Can My Landlord Increase the Rent Because God Told Him To?
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Can My Landlord Increase the Rent Because God Told Him To?

Rachel Bell
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Rachel, Caretaker’s Head of Creative Content and memer-in-residence answers your complex questions about the struggles of renting. To start off the series, this week, Rachel answers a question from...herself.

Caretaker,

I live in Brooklyn. After living in this apartment for a year, I renewed and signed another year-long lease in July. My landlord, who I’ll call Bruce, is an older man who seemed a little eccentric from the jump, but it's never been a problem - until now. Today, he taped a notice to my door. The notice said:

Attn: All Tenants

Effective October 1, 2019 rent will increase 10% on all units according to Numbers 18:21.

I was pretty caught off guard by this. My rent is cheap, and the apartment is in a great location, which was the main reason I chose it. I pay $1700 a month for a 1 bedroom. If it hadn’t been so cheap, I wouldn’t have chosen the place with the weird landlord. I called Bruce and politely asked him about it. He explained that he had recently “accepted Jesus into his heart” and that the Bible clearly states that, to be saved, you must offer ten percent of your income to the church.

I’m pretty sure this is a) not what God would want him to do, and b) not legal. He’s a very sweet and helpful landlord otherwise. Any advice on how to move forward here?

Please help me,

Rachel


Hi Rachel,

It's weird that you're asking yourself for advice, but I'm here to help you (me?), and maybe other people reading this will benefit from the information.

Anyways, Rachel, God has smiled upon you, because I was raised by a Christian preacher and I research landlord-tenant law for a living. Your hunch is correct - this is very much not legal.

First, let’s discuss when your landlord can increase your rent. State laws vary on the specifics, but in general, your landlord cannot increase the rent during an active lease term. You signed a 12-month lease in July, which means Bruce has to wait until the end of June next year, when the lease ends, to increase your rent. Unless Bruce has included some unusual clause in your lease that gives him permission to raise the rent whenever he wants, you’ll be paying $1700 a month until 2020. That’s laid out pretty clearly in the law. I feel like a broken record when I iterate this, but for the love of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, this is just another reason to read and understand your lease before you sign it. No one needs their landlord sneaking some weird terms into a seemingly standard lease.

We’ve established when it’s illegal to increase your rent - let’s talk about why. The Federal Fair Housing Act makes it illegal to discriminate in housing on the basis of a person’s race, familial status (presence, color, national origin, religion, disability (physical or mental), or sex. A court would not look kindly on Bruce using a religious justification to increase your rent. This is a classic example of misusing Christianity to do something really dumb and bad. Like the Crusades.

When the lease is up, even if Bruce changes his reasoning for wanting to increase the rent, a New York law enacted this summer states that a landlord has to give at least 30 days notice if they want to increase it by more than five percent. Many states have similar laws regarding how much rent can be increased.

As far as moving forward with Bruce, you can cite the law I referenced above to let him know he’s not allowed to increase your rent. I’d recommend doing it in writing, so you have a record of it if he pushes the matter and you have to take legal action. If he’s not moved by Federal fair housing laws, maybe you can hit him with some other citations that might resonate a bit more.

Matthew 23:23 says: “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former.”

If that doesn’t work, maybe 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 will do the trick: “Do not be deceived: neither the…thieves, nor the greedy, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.”

If you’d rather just dip and not deal with Bruce's law-breaking evangelism anymore, Caretaker Instant can get you out of your lease in 30 days. But you already know that, because you work here.

Blessings upon you,

Rachel @ Caretaker

My landlord Bruce is kind of a recurring character on the Caretaker Instagram, so head there to read more about him. Got a burning question about renting? Need help dealing with a weirdo roommate? Hit us in the DMs , or email [email protected] with the details of your situation.