When you are evicted, your landlord ends your tenancy and asks you to leave the property. However, not all evictions are legal. Your landlord must follow your state’s eviction process—which typically involves filing documents with the court, meeting notice requirements, and attending a series of hearings. If your landlord does not follow the correct procedures, you can fight the eviction.
What Is a Wrongful Eviction?
While landlord-tenant laws vary dramatically from state-to-state and city-to-city, they typically prohibit:
- Self-help evictions: When a landlord ignores your state’s laws and simply tries to kick you out.
- Retaliatory evictions: When a landlord evicts you because you asserted a legal right (such a notifying a state agency about discriminatory leasing procedures or unsafe housing conditions).
Examples of a Wrongful Eviction
A wrongful eviction occurs when a landlord ignores landlord-tenant laws and takes matters into its own hands. A wrongful eviction may involve a landlord:
- Failing to provide adequate notice of legal eviction proceedings;
- Threatening or intimidating a tenant;
- Physically harming a tenant;
- Shutting off the tenant’s utilities (such as water, electricity, and heat);
- Changing the property’s locks;
- Removing the tenant’s personal possessions from the property; and
- Engaging in other activities that violate state law.
What Is a Wrongful Eviction Lawsuit?
You can file a lawsuit if your landlord does not follow your state or city’s eviction laws. You may also have civil claims involving trespass, assault, battery, and other offenses. Finally, you can press criminal charges if your landlord becomes violent, threatens you, or steals your personal property.
If you are successful, the court may award:
- Economic damages: such as the cost of temporary housing and replacement of damaged property,
- Non-economic damages: compensation for your pain and suffering, and
- Punitive damages: an award that punishes your landlord (sometimes two or three times the value of your economic damages).
Depending on your state’s laws, your damages may vary. If you have questions about compensation for a wrongful eviction, contact a lawyer for personalized advice.
Defenses to a Wrongful Eviction Lawsuit
While your landlord can dispute the accuracy of your allegations, non-payment of rent, the tenant’s poor behavior, or other violations of the lease are not a defense to a wrongful eviction claim.
Do I Need a Lawyer?
If you were wrongfully evicted, contact an experienced real estate lawyer for help. Landlord-tenant laws vary dramatically from state-to-state. A lawyer can help you evaluate your circumstances, apply the correct legal standards, and help you receive fair compensation.