There is usually a statute of limitations on wrongful eviction. You may have a short window of time to file a wrongful eviction lawsuit, perhaps a year or less
On the website www.whocanisue.com they give several examples of wrongful eviction court cases. In one the jury awarded $860,000 to victims in Hamilton County Tennessee when they found the landlord improperly evicted tenants and destroy their belongings.
Another example. In Queens New York. a landlord was ordered to pay $500,000 to a single dad who she evicted and then threw his belongings out into the rain.
What is wrongful eviction and how might it apply in your case? A wrongful eviction occurs when an owner evicts a tenant without going through the proper procedures. Procedures entail following all the specific rules and regulations in the state and local landlord tenant law. Landlord tenant law is very technical and complex and varies from city to city. Even within the same state different jurisdictions will interpret the state statutes differently so it is very easy for a landlord to make a procedural mistake that deprives a tenant of their rights. Once the mistake is made and the tenant has been evicted, as the attorneys say “you can’t unring the bell.” A tenant who believes they have been wrongfully evicted should consult one of the attorneys who specialize in landlord tenant law in your jurisdiction. The fact that your landlord or property manager may be a casual landlord or part-time property manager who is not familiar with the rules and regulations is no excuse. Their actions have to be 100% legitimate and defensible and it is a plain fact that many landlords and property managers take actions that are plainly illegal and improper. As the saying goes “ignorance of the law is no excuse.” Whether a landlord owns one or 100 rentals is immaterial; similarly whether a property manager manages one or 100 rentals is also immaterial. A violation is a violation.
When a wrongful eviction occurs and the tenant is damaged, what happens? They can sue for the amount of their damages and even get triple damages. That is the damages themselves, the triple damages, and court costs, maybe even attorney fees.
So what constitutes actions on the part of the landlord that would be considered a wrongful eviction.
- Threats to the tenant’s health or safety (See definition below).
- intimidation of the tenant or harassing of the tenant.
- Changing the locks on the unit (called a “lockout)” or putting the tenant’s property outside.
- Shutting off tenant utilities such as water heat electricity or gas (called a ”freeze out”).
- Attempts to physically remove a tenant.
- Evictions in response to tenant requests for any repairs, especially if the repairs requested involve health and safety.
- Ignoring repair issues, particularly the ones that make the unit uninhabitable.
- Removing your possessions even after winning the case at eviction court, because they did not involve law enforcement in regaining possession of the unit.
- An eviction without first terminating the tenancy legally.
- An eviction due to the landlord continually harassing the tenant.
- An eviction due to unauthorized entry into the rental unit and taking action based upon what they saw while they were there.
- Evicting a tenant that has lodged complaints about the condition of the unit with regulatory agencies, building code people.
- Evicting a tenant that has questioned the legality of certain lease provisions or landlord actions.
- Discriminatory behavior. (This is also called fair housing) We do not cover discrimination in this book.
- Improper eviction paperwork, process, or notices followed.
- Any other actions forbidden by state or local statute.
- Taking any of these illegal actions is called “self-help” which means that the landlord took matters into their own hands and did not follow the proper legally approved procedures. So most people say that a landlord who has exercised self-help has done a wrongful eviction.
- Something that is significant about wrongful eviction cases in many jurisdictions is that the landlord cannot use as an excuse that you were not paying rent, were damaging the property, having loud parties or acting obnoxious. Essentially they do not have an excuse to use your behavior as a reason for illegally evicting you. They have to follow the proper procedures, dotting every I and crossing every T, before you can be evicted.
- In many sections of the country the landlord must be able to show a “just cause” for the eviction. This means that evictions can only occur for specific reasons. Other parts of the country specify the legal grounds for the eviction. The landlord attempting to evict you may have to have a legal basis for the eviction and the basis must be completely valid under the statutes. So if an eviction happens, look back to the reasons the landlord gave for the eviction and validate the reason in the statute or just cause legislation.
- Most of the examples above are obvious things that the landlord cannot do. They are very clear violations of the process. Most landlords and property managers are not so unprofessional that they do these things. But there are many more subtle violations of the statutes that can cause a wrongful eviction. Let us take one quick example. The landlord gives a four-year-old child in your unit a notice to pay or quit and tells the child “Give this to your daddy.” You initially do not think about the fact that the notice was given to someone improper (children cannot receive notice of lease violations or pay or quit notices).
- The eviction goes full process and you are evicted. You are out of town when the eviction occurs and all your possessions are put on the street where scavengers carry them off and you lose all your possessions. You later learned that the notice was given to a child and you have a way of documenting that. Since the landlord improperly followed the rules of serving the notice, everything that followed was improper. This is potentially a wrongful eviction lawsuit.
- Another version of the wrongful eviction is a constructive eviction where the actions of the landlord make the rental unit uninhabitable and the tenant has to vacate the unit. In this situation the landlord has not followed the proper procedures to get rid of the tenant. Tenants in these situations often will bring a wrongful eviction lawsuit.
This page is one of 6 interrelated pages. Make sure to read the ones below as well. If your landlord has committed one or more of these violations, you may be able to sue your landlord.