Can an Illegal Immigrant Sue a Landlord?
Landlord-tenant law can become complex when a tenant is an illegal immigrant due to disparities between federal and state laws. Federal law does not make a distinction between citizens, legal immigrants, and illegal immigrants so renting to an illegal immigrant or foreign national is the same as renting to a citizen according to federal law with all provisions of the Fair Housing Act applied. State and local laws, however, can introduce other complications.
California laws generally side with treating all tenants as equal with equal protection under the law. If you are an illegal immigrant, you do have the right to use the court system if your rights are violated, including by unsafe housing conditions, discrimination, and illegal eviction.
All Tenants Have the Right to Safe, Habitable Conditions
All California tenants are entitled to a safe and habitable rental property, regardless of immigration status, how much rent is paid, and whether the landlord tries to get the tenant to accept inferior living conditions.
Your legal right to safe, livable housing is promised by the landlord’s “implied warranty of habitability” which means every landlord agrees to provide a livable place simply by renting it out. This implied warranty of habitability means the property owner or landlord should:
- Keep all basic structural elements safe and intact, including the walls, roofs, floors, and stairs
- Maintain all common areas like hallways in a safe, clean manner
- Keep heating, plumbing, electrical, ventilation, and air conditioning systems and elevators operating properly
- Provide trash receptacles and arrange for pick-up
- Supply hot and cold water and heat
- Manage known toxins like lead paint and asbestos so they do not pose a danger
- Provide property that is reasonably safe from foreseeable criminal intrusion
- Exterminate infestations
A landlord cannot get rid of these responsibilities by having you waive your right to them or signing a disclaimer.
If your landlord refuses to address repairs and maintenance issues that pose a hazard, you have the right to:
- Withhold rent
- Pay for repairs and deduct the cost from your rent
- Move out without giving the required notice
- File a complaint with local or state health or building inspectors
- Sue the landlord for the difference between the rent and the value of the unit with defects
To pursue a legal action, the problem must be serious and be a threat to your health and safety, you must inform the landlord of the problem and give the landlord at least 30 days to fix it (unless circumstances warrant faster attention like a broken front door), and you must not have caused the problem through neglect, carelessness, or deliberate actions.
As a tenant in California, you have these rights, including the right to sue, regardless of immigration status.
Landlords Cannot Ask Tenants’ Immigration Status
California became the first state in the country to prohibit landlords from asking tenants’ immigration status in a law signed by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.
In most states, landlords are allowed to ask applicants for proof of identity and eligibility to work in the United States under immigration law. Even though it’s illegal to discriminate against a tenant based on their national origin, this can create a conflict. California law makes it clear to landlords: do not ask about a tenant’s immigration status. California prohibits landlords from asking questions about a prospective tenant’s status in the country or authorization to work.
Immigration Status is Not Relevant in Eviction Cases
A tenant’s immigration status is in no way relevant in unlawful detainer (eviction) proceedings in California and judges will refuse to even hear evidence about a tenant’s immigration status.
Landlords in California must follow very strict rules and procedures to evict a tenant, regardless of immigration status. It is illegal for a landlord to attempt to evict a tenant themselves by, for example, turning off electricity or heat, removing the tenant’s belongings, or changing the locks.
A landlord who illegally evicts a tenant is liable to pay the tenant certain damages. All tenants who have faced illegal eviction have the right to sue their landlord in small claims court and recover:
- Actual out-of-pocket losses
- Punitive damages of up to $100 per day
- Court costs
- Attorney fees
Contact a Los Angeles Landlord Tenant Attorney
While there are no federal or California laws limiting the rights of undocumented immigrants to rent private housing, many illegal immigrants are preyed upon because of their vulnerability, especially in terms of substandard housing, failure to make repairs, retaliation for complaints, and illegal eviction. If you are an undocumented immigrant who has been taken advantage of or had your rights violated, a landlord tenant attorney can help. Contact Soliman Law Group today for a free consultation with an experienced Los Angeles landlord tenant lawyer to discuss your case.