If you’re being wrongfully evicted from your rental property, you may be able to sue your landlord. However, it’s not a simple and easy process. It’s important to know what’s considered a wrongful eviction, valid reasons for eviction, and the steps it takes to sue your landlord for an illegal eviction. In the video below, we’ll review what you need to know about suing your landlord for wrongful eviction.
Contents of This Article:
What Is a Wrongful Eviction?
A wrongful eviction occurs when a landlord forces a tenant to leave a rental property without following the legally mandated eviction process. Here are some of the most common cases of wrongful eviction.
- Retaliatory Eviction
- No Just Cause
- Self-Help Eviction
- Discriminatory Eviction
- Using Force or Threats
A retaliatory eviction typically occurs when a landlord attempts to evict a tenant for exercising their legal rights. For instance, you cannot evict a tenant for reporting code violations or asserting their rights under the lease agreement.
No Just Cause
Evicting a tenant without a valid legal reason, as defined by local rental laws, is considered a wrongful eviction. Landlords generally need specific justifications, like non-payment of rent, lease violations, or the landlord’s intent to occupy the property, before initiating eviction proceedings.
Self-help evictions are wrongful and illegal. This refers to the landlord taking matters into their own hands without following proper legal procedures. For instance, this may involve changing locks, shutting off utilities, or removing a tenant’s belongings.
Evicting a tenant based on their race, gender, religion, nationality, disability, family status, or other protected characteristics is a clear violation of fair housing laws. Discriminatory evictions are wrongful, illegal, and subject to severe penalties.
Using Force or Threats
Physically forcing tenants to leave or threatening them with physical harm or other coercive tactics is considered wrongful and can be a criminal offense. It’s a blatant violation of the tenant’s rights and eviction laws.
Legal Reasons for Tenant Eviction
There are several legal reasons, often called “just causes,” for which a landlord may initiate eviction proceedings against a tenant. These reasons can vary depending on local laws and regulations, but some common legal grounds for eviction include the following.
- Non-Payment of Rent- If a tenant consistently fails to pay rent on time or in full, this is a valid reason for eviction.
- Violation of Lease Terms- A landlord could have a valid reason for eviction if a tenant violates lease terms. This may include activities like unauthorized subletting, damaging the property beyond normal wear and tear, or having pets when the lease prohibits them.
- Illegal Activities- If a tenant engages in illegal activities on the property, like drug trafficking or other criminal behavior, this can be grounds for eviction.
- Expiration of Lease Terms- If the lease has a defined end date and the tenant does not renew or move out, eviction may be necessary to regain possession of the property.
- Nuisance or Disruption- Continual disturbance to neighbors or engaging in disruptive behavior can lead to eviction.
How to Sue Your Landlord For Wrongful Eviction
If a wrongful eviction occurs, tenants may have legal recourse, including compensation for damages, reinstatement of their tenancy, or other remedies as determined by a court. That said, suing your landlord for wrongful eviction involves several essential steps.
If you think you’re being wrongfully evicted, you’ll want to talk with a legal professional to help you follow the right steps. As a general guide, here are a few of the things you’ll need to do to take your landlord to small claims court.
- Know Your State’s Requirements
- Consult an Attorney
- Gather Evidence
- Send a Demand Letter
- File Your Claim
- Serve Notice to the Landlord
- Attend Court Proceedings
- Collect Judgement
Know Your State’s Requirements
First, knowing your tenant rights and eviction laws in your jurisdiction is vital to help you understand if the eviction was wrongful.
Consult an Attorney
Next, you’ll want to consult an attorney. Seeking legal advice from an experienced tenant’s rights attorney can help you assess the strength of your case, and they can help guide you through the legal process.
Collect all relevant documents, including the lease agreement, eviction notices (if any), communication with the landlord, and any proof of payments. Additionally, it may help to take photos or videos of the property to document its condition.
Send a Demand Letter
Your attorney can help you draft a demand letter to your landlord outlining your claims, the evidence you have, and the compensation you seek. This can sometimes lead to a settlement without going to court.
File Your Claim
If negotiations fail, your attorney can help you prepare and file a complaint in the appropriate court. This will initiate a lawsuit against your landlord.
Serve Notice to the Landlord
The complaint must be officially delivered to the landlord. Usually, this is done by a process server or sheriff’s deputy, depending on the legal requirements.
Attend Court Proceedings
Participate in all court hearings and follow your attorney’s advice on presenting your case. During this process, it’s important to compile all the evidence, documents, and records you have in an organized manner to make presenting your case easier.
During this time, there may be opportunities for mediation or settlement between you and the landlord to resolve the matter without a trial. However, if that doesn’t happen, the case will go to trial.
You may be entitled to damages or other remedies if the court rules in your favor. Throughout this process, it’s crucial to ensure both parties follow court orders and that you get the eviction removed from your record if applicable.
Tips for Tenants in the Eviction Process
If you find yourself in a position where you need to sue your landlord, here are some tips to help you along in the process.
- Know Your Rights- Familiarize yourself with tenant rights and eviction laws in your jurisdiction. Understanding legal requirements can help you advocate for yourself.
- Document Everything- Keep thorough records of all interactions with your landlord, including emails, letters, texts, and notes from conversations. Additionally, document maintenance requests, rent payments, and any issues related to the property.
- Seek Legal Advice- If you receive an eviction notice, immediately consult with a tenant’s rights attorney. They can guide you on the best course of action based on your situation.
- Keep Paying Rent- You’ll want to continue paying rent unless advised otherwise by your attorney. Failure to pay could weaken your legal position.
- Maintain Open Communication- Keep lines of communication with your landlord open. Discuss any concerns or issues promptly and in writing to create a record.
Ask Your Property Management Company for Help
If you’re having issues with your rental property or struggling to make rent payments, it’s important to be upfront and honest with your landlord or property manager. That way, you can find a solution that benefits you and the property owner, saving eviction and court costs.
On the other hand, if you’re a landlord dealing with non-paying tenants, it can be hard to navigate the eviction process. That’s why many property owners work with professional property management companies that know legal eviction procedures.
Bay Property Management Group offers comprehensive rental management throughout Baltimore, Philadelphia, Northern Virginia, and Washington, DC. Contact us today to learn more about how we can help your rental business succeed.