Dealing with landlord/tenant disputes

Local News

Apartment demand is up by 11 percent in 2019 over last year. A majority of renters say it’s more affordable than buying a house right now. But along with more rental units come more landlord/tenant disputes.

Our KELOLAND News investigation, Risky Rental, is looking into land/lord tenant issues. We begin with important steps to take as a renter to avoid future issues.

Renting may seem like the perfect solution, until you run into an issue with the property:

“Unfortunately in South Dakota and in most states, the way housing court is set up is–it puts the tenant on the defensive,” Brent Thompson, Executive Director of East Legal Services, said.

Disputes over repairs are the second most common issues East River Legal Services sees in its office.

“We do see a lot of landlords trying to blame the tenant to get out of fixing the property,” Thompson said.

Notify landlord

If there is an issue with the property, inform your landlord in writing; that can be by mail, email or even text.

“I always tell clients, if you didn’t put it down in writing, you didn’t do it. You’re not writing that letter just to that landlord. You’re writing that letter to show the City, to show the judge, to show your attorney. It’s evidence,” Thompson said.

Document all problems

If the problems are serious, make sure they are all well-documented.

“Do you have pictures? Do you have doctor’s statements and testimony from people in the house getting sick?” Thompson said.

Get Landlord’s words in writing too

If the landlord promises to fix the problem, ask for what steps will be taken in writing and when.

“Getting your landlord to respond in writing is important. That’s a step we miss also. I wrote my landlord a letter. He called and told me on the phone, that I’m going to fix it on this date,” Thompson said.

It often comes down to who is at fault and who must pay.

“We do see landlords that really try to blame tenants for the issue. There were no bedbugs. You brought bedbugs in here. That’s the landlord’s burden to show that you created the damage,” Thompson said.

Call in your own experts

If there’s a dispute over who caused the damage, call in your own experts.

“Get an electrician in yourself. Get an expert in yourself. Call the exterminators yourself. Get an opinion for yourself. Bedbugs can travel through the wall. They can go short distances without a host. So that’s how they do spread between apartment and apartment,” Thompson said.

Have Renters Insurance

However, in the event that the landlord can show the tenant did the damage, renters insurance is a must.

“This is the most overlooked, cheapest thing that anyone can do that saves them potentially tens of thousands of dollars. We had a woman, two years ago; fall asleep with a bathtub on. (There was) $60,000 worth of damage to three apartments below her. She had to file bankruptcy. You can carry renters insurance for roughly $6-$10 a month. It would have saved her an immense bill,” Thompson said.

Coming up Thursday in our KELOLAND News investigation, we look into a landlord/tenant dispute in the college town of Vermillion. 

The roommates took some of the steps listed above, but still found themselves presented with a huge bill for damage they say they didn’t cause.

“I feel like we did not cause the problem, with the roof leaking. We had a guy come look at it and he told us the roof it shot and it needs repaired and the water is going to keep coming in if it’s not fixed,” Renter Ivy Haines said.

We take a deep dive into the case of this Risky Rental Thursday night at 10 p.m.

SD Consumer Protection/Office of Attorney General

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