Illegal Eviction: A Landlord’s Guide to Avoiding Wrongful Eviction

What is an Illegal Eviction?

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An illegal eviction, also known as an unlawful eviction or wrongful eviction, occurs when a landlord forcibly removes a tenant from their rental property without following the proper legal procedures. This eviction is an unethical and criminal offense because it violates the tenant’s rights to housing. Tenants have the legal right to live in their rental unit until their lease expires or they are legally evicted by a court of law. If you find yourself facing an illegal eviction, it’s important to understand your rights and know how to deal with this challenging situation. In this article, we’ll explore what constitutes an illegal eviction and guide you to protect the tenant and landlord’s rights by responding effectively to this unfortunate circumstance.

What Constitutes an Illegal Eviction?

Illegal evictions are a serious matter, and landlords who engage in this behavior have to be accountable for the legal actions. Recognizing the signs of an illegal eviction is crucial for tenants to protect their rights and prevent this from happening. Here are the major landlord’s actions generally considered as illegal eviction:

Types of Illegal Evictions

No Proper Notice: Generally, landlords must provide tenants with a written eviction notice before beginning the eviction process. The notice period can vary by state but is often 3 to 30 days, depending on the situation. An eviction without advance notice is generally considered illegal in most cases.

Self-Help Evictions:

This occurs when a landlord takes matters into their own hands to remove a tenant. They are as follows:

  • Lockout or Change of Locks: Landlords cannot take matters into their own hands by locking a tenant out of the rental property. Even if rent is overdue, a landlord must go through proper legal procedures to evict a tenant. The eviction with proper legal process is only considered lawful.
  • Removing Personal Belongings: Landlords cannot remove a tenant’s belongings from the property without a legal eviction order. Even if they believe the tenant has abandoned the premises, doing so can be considered an illegal eviction.
  • Threats, Intimidation, or Harassment: If the landlord uses threats, intimidation, or harassment to force you out of the property, it is wrongful so document these actions. They can be used as evidence in legal proceedings.
  • Shutting Off Utilities: In some cases, landlords disconnect the essential utilities, such as water, electricity, or heating, to force tenants to leave. This practice is considered a form of illegal eviction and is prohibited under various landlord-tenant laws.

Retaliation Evictions:

Sometimes, landlords seek to evict a tenant in retaliation for the tenant asserting their legal rights. This illegal tactic is known as retaliatory eviction.

  • Uninhabitable Conditions: Making living conditions uninhabitable for the tenant even reporting on time, tenants can withhold rent or break the lease. Attempting to evict a tenant under these circumstances is illegal.

Discriminatory Eviction: When a landlord unfairly treats tenants or prospective tenants based on their race, gender, religion, disability, or other, it becomes discrimination, and evicting on the basis of these characteristics is fully illegal. In the United States, Federal and state fair housing laws strictly prohibit such discrimination.

Violation of Lease Terms: Attempting to evict a tenant in violation of the lease terms, it can be considered an illegal eviction. For instance, evicting a tenant for having a pet when the lease permits pets would be considered an illegal eviction. Lease clauses should be reviewed before any action.

Also Read: What happens if landlord loses eviction case

How To Protect Yourself From a Potential Illegal Eviction?

Prevention is the best defense against the threat of illegal eviction. As a tenant, knowing how to protect yourself from a potential illegal eviction is primarily important to safeguard your tenancy. Here are the steps to follow for protecting your rights and seek a resolution:

How To Protect Yourself From a Potential Illegal Eviction

Know your rights: This is the first step in dealing with an unlawful eviction. As a tenant, you have rights under the rental laws that protect you from illegal eviction. Educate yourself to avoid this issue. This includes knowing what notice your landlord is required to give you before evicting you, what reasons they are allowed to evict you for, and what steps you can take to challenge an illegal eviction.

Document Everything: In case of illegal eviction, documentation is your strongest weapon. Keep records of all interactions, including emails, letters, or phone calls with your landlord. Collect photographs of the property’s condition and maintain a detailed log of events. These documents serve as important evidence in legal proceedings.

Communicate with Your Landlord: Maintain open and respectful communication with your landlord to promptly address any issues or concerns. This helps to explore possible solutions. Always communicate in writing whenever possible. A transparent relationship reduces the chance of misunderstandings that lead to illegal eviction attempts from landlords.

Consult Legal Aid: If you suspect you are facing an illegal eviction, seek legal advice immediately. Many areas have tenant rights organizations and legal aid services that provide free or low-cost assistance. They can guide you through the legal process and advocate for your tenant’s rights against the landlord’s crime.

File a Lawsuit: If all workouts fail and your rights continue to be violated, you must take legal action against your landlord for illegal eviction. Take help from your attorney to understand the legal process and gather the required evidence to support your case. Legal action can lead to compensation for damages and prevent similar incidents in the future.

Also Read: How to pass a rental credit check?

Steps To Take If You Are Being WrongFully Evicted

If you believe you are being wrongfully evicted, it’s crucial to consult with a legal professional to get appropriate advice by evaluating your circumstances. Here are the major actions to prove the illegal eviction from the landlords:

  • Review your lease agreement and know your rights as a tenant. Make sure you have not violated any terms of the lease that could lead to eviction.
  • Communicate with your landlord in writing about why you believe the eviction is wrongful. Respond promptly to any eviction notices and make your objections known.
  • Gather evidence to support your case, such as photos, written communication with the landlord, rent payment receipts, inspection reports, etc.
  • Seek legal assistance to understand the eviction laws and procedures in your state. A lawyer can advise you on the best way to respond and represent you. Look for legal aid organizations if you cannot afford a lawyer.
  • Attend the eviction court hearing if the landlord proceeds with filing. Make your case calmly and provide the evidence you have.
  • If the judgment goes against you, appeal it if possible. Your lawyer can help with filing appeals.
  • Plan for alternative housing in case you lose the dispute. Line up a temporary place to stay and remove your belongings prior to the eviction date.
  • If physically evicted by law enforcement, do not resist but document all details. This can support a wrongful eviction lawsuit later, if applicable.

How Can Landlords Avoid Wrongful Eviction Liability?

Landlords must comply with state and Fair housing laws and regulations when evicting tenants, and failing to do so can result in legal trouble and financial penalties. So, it’s crucial for landlords to be aware of their responsibilities. In order to legally evict a tenant, landlords must follow a specific procedure to avoid wrongful eviction liability and maintain a positive, lawful relationship with tenants.

how landlords avoid wrongful eviction liability

Providing Notice: The landlord must provide written notice to the tenant indicating the reason for eviction and a deadline to correct the issue if applicable. The notice period varies but is often 3-30 days, depending on the situation.

Court Proceedings: When a tenant does not comply with lease terms, the landlord must file for a court-ordered eviction. The tenant will have a chance to appear before a judge and share their side. The judge will decide if eviction is warranted.

Execution of Eviction: If the court approves the eviction, the landlord will be given an order directing law enforcement to remove the tenant by a specific date. Then, only the landlord can legally remove a tenant who refuses to leave.

Maintain the Property: Keep the rental property in habitable condition and quickly address maintenance issues and repair requests from tenants. A well-maintained property can reduce tenant complaints and legal disputes.

Respect Tenant Privacy: Respect your tenant’s privacy rights. Except for emergencies, only enter the rental property with proper notice. Invading a tenant’s privacy without notice can lead to legal complications.

Professional Property Management: Hiring a professional property management company can be more beneficial. They specialize in landlord-tenant laws and handle tenant-related issues, ensuring landlords remain compliant with the law. OKC Home Realty Services is here to help you out.

Illegal Eviction Conclusion

Dealing with an illegal eviction is distressing and challenging as a tenant. Taking appropriate actions to deal with wrongful eviction can help you to protect your rights and seek justice. While the laws and regulations regarding illegal eviction can vary widely by location, it is important for both tenants and landlords to understand what constitutes an illegal eviction and avoid it. Avoiding illegal evictions is not just a legal obligation but a fundamental step in ensuring that the rights of both parties are protected.

scott nachatilo


Scott Nachatilo is an investor, property manager and owner of OKC Home Realty Services – one of the best property management companies in Oklahoma City. His mission is to help landlords and real estate investors to manage their property in Oklahoma.