Unlawful Ways to Freeze Out Tenants
Many real estate agents work closely with landlords and property managers, so it makes sense for agents to want to help their clients as much as possible.
However, if you become aware of a landlord or property manager being troubled by one of their tenants — or if you’re certain that you can replace a bad tenant with a good one — remember that bypassing normal procedures to evict that tenant is illegal.
It’s so tempting to take action against a tenant who is a delinquent in paying rent or causing trouble on the premises, but remember that tenants — even bad ones — are protected by law. Eviction is a legal process that takes time and requires specific steps (due process). If landlords feel the need for revenge, they are subject to stiff penalties.
Situations where landlords take matters into their own hands are often called “self-help evictions” and are not legal. The most common types are:
Locking out a tenant. Essentially, this means changing the locks while the tenant is away from the premises, so that they cannot get back in.
Shutting off the essential utilities. Cancelling service for the tenant’s electric, water, gas, and oil.
Other common methods of self-help evictions (all of them illegal):
- Moving the tenants’ belongings to the curb or in the trash
- Intimidation, violence, harassment
- Refusing to make repairs
- Spreading rumors about the tenant
- Restricting the tenant from parking, storage spaces, or other amenities.
Even if a tenant becomes verbally or physically abusive, or left the property in a mess, self-defense may not be a valid legal defense. In fact, a landlord could be sued for trespass, assault, battery, slander, libel, or wrongful eviction.
As outrageous as it may seem, if a tenant is locked out from a property, they have a right to sue for money losses. Those losses could include the cost of temporary housing, spoiled food in the refrigerator, and for the amount of the lost rent. These tenant rights are legal and enforced in just about every state (check your local laws).
The Uniform Residential Landlord and Tenant Act (URLTA) details the legal process of the eviction process. So far, 21 states have adopted these regulations as the basis for landlord-tenant laws.
Yes, it can be maddening, insulting and outrageous. Loss of monthly rent could mean that the landlord can’t pay the mortgage; damage to the property means costly repairs that could take weeks or months.
Even the best tenants — the ones who were properly screened — can have a difficult time meeting the monthly rent, which is the most common reason for evictions. Others include:
- Violating the lease (subletting, illegal uses)
- Damage to the property
- Health or safety hazards
- Breaking local ordinances (including noise, occupancy or health)
Any of these violations must be proven in court by the landlord, which means keeping detailed records.
The only proper eviction process is the legal kind, which must be followed to the full extent of the law. This includes a “notice of eviction,” which is nothing more than a letter stating an ultimatum (why the tenant is being threatened with eviction and what can be done to avoid it). This notice should include a deadline, the number of days you’re giving the tenant before you file eviction paperwork with the local court, and, if rent is owed, how much. The letter should be taped to the tenant’s door, and sent via certified mail (return receipt requested) with the United States Postal Service.
From there, the ball is in the tenant’s court, and the eviction process has begun legally.
The bottom line: when it comes to a troublesome tenant, never take matters into your own hands. When it comes to evictions, there are no shortcuts. Remind your clients to play by the rules.
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