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CostHelper > Personal Finance  > Real Estate > Landlord-Tenant Dispute

Landlord-Tenant Dispute Cost

How Much Does a Landlord-Tenant Dispute Cost?

low costLow: Assistance Like Legal Aid May Be Available for Free or Low-Costaverage costMedium: Small Claims Court Can Run $20-$320high costHigh: Attorneys Usually Charge $200-$500 Per Hour
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Typical landlord-tenant disagreements can be about rent payments, the need for necessary repairs, eviction or avoiding eviction, the return of a cleaning deposit after the tenant moves out, or other issues.

Typical costs:

  • For landlord-tenant disputes that can't be resolved informally, many areas provide free or low-cost mediation or arbitration services as an alternative to going to trial. Call your city manager's office or the housing agency and ask about local mediation or arbitration programs; many court systems will offer mediation as an option when you file a Small Claims Court case. If no free or low-cost program is available, the services of an arbitrator or mediator can cost anywhere from $80-$250 an hour; a typical session might last anywhere from 30 minutes to several hours. This cost is typically split by the parties involved in the dispute.
  • One of the most common landlord-tenant disputes is when a landlord keeps the security deposit and the former tenants want their money back. If the amount involved is less than $2,500-$15,000 (the maximum varies by state), you may be able to handle the case yourself in Small Claims Court, usually without lawyers. (In some states it may be called Landlord-Tenant Court or Magistrate's Court.) Filing fees and other costs can run $20-$320 or more. At, a tenant describes his successful[1] Small Claims Court experience.
  • For disputes involving more money or other issues (such as needed repairs), a private attorney will typically charge $200-$500 an hour for assisting with a landlord-tenant dispute. The exact cost of having an attorney handled your landlord-tenant dispute will depend on the complexity of the case and the amount of time involved. If your budget is tight and you're fairly confident in handling this on your own with a bit of legal coaching, you may be able to find an attorney to meet with you for an hour or so on an occasional basis, to provide a bit of guidance. If other tenants are having similar problems with the landlord, you might want to hire the same attorney for a class-action lawsuit, or consider forming a tenants association[2] .
  • If you need legal assistance and can't afford an attorney, often Legal Aid or other agencies can provide free or low-cost help. The American Bar Association lists legal resources[3] for each state. You can also contact your local consumer affairs or fair housing department for guidance.
Related articles: Eviction, Fighting Eviction, Real Estate Contract Review

What should be included:
  • The landlord-tenant relationship is governed by state laws, which vary. Cornell University Law School gives a brief overview of landlord-tenant law and Nolo Press provides a list of each state's landlord-tenant statutes. defines common terms and phrases[4] in landlord-tenant arrangements.
  • It's important to stay calm, try to keep communications open, and to document everything related to the dispute. If the dispute involves unhealthy or dangerous living conditions, contact your local housing or health department, or your state department of consumer affairs or attorney general.
  • Nolo Press provides charts of what a landlord can legally deduct from a security deposit and state deadlines for returning security deposits, as well as discussing when a tenant should hire a lawyer.
Additional costs:
  • Some attorneys offer a free initial consultation, but others may charge their usual hourly rate.
  • Check your lease for an "attorney's fee" clause allowing the winning party to recover legal fees from the losing party in a dispute.
Shopping for a landlord-tenant dispute:
  • Ask about the attorney's training and experience. explains how to find a tenant's lawyer[5] .
  • Referrals to a landlord-tenant attorney are available through[6] and[7] .
  • Your attorney should provide you with a written fee agreement; be sure you understand what is included and any additional costs (court fees, clerical work) you might have to pay.
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