Eviction refers to a legal process in which a court orders the removal of a tenant from a rented apartment or home at the request of the landlord. The landlord must have justification for requesting eviction. There are many reasons a landlord may wish to evict a tenant from a rental property. These can include:
- The tenant ceased rent payments for a period of time;
- The tenant or the tenant’s guests have caused substantial damage to the rental property;
- The tenant breached the terms of the rental agreement or lease, including things such as smoking in a non-smoking residence or having pets in a no-pet residence; and/or
- The tenant does not move out after the lease ends and is considered a squatter.
In most cases, eviction actions occur between a tenant and a landlord or a rental property such as a home or apartment. However, the process can also be used to remove tenants from rented commercial buildings such as business offices.
The eviction process involves many steps with strict legal requirements for both the landlord and the tenant. These requirements are different in each state, as eviction laws vary by state.
There are different types of conviction notices a landlord can provide a tenant. These include:
- Pay or quit;
- Cure or quit; and
- Unconditional quit.
A pay or quit notice is provided when a tenant has not paid rent. The landlord puts the tenant on notice that if they do not pay the rent, they will be required to leave.
A cure or quit notice is provided when a tenant has violated a term of the lease. The landlord notifies the tenant that if they do not fix the violation, they will be required to leave.
An unconditional quit notice is provided when a tenant is ordered to leave within a specified period of time. The landlord does not provide the opportunity to fix any issues.
What Does the Eviction Process Involve?
The eviction process involves several steps which take time and can be expensive. There is a legal process the landlord must follow in order to have a tenant evicted. These vary by state or city. However, generally, the steps are:
- Provide the tenant with notice;
- File the eviction action;
- Permit the tenant to answer;
- Receive a judgment; and
- Remove the tenant.
Prior to going to court and requesting an eviction, a landlord must terminate the tenancy. In most cases, this can be done with or without reason, unless the property is regulated by rent control ordinance. Landlords of rentals of this type must have a reason to evict the tenant.
The landlord must file documents with the court and provide the tenant notice of the eviction in a timely manner. The landlord must notify the tenant that unless certain conditions are met, usually rent payment in full, eviction proceedings will commence. This notice must be delivered to the tenant or affixed to the door of the rental property. Should the landlord wish to evict a tenant without cause, they must provide the tenant with a 30 day or 60 day notice to vacate depending on the jurisdiction.
After providing the tenant notice, the landlord must file an action with the court to have a tenant lawfully removed. The landlord files a complaint, which outlines the circumstances for eviction and may request back rent and/or damages. The landlord must serve the tenant with the complaint and a summons, which informs the tenant a lawsuit has been filed. If a defendant fails to appear after a summons has been issued, a default judgment may be entered in favor of the plaintiff.
The tenant has the right to answer the complaint in writing within a specified period of time. This is usually indicated in the summons. The tenant may answer with a denial of the allegations or provide a defense.
The next step for both parties will be to attend a court hearing. At this hearing, the court will determine whether the landlord provides sufficient evidence to issue the right to evict. The tenant is also permitted to attend the hearing.
Following the hearing, the court will issue a decision based on the evidence presented. If the tenant does not respond, or answer, the landlord’s complaint, the court will issue a default judgment for the landlord.
Should the court rule in favor of the landlord, the tenant must vacate the property if so ordered. Should the tenant not pay the past due amount or leave the premises, the court may order law enforcement to intervene. Tenants who do not willingly vacate the premises, may be forcefully removed if necessary.
What is a Wrongful Eviction?
A wrongful eviction lawsuit occurs when a landlord wrongfully evicts a tenant. As noted above, eviction laws vary by state and city. However, laws generally prohibit certain types of evictions, including self-help evictions and retaliatory evictions.
Self-help evictions occur when a landlord retains the rental property without use of the evictions process. Sometimes, the landlord harasses the tenant until they leave. Even if the tenant has failed to pay rent, has damaged the property, or has violated the lease agreement, the landlord may only legally remove the tenant through the established state eviction procedures.
Retaliatory evictions occur when a landlord evicts a tenant for retaliation. A landlord cannot evict a tenant for exercising their legal rights, such as notifying a health inspector or government entity of unsafe conditions in the rental home or apartment. Retaliatory eviction laws vary by state.
What are Some Examples of Wrongful Eviction?
A wrongful eviction occurs when an individual is illegally evicted from their rental property. In most cases, a landlord ignores the rules and laws and takes matters into their own hands. This can occur in many ways, including when a landlord:
- Changes the locks on the rental;
- Removes the tenant’s personal belongings from the rental;
- Shuts off the tenant’s utilities, including water, electricity, and/or heat;
- Fails to provide the tenant with notice of legal eviction proceedings; and/or
- Threatens, intimidates, or physically harms a tenant.
Any other activity engaged in by a landlord that violates state or local laws governing a landlord-tenant relationship may also be considered a wrongful eviction.
How Can Someone Sue a Landlord for Illegal Eviction?
Should an individual believe they were wrongfully evicted, they may file a wrongful eviction claim. This claim may also be filed if the eviction was conducted in an illegal manner. As noted above, a landlord cannot evict an individual for using self-help procedures or in retaliation for exercising their rights.
A tenant should begin by reviewing their local termination and eviction rules. These laws specify the requirements for landlords who wish to terminate a tenancy. This must be done prior to eviction. Different types of rental violations may require different types of notices. Eviction attorneys for tenants may assist with the nuances of local laws and requirements. In most states, the statute of limitations on evictions claims is a year of less, so it is important to act swiftly.
Is Eviction a Civil Case?
Yes, evictions are categorized as civil cases. There may be criminal issues that arise from an eviction such as illegal activities by the tenant or harassment by a landlord.
There may be illegal eviction penalties imposed on a landlord. These will vary by location. Some states specify an amount of money a tenant can sue for if the landlord attempts to illegally evict them through self-help measures. Some states also provide for a tenant’s court costs and attorneys’ fees to be paid by the landlord if they prevail. The tenant may also be granted the right to stay in the rental.
Are there Any Defenses to Wrongful Eviction Lawsuits?
Yes, defenses may be available to a tenant, which will vary by jurisdiction. These may include:
- A landlord attempting to evict a tenant in retaliation for request for maintenance or repairs;
- A landlord attempting to evict a tenant in retaliation for a complaint to a local health or building code inspector regarding the conditions of the residence;
- A landlord has violated the implied warranty of habitability, which occurs when the landlord does not take any steps to keep the rental from being uninhabitable, such as having mold accumulation, and/or pest or rodent infestation;
- A landlord evicting a tenant based on discrimination due to their race or religion;
- A landlord providing an improper notice of eviction; and/or
- A landlord evicting the tenant after receiving a portion of the rent payment.
The simplest way to fight an eviction is to adhere to the terms of the rental agreement. Should the issue involve unpaid rent, prioritise the past due amount so it can be paid by the deadline given by the landlord.
Should I Talk to a Lawyer for Any Issues with a Wrongful Eviction Case?
Yes, whether you are a landlord who needs to evict a tenant or a tenant who believes they were illegally evicted, it is in your best interest to consult with a landlord tenant lawyer who is experienced in landlord-tenant law. A lawyer can assist you with reviewing the facts of your specific case as well as local laws and advise the best way to proceed.
Should you need to file a lawsuit against a landlord, an attorney can help with the process and make sure filings are correct and timely. They can also represent you during any court proceedings, present defenses and fight for the best outcome.
Should you need to evict a tenant from your rental, an attorney can assist you in following the proper local procedures. A lawyer can represent you during court proceedings and ensure you do not illegally evict the tenant.