Is a Retaliatory Eviction Legal?

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 What is Retaliatory Eviction?

Landlord retaliation occurs when a tenant who is seeing improved housing conditions is treated unfairly by their landlord as a direct result of the tenant’s actions. The tenant may try to obtain improved housing conditions through:

  • Enforcement of housing codes;
  • Withholding of rent; or
  • Another court action.

The landlord’s retaliatory acts are motivated by a desire for retaliation against the tenant. Examples of retaliatory acts may include:

  • Increasing the rent;
  • Decreasing the services provided to the tenant;
  • Filing an action for eviction;
  • Refusing to renew a tenant’s lease; or
  • Threatening to do any of the above.

Many tenants are not willing to take advantage of rent withholding options or are not willing to file a complaint against their landlord because they are afraid of retaliation from their landlord, especially being evicted. It is important for tenants to be aware that they have protected rights under landlord retaliation law as tenants. It is unlawful for their landlord to retaliate as a result of them asserting or attempting to assert any of these rights.

Examples of tenant’s rights include:

  • The right to demand promised or required repairs;
  • The right to call the building inspector;
  • Demanding that the landlord only enter for purposes allowed by local landlord regulations;
  • The right to refuse entry to the landlord without proper notice;
  • The right to file a complaint against the landlord with Consumer Protection or some other agency;
  • The right to assert or exercise any right in the lease or in a statute, ordinance, code or court decision;
  • The right to demand peaceful enjoyment; or
  • The right to refuse to allow the landlord to make any material changes to the terms of the lease while the lease is in effect.

What is Retaliatory Eviction?

Retaliatory eviction is an illegal process that occurs when a landlord evicts, or removes, a tenant from a rental property due to something that the tenant was legally permitted to do. The majority of states have laws which prohibit retaliatory evictions. 

Common examples of legal activity by a tenant which leads to an illegal retaliatory eviction or illegal landlord actions may include:

  • Complaining to a government agency regarding a violation of a housing code;
  • Complaining to the landlord regarding a violation of the landlord’s duty to the tenant; or
  • Joining or creating a tenant’s union.

A retaliatory eviction does not necessarily mean simply kicking a tenant out of a rental property. A retaliatory eviction may also occur when, in connection with a tenant’s legal activity, a landlord:

  • Raises the rent,
  • Refuses to renew a month-to-month tenancy,
  • Denies access to a portion of the rental property, or
  • Cuts of certain services, including: 
    • water; 
    • electricity; or 
    • gas.

In most states, there is an automatic presumption that if a landlord engages in any of the above actions within a certain time after the tenant’s legal activity, the actions of the landlord constitute retaliatory eviction. The automatic presumption time frame may range from 60 days to one year.

In other words, if a tenant complains to the housing authority regarding the rental property and the landlord evicts that tenant 7 days later, the eviction is considered a retaliatory eviction unless the landlord can prove otherwise.

If an eviction occurs after the presumption period, the tenant then bears the burden of showing that the eviction was a retaliatory eviction.

What Can I Do if I am Facing a Retaliatory Eviction?

If an individual is being affected by a retaliatory eviction, they may have some possible options. These may include:

  • Moving out and suing for damages,
  • Remaining in the rental property and suing for damages, or
  • Withholding rent and suing for damages.

It is important for an individual to consider that if an individual forces an eviction lawsuit from their landlord, it will be reflected on their credit report. It is also important to remember that the landlord will likely attempt to provide another reason besides retaliation for their actions.

What are Some Examples of State Retaliation Laws?

The laws governing landlord retaliation vary from state to state. Examples include:

  • California, where it is unlawful for a landlord to retaliate against a tenant because the tenant exercised their rights or because of a complaint to an appropriate agency, so long as the tenant is not in default of their payment of rent. A landlord may not do any of the following within 180 days of the tenant exercising their rights:

    • recover possession; 
    • cause a tenant to quit involuntarily;
    • increase the rent; or
    • decrease any services;
  • In the State of New York, a landlord is prohibited from harassing or retaliating against a tenant who exercises their rights;
  • In Illinois, a landlord is prohibited from terminating or refusing to renew a lease or tenancy on the grounds that the tenant has complained to any governmental authority of a violation of a health ordinance, a building code, or a similar type of regulation. In addition, any provision or agreement in a lease which would permit a landlord to terminate or refuse to renew a lease or tenancy for such reason is void; and
  • Florida, where it is unlawful for a landlord to: 
    • discriminatorily increase a tenant’s rent; 
    • to decrease services to a tenant; or 
    • to bring or to threaten to bring an action for possession or other type of action  because a landlord is retaliating against a tenant.

Are There Any Defenses a Landlord May Use Against a Retaliation Claim?

If the landlord acted within the presumption of retaliation time frame, they will have to prove that there was another valid reason for taking action, other than retaliation. The landlord may be able to show that the actions were taken and applied to all tenants, not just one specific tenant. 

Defenses a landlord may assert to a retaliation claim include:

  • Showing that the tenant unlawfully withheld the rent;
  • Showing that the tenant violated the rental agreement; or
  • Showing that the tenant complained in bad faith.

In addition, in some cases, it may be necessary for the tenant to vacate a rental unit while necessary repairs are being made. It is important for a landlord to check the specific laws of their state and to consult with an attorney to ensure that they properly evict a tenant when necessary.

Do I Need an Attorney if I am Facing a Retaliatory Eviction? 

Yes, it is essential to have the assistance of a landlord-tenant lawyer if you are facing retaliatory eviction. If you believe your landlord is retaliating against you as a result of asserting your legal rights as a tenant, you should contact an attorney as soon as possible. 

It is important that you document everything that is going on in your situation. Ensure that you note dates and times of each event to share with your attorney.

If you have filed a complaint with your building inspector, Consumer Protection, or another agency, you should request a copy of the report. Depending on the jurisdiction, a court may require that your landlord pay for resulting damages as well as court costs and attorney’s fees. 

A retaliatory eviction is a complex legal issue. Only your attorney will be able to explain your rights, advise you of the laws of your state, and represent you in court if a lawsuit becomes necessary.


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