Every state has legal guidelines for evicting a tenant from a rental unit. Even if a tenant engages in egregious behavior, a landlord must still abide by the law. When a landlord fails to follow the law and uses its own means to remove a tenant, the landlord has illegally evicted a tenant. It is illegal to evict a tenant without first following the legal process. An illegal eviction can result in legal consequences for the landlord.
A self-help eviction occurs when a landlord removes a tenant from a rental unit by using illegal means. Every state prohibits the use of self-help methods; this applies regardless of the tenant’s behavior. The following types of actions by a landlord are illegal:
If a landlord chooses to use self-help methods to evict a tenant, a tenant may sue the landlord. The landlord may be liable for monetary damages, penalties, and even trespass, slander, assault, battery, wrongful eviction, and intentional infliction of emotional distress.
A landlord can begin the legal eviction process by serving the tenant with an eviction notice. A “notice of termination” notifies the tenant of the reason for the eviction. In most states, there are three types of eviction notices: pay rent or quit, cure or quit, or unconditional quit.
After the tenant receives an eviction notice, the tenant must cure the violation--if allowed--or file a response, also known as an “answer,” to the unlawful detainer lawsuit. If the tenant files an answer, the case will proceed to trial. If the tenant ignores the legal action, the landlord can request a default judgment.
A landlord can lawfully remove a tenant after receiving a favorable ruling from the court. The landlord, however, still cannot remove the tenant from the premises themselves. Only a law enforcement officer can enforce the judgment. The officer will notify the tenant of the ruling and give the tenant a certain amount of time to vacate the premises. If the tenant refuses to move, the officer can physically remove the tenant.
If you believe that a landlord has illegally evicted you from your rental unit, you may be entitled to damages. Contact a real estate lawyer to learn more about your rights.