When a tenant stops paying rent, fails to vacate, or breaches the lease provisions, all a landlord wants is to get them out as quickly as possible. However, trying to do so can prove to be a long and tedious process. Due to the cost and time involved in removing a non-compliant tenant, landlords may be tempted to take matters into their own hands. Yet, these illegal evictions cause more harm than good. Join us below to uncover what is wrongful eviction and the correct process to avoid a wrongful eviction lawsuit.
What is Wrongful Eviction?
For a landlord to evict a tenant, the landlord must follow the rules and specific legal procedures. Therefore, anything outside of that is considered an illegal or wrongful eviction.
Wrongful eviction occurs when the landlord threatens the tenant’s health or safety, engages in intimidation, or performs any action to prevent the tenant from occupying the property. So, landlords must remember that even if a tenant owes money, the tenant still has rights. Therefore, the landlord cannot simply lock the tenant out without following proper legal procedure.
Illegal and wrongful eviction leads to tremendous hassle for property owners. Wrongful eviction lawsuits have the potential to cost far more in both time and money than following the right process, to begin with. In fact, statistics indicate that landlords are over 90% successful in winning a lawful eviction. So, it is worth taking the time to follow all legal and necessary steps.
What is Considered a Wrongful Eviction?
Wrongful evictions can come in many forms but hinge on the landlord taking matters into their own hands. Not only is this illegal, but it is also potentially dangerous and should never be attempted. Below we break down some common reasons landlords may face a wrongful eviction lawsuit.
- Shutting Off Utilities
- Illegally Removing Belongings
- Retaliatory Wrongful Eviction
- Not Following State or Local Procedure
- Threats or Intimidation
Shutting Off Utilities
Regardless of what the tenant has done wrong, landlords must maintain a habitable and safe property. Therefore, under no circumstances can a landlord cut off a tenant’s access to utilities in an attempt to evict them from the property. Many states have laws protecting tenants from this that include monetary damages paid to the tenant by the landlord. In some cases, these damages or fines can be top $100 per day. So, the only time property owners can shut off utility services is to complete the necessary repairs.
Illegally Removing Belongings
To remove belongings and take possession of the property, certain state, and local criteria must be met. Generally, this occurs once a tenant has abandoned the property or a writ of restitution has been served. State law may also require landlords to provide a certain amount of notice and opportunity for the tenant to retrieve their belongings. Additionally, some jurisdictions mandate that property owners must store the tenant’s belongings for a specified amount of time before they can be disposed of.
Therefore, any effort made that does not comply with these local and state laws violates the tenant’s rights. In turn, that opens landlords up to possible litigation and fines from the state. This is never a situation a landlord wants to find themselves in. So, avoid engaging in wrongful eviction practices at all costs.
Retaliatory Wrongful Eviction
Retaliation against a tenant is defined as taking possession of the rental property, increasing rent, or decreasing a provided service to an occupant who meets any of the following criteria:
- Tenants who file a complaint with the Government Authority
- A renter who is involved in a Tenant’s Organization
- Someone who has filed a lawsuit against the landlord for an unrelated issue
- A resident who has notified the landlord about potential lead hazards in the property (including the notification that a child with elevated lead blood levels resides at the property)
So, any action deemed retaliatory can translate to legal grounds for a wrongful eviction lawsuit.
Not Following State or Local Procedure
Filing for a lawful eviction requires following specific guidelines. If those procedures are not followed, and a landlord tries to kick their tenant out, that is an illegal or wrongful eviction. As frustrating as it may be, landlords do not have the authority to remove a tenant without the proper court documents. If attempted, tenants can sue for any or all of the following:
- Damages related to the eviction
- Court costs
- Attorney fees
- Punitive damages
Threats or Intimidation
Landlords cannot threaten, either literally or implied, any occupant of their rental property. Doing so as part of a self-help eviction is illegal. Additionally, just like the other options, we have mentioned, tenants can seek legal action against the landlord.
Therefore, attempting to intimidate a tenant into leaving cannot only backfire and land landlords in legal hot water, but it may prove dangerous. The goal of eviction needs to remain to remove the tenant with as little contention as possible, and to do that; landlords must leave it to the courts.
How Can Landlords Avoid Wrongful Eviction Liability?
So, how can landlords avoid lawsuits and wrongful eviction disputes? Simply put, follow the law. Each state and jurisdiction set up specific guidelines every landlord and tenant must adhere to. This is for everyone’s protection and ensures that tenants are evicted through a court order. While slight variations to the procedures may occur from state to state, let’s take a look at the basic steps below.
- Serve a Termination Notice
- File for Eviction
- Tenant’s Response
- Judgment for Possession
- Removal of Tenant
Serve a Termination Notice
The first step is to serve the tenant either a 30, 60, or 90-day notice to vacate depending on local requirements. Whether a landlord is seeking to evict a tenant for a cause or not, they must provide written notice. There are a few different options of notice, depending on the situation or circumstances involved. These common types of eviction notices include:
- Cure or Quit – Tenant must correct a lease violation within a certain time or must vacate.
- Pay or Quit – Tenant must pay rent within usually three to five days or vacate.
- Unconditional Quit – Tenant must vacate without an opportunity to fix the violation or catch up on rent.
File for Eviction
When a tenant does not comply with the notice provided and does not cure the violation, pay rent, or vacate, formal eviction is required. So, landlords must turn to the courts for the next step in the process. This complaint outlines the landlord’s request for back rent and damages as well as explains the reasons for the eviction. The landlord then serves this complaint and summons to the tenants to inform them of the court proceedings.
The court summons allows the tenant a specific amount of time to respond to the complaint. So, this is their chance to describe their defense, if any, and possibly outline allegations against the landlord. The best way a landlord can combat this is to maintain excellent records and fulfill all your obligations.
Judgment for Possession
If the tenant does not respond, or the court decides in the landlord’s favor, a judgment is granted. This court order allows the landlord to take back possession of the property. Ideally, the tenant will vacate on their own after the court order. However, if they do not, property owners must move to the next step.
Removal of Tenant
If the tenant does not vacate, the landlord still cannot forcibly remove them on their own. Instead, property owners need to seek the assistance of a law enforcement officer. An officer, marshal, or sheriff will notify the tenants of the lawful eviction order and the number of days they have to move. If they still fail to leave the property within the specified timeframe, the official will physically remove the tenant.
Going through the eviction process is both stressful and costly for landlords. However, attempting actions considered illegal, resulting in a wrongful eviction, will only cause more issues. Feeling overwhelmed by problem tenants in your rental property? Why not leave it to the professionals! The top-level rental management services provided by Bay Property Management Group assist owners with every aspect of their rental business. Our team can issue notice, file evictions, handle court proceedings, and organize officials to restore your possession of the property.
When it comes time to lease the unit, our leasing team aggressively markets your unit to limit vacancy time. Property owners can rest assured that Bay Property Management Group’s thorough screening, legal lease, and 6 Month Tenant Guarantee ensures your chance of another eviction is low! Give us a call to find out more today.