposits or rental application fees. Use the link here to file a complaint with the New York Attorney General. 

If you are facing housing discrimination by a landlord or apartment complex in New York state or NYC consider filing a complaint with the NYC Human Rights Commission or the New York State Division of Human Rights. Below are instructions on how to file a complaint with both organizations:

  • If you are an NYC tenant and want to report discrimination, call 311 or (212) 416-0197 and ask for the NYC Commission on Human Rights or send an inquiry here. If your situation is covered by the NYC Human Rights Law, an intake appointment will be scheduled, either in person or on the phone. Review the flowchart here to see how the complaint process works.

  • To report discrimination outside of NYC, use this form. The New York State Division of Human Rights allows you to file a complaint against a landlord, management company, or property seller. 

File a Complaint With the Better Business Bureau (BBB)

The BBB is a non-profit that serves as an intermediary between apartment complexes/ large landlords and consumers. You will not find an individual landlord on the BBB. The larger the apartment complex or landlord you rented from, the more likely they are to be found on the BBB. 

Reasons why a large landlord would respond to a BBB complaint: 

  • If the is accredited with the BBB and they don't respond to a BBB complaint, its accreditation may be revoked and the complaint becomes part of its BBB profile.

  • know that a BBB rating can be an important determining factor when a prospective renter is making a decision to rent with that landlord. 

Learn how to file a complaint with the Better Business Bureau (BBB).

Consider Suing in Small Claims Court 

Have you filed a complaint with one of the above organizations or state/city agencies and still have not been able to resolve your landlord/tenant issue? It may be time to consider suing your landlord or apartment complex in small claims court. Small claims courts handle a variety of issues related to landlord/ tenant disputes. 

Here are some of the most common small claims lawsuits against landlords and apartment complexes:

  • Failure to return security deposits.

  • Failure to make necessary repairs to the rental unit.

  • Breach of lease terms.

  • Apartment complex towed your car when they should not have. 

  • Landlord damaged your property.

  • Landlord kept a portion of your security deposit.

  • Landlord or property management team harassed you.

You may file a small claims lawsuit in your local small claims court as long as there is not a better court to handle your case. For example, your state may have a Housing Court that handles things like evictions. To make sure you are filing your lawsuit in the right court call your local small claims court clerk or consider consulting with a landlord/tenant attorney.  

Learn how to file a small claims lawsuit against a landlord. 

Author

Claudia Diaz

Legal Educator @ People Clerk. Claudia is a lawyer and certified mediator in New York and Florida. She has participated in dozens of small claims mediations in New York City courts

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