Just Cause Eviction Law

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 What Is an Eviction?

An eviction is a legal process in which a court orders the removal of a tenant from an apartment or home that is rented based on a request from the landlord. The landlord is required to have a justified and specific reason why a tenant should be evicted.

There are numerous different reasons why a landlord may desire to evict a tenant from a rental property, including:

  • If the tenant has stopped paying rent for a certain amount of time;
  • When the tenant or their guests have caused substantial damage to the rental property;
  • If a tenant breached the terms of their rental agreement or lease or rental agreement, for example, by keeping a pet although there is a no pet condition in their lease or smoking in a non-smoking residence; and
  • When a tenant does not move out after their lease has ended and is considered a squatter.

Although the majority of evictions occur between tenants and landlords who are associated with residential property sites, such as homes or apartment buildings, the process may also be used to remove a tenant from a rented commercial building, such as a business office.

It is important to keep in mind that the eviction process typically involves numerous steps that have strict legal requirements for both tenants and landlords. These requirements are outlined by the specific laws in each state.

Because of this, the laws will vary depending on the jurisdiction where the eviction occurs. Additionally, although the laws traditionally supported landlords in evictions, it is becoming more of a trend for courts to side with a tenant.
A tenant may have several defenses they can use against a landlord’s eviction notice that may prove that the eviction is unfair or that the landlord did not actually have a reason to evict them.

Because evictions may affect both tenants and landlords, as tenants may lose their home and landlords may lose thousands of dollars, it is in both of their interests to consult with a real estate lawyer for assistance with eviction issues.

What Is a Just Cause Eviction?

A just cause eviction statute is a law that protects a tenant from being evicted for an improper reason. States and cities that have just cause eviction statutes allow owners or landlords to evict tenants only for certain specific reasons, such as the failure to pay rent or for a violation of the lease terms.

This is different from a wrongful eviction, where a landlord wrongfully evicts a tenant and makes them move out without using the formal, legal eviction process. Examples of wrongful evictions include:

  • Telling the tenant to move out;
  • Changing the locks on the tenant’s home; or
  • Shutting off the tenant’s utilities or electricity.

Do All States or Cities Require Just Cause Evictions?

There are only a few states, for example, New Hampshire and New Jersey, that have just cause eviction statutes. There are also numerous cities that have just cause eviction statutes, including:

  • Chicago;
  • New York City;
  • San Francisco; and
  • Seattle.

The majority of rent controlled cities also require just cause evictions.

Whom Does Just Cause Eviction Statutes Apply to?

In general, just cause evictions only apply to owners of a building with certain numbers of units. In general, there must be six or more units in a building for the owner or landlord to be subject to a just cause eviction statute.

However, the number of units required will vary by city.

What Type of Activity Can Lead to a Just Cause Eviction?

Local statutes will vary regarding what types of activities may result in just cause evictions. Common actions may may lead to just cause evictions include:

  • Failure to pay rent;
  • Often bouncing rent checks or paying rent late;
  • Using rented unit for illegal purposes;
  • Failure to abide by their lease after receiving a written notice of the violation of the lease terms;
  • Creating a nuisance;
  • Substantially damaging the property;
  • Denying the landlord or owner reasonable access to the rental unit for repairs as required by local and state law;
  • Owner move in evictions; and
  • The owner wants to demolish the unit or permanently remove it from the rental market and has abided by all local and state laws.

Who Enforces the Just Cause Eviction Statutes?

In general, the rent control board of a city or a similar type of association is tasked with ensuring that the proper procedures are being followed during evictions, including just cause evictions.

What Happens if a Tenant Is Evicted Without a Just Cause?

If a tenant is evicted for a reason other than those permitted by a just cause eviction statute, the owner is required to offer the unit back to the evicted tenant prior to attempting to rent it to another tenant.

In these cases, a tenant can also have a cause of action for wrongful eviction.

How Can I Stop an Eviction?

If it can be avoided, no individual really wants to go through an eviction process. It can be a stressful and upsetting situation which may result in them losing their home.

There are several ways that an individual may be able to stop an eviction from occurring, including:

  • The landlord and tenant come to their own agreement;
    • This should happen either before the landlord sends a formal eviction notice or the tenant should reach out to the landlord immediately after they receive it;
    • This is especially true if the reason for the eviction is based on missing rent payments;
    • The parties should attempt to work it out amongst themselves, for example, by compromising on a new payment plan or other compromise;
  • If the tenant forgot to pay their rent or they are now in a situation where they are able to pay it;
    • In this case, the tenant should alert the landlord and make the payments;
      • This can prevent the action from going to court since the reason for the eviction will no longer exist;
  • If they cannot do it on their own, then the parties should schedule a mediation session before going to court on the matter; and
  • A tenant can also stop an eviction if they have a valid legal defense against the claim;
    • In these cases, the tenant should retain a lawyer to argue on their behalf during the proceedings.

If there is a temporary ban on evictions in a certain jurisdiction, a landlord is prohibited from evicting tenants by law. In other words, if a landlord takes any eviction actions during this time, they will be considered illegal.

This however, does not mean that the tenant should stop paying their rent, if possible. Although these types of bands are very rare and are typically only put into place temporarily or during emergency situations, the ban will apply to both residential and commercial rental properties until a local governmental agency or official decides to lift it.

Do I Need a Lawyer if I Have Been Evicted in a Just Cause Eviction Locality?

As noted above, the laws governing just cause evictions are complex and may vary by location. If you are facing a just cause eviction, it is important to consult with a landlord-tenant lawyer.

Your attorney can advise you of the laws that govern just cause evictions in your location. Your attorney will also represent you in court and help you file any necessary paperwork.

If you are a landlord who is attempting to evict a tenant using a just cause eviction, your lawyer can help you ensure that you take the necessary steps during the process and ensure you comply with the laws in your area.


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